Memory Lane BY ROSS PEDDLESDEN
Things were not going well in New Zealand for the Young family in the 1870s. Successive rabbit plagues had ruined their sheep farming dreams, so they decided to pack up and try somewhere else.
That somewhere was Bundaberg, where in 1880 brothers Arthur, Horace and Ernest Young were able to purchase several blocks of good farming land on the north bank of the Burnett River, which had been selected from the huge Tantitha Station. The blocks had originally been named Jamaica, Barbados and Mauritius after sugar-producing islands. After a young female visitor surveyed the scene one misty morning and declared that it looked like a ‘fairy mead’ the name was changed.
From the beginning, Fairymead produced sugar and the brothers proved to be vigorous, ambitious and successful cane farmers and sugar producers. They introduced a range of innovations to cane growing, some of which are still useful today, and by 1884 they were establishing their own sugar mill on the property. After a short period of supplying juice to Millaquin Mill by punt on the river, they imported machinery from Scotland to upgrade their mill to a refinery, which could produce the finished product – refined granulated sugar.
From the early days the Youngs also displayed a sense of style, building the iconic Fairymead House for the family and many other good-quality houses for their senior staff. They were surrounded with gardens described by one visitor as having ‘gratifying botanical tastes’.
The Youngs were also instrumental in the establishment of Bundaberg’s first telephone exchange in 1886, gaining pledges from 35 subscribers.
There is, however, a side to the Young’s success story which is somewhat darker to modern eyes – part of their success was due to their early and enthusiastic use of indentured labour provided by South Sea Islanders, who were blackbirded (stolen) from their island homes. They built barracks for their workers. Miss Florence Young worked with dedication to bring the Good Word to the workers (the Youngs were Christians and several family members, including Florence, went on to take up missionary work).
Fairymead continued to be a successful business well into the 20th Century. Although it was made into a public company in 1921, the Youngs seemed to have retained de facto control of its operations, mostly through Ernest’s son Charles Young, who ran the company until its merger with Gibson and Howes to form Bundaberg Sugar in 1972. The company was also important in the development of the North Gooburrum and Moore Park Beach areas, draining swamps and establishing more than 50 new cane farms in the area during the 1950s and ‘60s.
Although Fairymead Mill no longer exists you can still get a taste of the Young’s style by visiting Ernest’s beautiful home, Fairymead House. Stand on the expansive verandas and imagine gazing through mists over cane fields at the original fairy mead.
Today it is regarded as one of the city’s most beautiful homes. It’s one of 79 local heritage listed buildings in the Bundaberg Region.
The home was gifted by Bundaberg Sugar to the City of Bundaberg in 1988 as a bicentennial gift, and moved in six pieces to the Botanical Gardens, which was still under development at the time. It was opened to the public in 1994.
Sydney architect John Shedden Adam introduced a number of special inclusions in his design to accommodate requests made by Mrs Young. One request was to design the front stairs with a landing a couple of feet from the ground so that she could alight from her carriage without soiling her shoes. PICTURED: The Young Family.
Visit & learn more
Fairymead House Sugar Museum Bundaberg Botanic Gardens Thornhill Street Entrance
Bundaberg & District Historical Museum Bundaberg Botanic Gardens Mt Perry Road Entrance
Ross is a member of the Bundaberg & District Historical Museum, as well as an author, Rotarian and passionate community volunteer.