Mt Jukes Coffee Plantation
It was with great optimism that Messrs Blaxland and Synge arrived in the Mackay district from Sydney in the mid-1890s. Harold Forster Blaxland, grandson of the renowned explorer Gregory Blaxland, and his business partner Synge were intent on the commercial cultivation of coffee in the region and by 1896 had purchased land at Mount Jukes and had begun cultivation. The endeavour was preceded slightly by the Mackay Coffee Company, on a neighbouring property, who were the first to attempt commercial coffee planting in Queensland.
Eight acres were planted in 1897 and this was gradually increased to 15 over the coming years. By 1899 Blaxland and Synge had also taken over management of the Mackay Coffee Company estates nearby. The coffee they grew was deemed of excellent quality and was in great demand in nearby Mackay. In 1903 the Brisbane Courier reported that the crops were in splendid condition and that a high yield crop was being harvested by a workforce of 13-15 year old boys from Mackay.
In 1900, Blaxland married Amy Gertrude Miller and the pair became well known hosts in the region. Their homestead, with its famous gardens, was named “Fairy Land” and was apparently well worth the trip from Mackay.
Dorrie Blaxland on the front gate of the Blaxland residence called Inglenook, Mt. Jukes, ca. 1905. Neg. 7063-0001-0002. From Acc. 7063 Mt Jukes Coffee Plantation Photographs. John Oxley Library. State Library of Queensland.
The harshness of central Queensland’s climate proved a constant struggle for Blaxland and Synge’s estate. Early on the business had to bounce back after a cyclone destroyed the entire crop in 1898 and floods, droughts and frosts continued to take their toll on the lower areas of the plantation, meaning that the crops were restricted to the upper slopes of the hillside. The tragic death of Synge in a diving accident in 1910 proved an additional challenge for Blaxland.
Despite this, the company continued to have some success. Blaxland purchased Synge’s interests so to retain the B. & S. Coffee brand name, which The Northern Miner indicated in 1910, was well known throughout the Commonwealth. The same article reported that B. & S. Coffee was in high demand in southern markets and that Blaxland was unable to respond to the amount of interest he was receiving. A 1912 a Daily Mercury report on the B. & S. Coffee display at the Brisbane Exhibition was wholly positive.
However, sugar cane was increasingly being seen as a more viable commercial crop in the area surrounding Mt Jukes. With the extension of the Marian Mill tramline to the Mt Jukes area ca 1914, it appeared that the writing was on the wall for the local coffee growers. Blaxland penned an impassioned defence of the industry in a letter submitted to the Daily Standard in 1915. He argued that coffee and cane could co-exist in the region and that coffee had a long future at Mt Jukes. However, he too was soon growing cane on his land and in 1919 sold the estate to Mr J. J. Hendrick.
Today, Coffee Creek meanders its way through the Mt Jukes foothills and, along with the occasional wild coffee plant on the hillside, serves as a reminder of this briefly thriving industry.
Images from 7063 Mt Jukes Coffee Plantation photographs 1890-1936 collection are available view online through our One Search catalogue.
R. Hillier - Librarian, State Library of Queensland