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Sweet Sculpture Ode to Sugar Cane

Large pieces of machinery that once crushed sugar cane now form a magnificent sculptural assemblage that graces the site of the former Moreton Central Sugar Mill in the picturesque town of Nambour, a short detour off the Bruce Highway north of Brisbane.

Titled Mill Tribe, the sculpture was designed and created by artist Michael Foley, a long-time local until his death in 2016. He salvaged the machinery pieces before the mill was demolished in 2006 and held fast until the site was redeveloped four years ago. It is one of two sculptures made from the dismissed machinery – the other can be found in the skate park behind the RSL.

In a stationary pantomime that’s reminiscent of the three bears without Goldilocks, Foley’s Mill Tribe sculpture is of three stylised people – a pappa one, a mumma one and a child. The torso of each is created from a crushing roller while the heads are crafted from cogs, gears and small shafts. The design emphasises how the Nambour community has remained strong through the town’s 130-year history.

For 110 years of that time sugar cane was at the core of the community’s prosperity.

The Moreton Central Sugar Mill Company was formed in December 1894 when Nambour was just a tiny settlement – a hub that grew to service the red cedar lumber trade. On the back of that mill the town grew to become the geographical and economic heart of the Sunshine Coast.

A mural in Bury Street, only 300 metres from Mill Tribe, depicts another aspect of Nambour's sugary heritage.

I think one of the most charming aspects of Nambour is its old-time charm, and part of that comes from the train track that once carried cane to the mill which still slices through the main thoroughfare. Standing on the corner of Currie and Howard Streets, I can imagine the ladies in their long swirling skirts and the gents in their bowler hats stopping to let the tram rattle past before they continued on to A. J. Dingwall's Grocery Store for King Tea and a scone.

A "Thomas the Tank Engine" take on Nambour's history. Shout out if you know who painted this mural.

We have Michael Foley to thank for this glimpse into Nambour’s heritage also, as he was responsible for securing the heritage listing of these train tracks. As if hailing a final farewell to this man who was responsible for helping preserve so much of this town’s proud heritage, the tracks appropriately end only metres from Mill Tribe.

It stands tall in the centre of a round-about in Mill Street, just west of the main road. It’s adjacent to the train station and a large parking lot, so it’s in a great position that’s easy to find and access. Best of all, Mill Tribe is part of the Nambour Public Art Trail – a 2.3 kilometre walking loop developed by Sunshine Coast Council that showcases 13 works. You can download a PDF of the trail here. Enjoy!


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