Dr Peter Griggs
Senior Lecturer in Human Geography
Bachelor of Arts ( QLD)
Visit: Room A2-222, Cairns campus
Call: (+61) 7 4042 1540
Fax (+61) 7 4042 1284
Mailing Address: School of Earth & Environmental Sciences
James Cook University – Cairns Campus
PO Box 6811
EV2003: Cradle to Grave: Population, Economy and Environment (Semester 1)
EV1008: Human Geography (Semester 2)
EV2360: Environmental Economics Semester 2)
Awarded a Faculty Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning, 2011.
Honours and Postgraduate Students (and year of completion)
Edward Berry (PhD), An Application of Butler’s (1980) Tourist Area Life Cycle Theory to the Cairns Region, Australia, 1876-1998 (2000)
Shane Cridland (B.Sc, Hons), A Preliminary Analysis of the Winter Movements of Grey Nomads to North Queensland Coastal Regions (2003)
Polly Simmonds (B. Applied Science, Hons), Protecting Significant Remnant Vegetation in the Cairns Urban Area: Policy versus Practice (2005)
Ben Daley (PhD), An Environmental History of the Great Barrier Reef Since European Settlement: Implications for Contemporary Management (2006)
Shane Cridland (PhD), An Analysis of the Winter Movement of Grey Nomads to Northern Australia: Planning for Increasing Senior Visitation (2008)
Jenny Damon (B. Applied Science, Hons), Master Planned or Marketing Ploy. Resident Satisfaction of Master Planned Housing Estates in Cairns (2009)
Matthew Ingram (B. Planning, Hons), The Grid versus the Cul-de-sac: an evaluation of the satisfaction of residents with street patterns in recent Cairns City residential subdivisions (2010)
Member, Australian Historical Association
Member, Royal Geographical Society of Queensland
Member, Agricultural History Society
Peter’s research interests are in historical and agricultural geography and agricultural and environmental history, particularly as it applies to the Australian sugar industry.Research has been conducted into how sugar production has impacted upon the environment in eastern Australia and the historical development of agricultural and industrial methods used by Australian sugar producers.
This work culminated in May 2011 with the publication of a book titled Global Industry, Local Innovation: The History of Cane Sugar Production in Australia, 1820-1995.
Griggs, Peter D. (2011), Global Industry, Local Innovation: The History of Cane Sugar Production in Australia, 1820-1995. Peter Lang AG, Berne, Switzerland.
Daley B. and Griggs, PD (2008), ‘Loved to Death’: Coral Collecting in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, 1770-1970.Environment and History, 14 (1), 89-119.
Daley B, Griggs PD and Marsh HD (2008), Reconstructing reefs: qualitative research and the environmental history of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Qualitative Research, 8 (5), 584-615.
Griggs PD (2007), Deforestation and Sugar Cane Growing in Eastern Australia 1860-1995. Environment and History, 13 (3), 255-283.
Currently, Peter working on a new project titled ‘Changing the Sunshine State: An Environmental History of Queensland since European Settlement’.The long-term aim of the project is to produce a full length, illustrated book on the environmental history of Queensland, using the resources of the John Oxley and Fryer Libraries (both Brisbane), supplemented by material from the Queensland State Archives, the National Archives of Australia and other specialist Queensland libraries (e.g. Central Queensland University Library; Department of Environment and Resource Management).
The book will contain chapters on clearing & replanting the forests, modifying the landforms & reefs, transforming the soils, draining the swamps, altering the wildlife and plants and polluting the air and water.
Peter is a historical geographer with an interest in agricultural history and environmental history.Peter holds a B.A (Hons) in geography (1981) and PhD in geography (1990) from The University of Queensland.Immediately prior to his appointment to James Cook University, Peter was a research officer attached to the Atlas of Queensland project funded by the Queensland Department of Geographic Information and Premiers Department.Since 1991, Peter has taught courses in introductory human geography, economic geography, population geography and environmental economics at the Cairns campus of James Cook University. Peter has authored and co-authored 30 peer reviewed book chapters and journal articles on the development of the Australian sugar industry, 17 articles in the sugar industry magazine Australian Sugarcane and a book on the centenary history of the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland.He has served on the Editorial Board of the American-based journal Agricultural History, the leading journal in the field of agricultural history.In March 2011, he received a Faculty Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning.
