Today we left On the Wallaby Backpackers Lodge and headed to Tully to tour the sugar mill. Along the way we stopped at Millaa Millaa Falls. Most of our group was brave enough to jump in the freezing cold water and swim out to the waterfall. After that chilly pit stop, it was back en route to Tully Sugar Limited.
The city of Tully is located in North Queensland and Townsville and is known for its high levels of rainfall. The sugar mill usually cuts around 2.85 million tonnes of sugar cane in a normal season. However, due to the cyclones the area has been hit with in the past few years, the mill will only cut about 1.5 million tonnes this year. Tully Sugar Limited works a 17-week season between the months of June and November and employs 100 extra people during this season. The mill employs 200 full-time employees year round. Tully Sugar Limited is one of the largest sugar mills in Australia. Surprisingly, Tully Sugar Limited does not supply any of its products to Australia. The mill only exports to the United States and Japan. Australia gets their sugar from the city of Bundaberg.
The total process of producing sugar takes roughly 8 hours. First, the cane is brought to the mill on the energy-efficient railway. It is then taken to the tippler where it gets weighed twice, calculating the net weight value for the grower in which the cane came from. After being weighed in the tippler, the cane moves on to the shredder where a large magnet removes all the metal out of the crop. Due to the cyclone, there has been a lot more metal than usual. When our guide showed us the bin of removed metal, we saw a piece of a ceiling fan! It was surprising to see what kind of debris ended up there. After the metal is removed, the cane goes thru five crushing mills to remove as much sugar juice as possible. The first mill calculates the juice’s commercial content of sugar (CCS) and then the farmer’s payment is based on the cane’s weight as well as its CCS value.
The sugar cane contains some soil and other materials when it arrives. To get rid of these unwanted materials, the juice is heated and the unwanted particles settle out in the clarifier, and then are taken to a rotary vacuum which gets out any left over juice. The “mill mud” gets taken out 12 tonne truck loads at a time to go back to growers to be used as top soil. The juice is then turned into a thick syrup which is then turned into crystal sugar by adding sugar as water is evaporated. The sugar crystals are then taken to the centrifuges where the crystals are separated from the syrup by being spun at a high-speed in metal baskets. A burst of hot water is used during the spinning process to help wash the molasses off the crystals. The molasses is then sold and used as stock feed and fertilizer. After the centrifuges, the crystals are then moved to the sugar driers where excess water is taken out with the help of two air conditioning units. After that 8 hour process, the sugar is ready to be shipped.
After learning about the process of sugar-making, our group headed back to the bus and we were off to Magnetic Island. We took a ferry from Townsville to Magnetic Island just in time to see the sunset on the beach.