Backward Glance: Tobacco industry history on the Sunshine Coast
  • Wednesday 13 January 2016
Tobacco farm at Beerburrum, 1933

Today we turn the clocks back to the 1930s which saw Australia in the midst of the Great Depression. 

After the collapse of the Beerburrum Soldier Settlement, settler farmers who had stayed on in the Beerwah to Beerburrum region were struggling and many had left their farms due to inexperience, isolation, health issues and poor crop results.  Many of these World War I veteran farmers were disabled and had experienced much trauma from their experiences during World War I.

By 1931, many people were unemployed all over Queensland and the government decided to introduce a scheme to remedy this situation.

In an attempt to create work for unemployed, the Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Mr Bulcock, introduced a Tobacco Settlement Scheme which would allow those unemployed to become tobacco growers on the abandoned Soldier Settlement pineapple farms.

More than 100 unemployed breadwinners and their families applied and came to the area, though many had no experience farming. This was similar to those who had come during the Soldier Settlement scheme. 

A state farm west of Beerburrum was set up to raise the tobacco plants in a nursery and the seedlings were then transported to the tobacco farmer’s plots.

Preference was given to large families.  Each family was supplied with a plot of land, a cow and a house. If homes from the original settlement were not available on plots selected, an interesting method of construction was used.

The walls were fixed with tight sheets of hessian fabric, coated with a layer of lime cement which waterproofed the walls. A corrugated iron roof kept the dwelling reasonably dry from wet weather. 

In late 1932, a visiting scheme started where each property was regularly attended by instructional staff from the Department of Agriculture. Two men, Les Woods and Mr Lloyd, trained the men to grow and tend their tobacco crops.

Tobacco growing is known as a difficult crop to cultivate. Unfortunately due to inexperience and unfavourable weather conditions the farmers encountered many difficulties.  The area received large catchments of rain during the period 1933 to 1934.

Many tobacco curing barns dotted the landscape and there was also a community curing barn for small farms which may not have warranted their own curing barn. Sorting of cured leaf was done at the Soldier Settlement State farm at Beerburrum. 

By 1934 problems were again encountered and by the following year most curing barns had been demolished.  Only a few tobacco farms still functioned. 

During the late 1950s and early 1960s tobacco was reintroduced in the Beerwah to Glass House region after the failings of the 1930s venture in that area.

Tobacco farmers were relocating from tobacco growing regions such as Tenterfield and North Queensland. Many of these migrant farmers were from non-English speaking backgrounds which introduced cultural diversification into the Glass House region.

The Pelizzo family on Portion 683 near Beerburrum was one of the farms.  This farm was previously farmed for tobacco by Mr W Evans in 1932-1933.

The problems encountered during the 1930s had largely been overcome by the 1960s. Picking was manual and labour intensive. The tobacco was transported to the Tobacco Board at Northgate where the tobacco was auctioned. This was adjacent to the Golden Circle cannery.

In March 1960, a tobacco grading school was held at the Glass House Mountains Hall with more than half of the 70 attendees being women. The first Tobacco Stabilisation Plan was introduced for the selling season of 1965 and the Australian Tobacco Marketing Board was established.

During the 1970s, the Commonwealth and Queensland Government was providing incentives to farmers to stop growing tobacco, growing macadamias became an alternative for local farmers.

Beerwah’s Quinto Porfiri was a Director and Chairman of the South East Queensland Tobacco Growers Co-Operative.  The last tobacco to be legally grown in Australia was ploughed into the ground at Beerwah on Quinto and Pio Porfiri’s Farm in 2006. This brought an end to an industry which supported 70 farms.

Tobacco Road, Beerwah was named after tobacco farms which were established close by. Red Road had many tobacco farms also. Surnames such as Bonato, Saffigna, Spierling, Portfiri, De Clara, Frizzo, Pignato, Venturiello, Reaves, Sattolo, Bortolin, Buzaki, Salvati, Male, Milleno, Squaldino, Reginato and Predebon are some of the names associated with the 1960s tobacco industry here on the southern end of the Sunshine Coast.

Today there are only a handful of tobacco barns left in this district. Driving south down the Bruce Highway one can be seen on the left hand side just before Wild Horse Mountain.  Wild Horse Mountain - now that is another story to tell.