Australia is currently one of the world’s top five sugar exporters.This book tells the story of how the Australian cane sugar industry grew into a major global supplier of sugar, how it became a significant innovator in the technology associated with the growing and harvesting of sugar cane as well as the production and transport of sugar. It describes the spread of cane growing along the north-eastern coast of Australia during the late nineteenth century, and how subsequent expansions were tightly regulated and only after international markets had been secured to avoid overproduction.It examines changes in the agricultural techniques, efforts to combat pests and diseases, breeding new cane varieties and the significance of improvements in the sugar milling and refining processes.Special attention is also devoted to documenting how sugar production altered the landscape of north-eastern coastal Australia.Topics considered include deforestation, soil erosion, loss of wetlands, the alteration of watercourses through irrigation and drainage schemes, the introduction of fauna to control insect pests affecting the crops of sugar cane and mining the coral of the Great Barrier Reef to produce agricultural lime. Throughout the narrative the author uses primary sources extensively, particularly government records and sugar mill and sugar refinery archival records.It is the first comprehensive account of the history of the Australian cane sugar industry.
World Sugar History Newsletter
Number 42, February 2012
In this issue:
Peter D. Griggs, Global Industry, Local Innovation: the History of Cane Sugar Production in Australia, 1820-1995 (Peter Lang, Bern, 2011). xxxvi, 928 pp. US$124.95. ISBN 978-3-0343-0431-3.
I am not usually intimidated by books. I was by this one. When I agreed to review Peter Griggs’ magnum opus I was warned that it was large, but not quite how large. Half way through reading it, and finding the book quite uncomfortable to hold, I had a sudden desire to collect another statistic beyond the usual biographic details. I decided to weigh the book: it came in at 1.67 kilos. Add this to the statistic that it is almost 1,000 pages long and you begin to have some idea of what has been undertaken. There can be few histories of sugar industries around the world that are as large and as comprehensive. It covers 175 years in immense detail. Luckily, there is a sixty-one page index that allows the reader to dip in and out, as I suspect that most readers will use the book as an encyclopaedia of knowledge on Australia’s sugar industry, not as a text to read from cover to cover. There is a fairly huge literature on the industry, which is well surveyed in the twenty-nine page bibliography. There are also sixty-nine plates, sixty figures, and fifty-six tables.
No one has ever attempted to write a survey of the whole history before and I congratulate Peter Griggs and his publisher for taking on this task. Although the book ends in 1995, I will use current statistics to outline the significance of the industry, which is Australia’s largest agricultural export. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Australia became the fourth biggest sugar producer in the world. Today, Australia rates third and there are 6,000 cane farm businesses producing around thirty-eight million tons of cane which become over five million tonnes of raw sugar through twenty-four sugar mills operating more than 4,000 kilometres of narrow gauge railways. The final product is moved around Australia and overseas through six bulk storage ports. Australian domestic consumption is around one million tonnes of sugar and the other eighty percent is exported. The annual revenue is around A$2 billion, and estimates suggest that 40,000 jobs are generated directly and indirectly from the industry. All Australian sugar cane has been harvested mechanically since 1979 and has undergone bulk-handling since 1964. The average size of farms has also increased as advanced technology forced economies of scale. In the nineteenth century, plantations were usually only a few hundred hectares. Now the average cane farm is around 100 hectares although some are as large as 1,000 hectares. Amalgamations will continue.
Peter Griggs will be known to many readers. He is a historical geographer based at the Cairns Campus of James Cook University in the north of the geographic spread of the industry, which is concentrated along the tropical east coast from Grafton in northern New South Wales and ends around Mossman north of Cairns. There are also more recent extensions into Western Australia. Since the mid-1990s, Griggs has published twelve articles and chapters on the industry, establishing himself as a broad-ranging geographer interested in environmental factors and the institutional side of the industry. This book is a culmination of more than twenty years of research. Griggs has scoured the secondary sources, used the Australian, Queensland, New South Wales government archives, and, importantly, the extensive Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) archives. He has also read widely in contemporary newspapers and journals. My own background is as an historian of the Melanesian labour force brought in to operate the industry during the final decades of the nineteenth century. I have used many of the same sources and cannot identify any gaps in his coverage. Griggs takes a national approach whereas most other studies of the industry deal with particular regions. For instance, I was only ever interested in the Pioneer Valley at Mackay, the largest sugar producing region, but this does not mean I know much about the operation of the industry in northern New South Wales. Since the 1970s, most of the mills have published books on their own histories and almost all of the Shires in which they sit have published centenary histories. There is no shortage of regional histories but nothing which covers the whole industry. The existing regional histories do not follow the raw product to the refineries, which for historical reasons have mainly been situated in the capital cities. Griggs treats the industry as a whole and the strength of the book is his inclusion of the CSR refineries. One of the most fascinating things about the book is its account of the emergence of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company as a significant raw sugar producer and a monopoly refiner for Australia. I almost laughed when I read of the hurt squawks from CSR when it was accused of having a strangle-hold on the whole industry. It was totally true and the only levelling force was the Commonwealth and State governments which took control of the industry, regulating all aspects of cane production from quotas to prices and the total cycle of production.
