Fish and Sugar at Mirrabooka
The City Council of Lake Macquarie acknowledge the Aboriginal people known today as the Awabakal, as the traditional Custodians of the land, respecting Aboriginal Elders past, present and future. Lake Macquarie City Council recognise the local Aboriginal community today in all of their diversity, who came forward to share their experiences, knowledge, images and memories.
Mr Joseph Marshall of Paddington Brewery purchased foreshore land in the early 1860s, in the location now known as Mirrabooka and Brightwaters. In 1864 he established Marshall's Fishery and Curing Factory there. He began producing tinned fish in hermetically sealed cans for the Sydney market. Fish species canned were: whiting, snapper, bream, mullet, guard fish, and salmon - all from Lake Macquarie and just outside the heads. The location of the factory by the lake was ideal as it allowed for easy water transportation of the product. Fishery Point derives it's name from the canning operations carried out there.
Ten men were employed initially - fishermen, boatmen, tinmen and others - with even the tins being made on site. They produced about ½ ton per day of 11 pound and 2 pound tins. The fish were cooked in a large steam boiler on the site. Newspaper reports and advertisements of the day declared the tined fish to be 'equal in taste to those imported, and were considerably cheaper at 9 shillings per dozen for 2 pound tins.'
Within three years Marshall had branched out into sugar production, probably to help meet the needs of his brewery in Sydney. A sugar plantation was planted, and a mill was built capable of crushing from three to six tons of cane per day. The juice then passed into vessels of 200 gallons each, after which it was clarified in a large pan where it was heated and passed through a filter made of animal charcoal and sand. It was afterwards evaporated into sugar crystals by steam and hot air, and then passed into a cooler. After crystallisation a centrifugal machine prepared it for market.
In 1867 a visiting journalist stated that 'nearly all the land planted is of an inferior quality, badly worked and the cane improperly treated'. However, Marshall was by this time preparing rich, suitable soil for planting which would yield 3½ tons per acre - the present crop was only yielding 2 tons. Mr T.A. Scott of Brisbane Water had supplied Tahitian cane and the smaller Bourban variety had been supplied by Mr Meares of Port Macquarie.
Within two years, improvements had been made, and 60 acres of cane was under cultivation. Both the Tahitian and ribbon varieties which had been planted planted were thriving and producing 3½ tons of sugar per week. The product was considered to be very fine, high quality sugar. Marshall had used salt water on plants during dry times without harm and his brewery would use all the sugar he could produce. It was reported that a few settlers had selected properties nearby and were going to try to establish their own cane growing businesses
Joseph Marshall built a house at the Sugar Bay site which he called Arundinetum. The name is Latin meaning 'a thick growth of reeds or rushes'. It was described as a very comfortable home with fine appointments, which was built as a place for him to stay during his visits. Marshall had a schooner, so apparently came by water from Sydney to oversee the operations. James Norris had been appointed manager of the sugar mill, and as he lived permanently on site, a cottage had also been erected for his use.
The best way to get to Arundinetum was to walk or ride from Wallsend to Millers Wharf at Cocke Creek and then sail down Cockle Creek and then down the lake to the plantation.
In 1870 a journalist from the Town & Country Journal stayed at Chapman's Terzinney Park Estate at Blackalls, and made a visit to Arundinetum and the refinery. The journalist wrote 'The plantation is situated in a small bay near Fishermen's Rocks', (Brightwater). This bay became known as Sugar Bay. The cane was 10ft-13ft high, both Bourban and Tahitian varieties. The Bourban variety grew best on the semi-alluvial soil close to the water while the Tahitian grew best on the rise.
The cane fields were separated by roads 12ft wide along which the cane was drawn to the mill. 92 acres had been planted and another 30 were to be planted. Eventually Marshall was to grow cane on 120 acres. Lime was used as a fertiliser because the burnt shells used to produce it were in plentiful supply, and Marshall found it worked best for the poorer soils of the hillsides.
All the expensive machinery was housed in a large two storied shed about 150ft from the shore. This included a 25hp steam engine with a 12ft diameter fly wheel and 4ft rollers weighing 2 ton each and a small 4hp engine. Most machinery had been brought to the site in 1869. The boilers had been brought to the lake in a small craft owned by Mr Marshall. Owing to their weight and the shallowness of the lake entrance, the schooner could not get over the bar at the lake's entrance. The boilers were thrown overboard and floated into the lake. Other machinery was also brought in this way. It was estimated that Marshall had spent £6,000 on machinery and labour setting up the plant.
By 1872 some first class sugar had been sent to market and was selling for 4 shillings per pound at grocery stores. This indicated that this part of the lake was good for growing sugar cane, and newspaper articles of the time noted that Marshall had not received any assistance from the government to set up his businress. One article described him as 'not a practical man, he possesses abilities of no ordinary character, and with his readings and otherwise .. he will not only successfully carry out his enterprise, but also prove himself to be public benefactor to all sugar planters, by his perfectly original and highly improved principles of treating the cane juices'
In 1875 a bushfire swept through the plantation. James Norris tried valiantly to douse the fire with a 'watering pot' but was no match for it. Marshall's home and furnishings were destroyed, and presumably the machinery shed must have suffered damage. Norris managed to save his own home, and it is said that he continued living in the area and reached a ripe old age.
Despite the successes Marshall achieved, the climate of the Lake was far from ideal for easily growing the cane, and after the mill was destroyed in the blaze, it was abandoned.
Joseph Marshall senior died in 1888, and his son Joseph Marshall junior died in 1891, aged 45.
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