The South Johnstone Mill was constructed by the Queensland Government in 1915. It was nearly closed when a cyclone hit Innisfail in 1918 but went on to be taken over by the local farmers as a locally owned grower co-operative.
The mill was acquired in 2001 by Bundaberg Sugar Ltd and some 10 years later was purchased by ASX listed company, MSF Sugar Limited. Since 2012, South Johnstone has been owned by Thai based Mitr Phol Group, one of the world's five largest sugar milling companies.
The mill is located approximately 10 minutes south west of Innisfail and 1 ½ hours drive south of Cairns. At present, there are just under 300 growers supplying sugarcane to the mill and the cane is harvested from an area of approximately 20,000 hectares. All cane is delivered to the mill via a 600mm narrow gauge railway.
The mill typically processes 1.2-1.3 million tonnes of cane in a crushing season extending from June to November each year. Sugar syrup or molasses from the Tableland Mill is also made into raw sugar and total raw sugar production at South Johnstone is up to 230,000 tonnes.
Raw sugar produced at South Johnstone Mill is exported through the bulk sugar terminal at Mourilyan Harbour, one of Queensland's major loading terminals for raw sugar exports.
South Johnstone, a rural town is 10 km south of Innisfail and 80 km south-east of Cairns. It is on the South Johnstone River which was named by the explorer, George Dalrymple, in 1873 after Robert Johnstone, sub-inspector of the native police.
About ten years after the first sugarcane was grown at Innisfail a syndicate financed a plantation on the South Johnstone River. A mill and a cane tramway were constructed, but closed in 1891 shortly after Queensland enacted restrictive legislation for the employment of Kanaka labour.
In 1911 a Royal Commission inquired into the desirability of an additional central mill and a site was chosen at South Johnstone. There was already a tramline branch between there and the Innisfail tramway, which led to the Mourilyan wharf. A government controlled South Johnstone mill crushed its first cane in 1916, producing 4729 tonnes of sugar.
Throughput was increased in the 1920s with the El Arish soldier settlement cane farms. The township had five stores, a baker, a butcher, a sawmill, a school (1916) and a refreshment room in the mid-1920s, but its steady growth in population led to a more diverse array of facilities by the post war years.
The Post Office Directory (1947) recorded a Sugar Experiment Station, the Bureau of Tropical Agriculture, the South Johnstone Sugar Mill, a foundry, a school of arts, the Plaza cinema, several stores and St Rita's convent school (1932). The population, then over 900 was regularly swelled by casual cane cutters.
Mill History Timeline:
1916 South Johnstone Mill (owned and operated by the Qld Government) processed its first sugar.
1918 The Innisfail cyclone passed over South Johnstone causing so much destruction it nearly closed the mill.
1927 Farmers bought and operated the mill as a growers' cooperative.
1986 Cyclone Winifred crossed the coast causing severe damage to the mill.
1987 South Johnstone Mill became an unlisted company with 285 individual shareholders.
2001 Bundaberg Sugar Ltd purchased SJ Mill assets.
2010 Joint venture with MSF Sugar Limited and Bundaberg Sugar Ltd.
2011 South Johnstone acquired 100% by MSF Sugar Limited.
2012 MSF Sugar Limited acquired 100% by Mitr Phol Sugar Corp Ltd.