Griggs also clearly shows the differences in the industry in its various regions. Grafton is 1,100 kilometres from Mossman and the cane growing seasons in the south are about twice as long as in the north. Some areas have used irrigation since the 1880s, while others have sufficient rainfall. Other regions suffer from frosts, which has necessitated breeding frost-resistant canes. The author makes a point of differentiating place, regional differences, and environmental consequences. In the nineteenth century these differences affected the production systems, and after the 1930s government regulations impacted each region differently. Changes in farming techniques, the speed of adoption of machinery, and disease and pest outbreaks also exhibited differently in each region. The book deals with both the agricultural and industrial sectors, and while raw sugar milling has been well covered for most regions, almost on a mill-by-mill basis, the refining side of the process is less well known.
Global Industry, Local Innovation begins with a description of sugar cane and the process by which it is grown and then converted into raw and refined sugar. There are nineteen chapters split into three sections. The first section is small, charting the earliest attempts to grow cane through to 1863. CSR began during these years, and enough detail is provided for necessary background on the giant company. The second section takes the book from 1864 until 1914. These years are the best known, because of the amount of writing on the initial plantation era and the transition to European-owned small farms and government-financed cooperative and proprietary central mills. The 1860s to1900s were also noted for the complexities of the indentured workforce, at first (1863-1904) predominantly from the Pacific Islands, with many an echo back to slavery in the Americas. Historians have given emphasis to this historical period, to the neglect of the later years. The strength of this section will be the exploration of CSR which by 1914 had achieved almost a total monopoly over the refining and marketing of sugar in Australia. When the new 1901 Commonwealth government deported the bulk of the Melanesian workforce, it introduced an embargo over foreign sugar. The government also supported the refining of sugar in the capital cities, a process dominated by CSR.
Griggs’s third section (1915 to 1995) is his most substantial and in the long run will be the most valuable part of the book. By 1915, the modern pattern had been established. Pacific Islanders had been deported and those that stayed were marginalised from the industry. In their stead, White labour became dominant, connected to trade unions; the industry was converted to central milling based on small farms; and the State and Commonwealth governments took firm control through regulation and legislation. Chapter Ten covers the government regulation of the industry: no longer could growers just produce as much cane as they wanted; quotas were introduced based on the ability of the domestic and international markets to absorb the final product. The Queensland government attempted to slow production after 1925 and before 1939 through its Central Sugar Cane Prices Board. Then after the Second World War there was rapid expansion. Over twenty years, 1950s to 1970s, sugar production doubled, and then doubled again between 1974 and 1995. Chapter Eleven looks at the increasing use of labour-saving devices, fertilisers, and pesticides as farming became more scientific. Chapter Twelve deals with efforts to improve drainage and water supply, particularly through irrigation as more marginal land was brought under cultivation. Chapter Thirteen concentrates on breeding new cane varieties. Chapters Fourteen and Fifteen examine efforts to control pests and diseases. Chapter Sixteen deals with the harvesting of the cane and transport to the mills. Chapter Seventeen is an essay on the rapid reduction of the number of mills, together with increases in size and efficiency. Chapter Eighteen covers the inter-linking of the marketing and refining of sugar and its pricing until deregulation onwards from 1990. The 1900s’ embargo against foreign sugar was removed in 1989 and sugar sales were floated on a commercial basis. There is also a short concluding chapter.
Although the sugar industry has survived in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, this frost-prone area is not ideal and required breeding of frost-resistant strains. The best sugar land is from Mackay north. Existing growers always received preference when quotas were expanded, until the late 1980s when new areas for cane-growing were developed on the Atherton Tableland inland from Innisfail and Cairns. While mechanisation was introduced in the growing process, the harvest remained in the hands of labourers until the 1960s when Australia pioneered the introduction of mechanical harvesting. Later, this machinery was sold to overseas sugar cane producing areas. During the nineteenth century, the cane was harvested green. Then the advent of Weil’s disease in the 1930s required burning the cane to safe-guard the cane-cutters. Once the cane harvest was mechanised, cane was cut both burnt and green. Today, eighty percent of the cane is cut green, with the trash cuttings spread in the fields to prevent soil erosion, lower the amount of weed growth, and conserve moisture in the soil.
Peter Griggs has written an institutional history of high calibre. I lament that there is almost no consideration of social history, but this shows my own predilections, and anyway it would require a second volume. This book is an amazingly complex study of a major Australian agricultural industry in all its variations. Its technical apparatus is superb. The photographs, maps, graphs, and tables enable the reader to absorb and summarise the dense text. The book will be of interest to all historians of the world’s sugar industry and to anyone interested in how governments can control and shape an industry, then deregulate and let it float alone.
Back in the late 1970s, Dorothy Jones, author of three regional histories of north Queensland, mentioned to me that she was considering writing a history of the Australian cane sugar industry. Almost forty years later, Griggs has produced what will stand as a masterpiece in historical geography. I doubt that anyone else will make a similar attempt in the next forty years.
The University of Queensland