The South Johnstone Mill is located about 10 minutes south-west of Innisfail and 89km south of Cairns.
There are currently around 300 growers supplying sugarcane to the mill and the cane is harvested from an area of about 22,000 hectares.
All cane is delivered to the mill via a 600mm narrow gauge cane rail network.
The mill typically processes 1.4-1.7 million tonnes of cane in a crushing season which extends from June to November each year. It also receives sugar syrup or molasses from the Tableland Mill to make into raw sugar.
The mill’s total raw sugar production is up to 230,000 tonnes.
How it happened
South Johnstone is a rural town 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, a sub-inspector of the native police.
About 10 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 assessed the feasibility 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.
The South Johnstone Mill was constructed by the Queensland Government in 1915, and crushed its first cane in 1916, producing 4729 tonnes of sugar. It survived near closure three years later after being damaged during a cyclone and went on to be taken over by local farmers as a locally owned grower co-operative.
Throughput was increased in the 1920s with cane from the El Arish soldier settlement farms. The township had five stores, baker, butcher, sawmill, 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, 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 more than 900, regularly swelled by casual cane cutters.
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.
Mill History Timeline
1916 South Johnstone Mill processed its first sugar
1918 Mill damaged by Cyclone Innisfail
1927 Farmers bought and operated the mill as a growers' cooperative
1986 Cyclone Winifred caused 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 MSF Sugar acquired South Johnstone Mill
2012 Mitr Phol Sugar Corp Limited acquires MSF Sugar Limited