The story of Maffra’s sugar industry begins in the early 1890s. Although there had been other minor attempts to establish sugar production from beets in Victoria from as early as 1866, the local effort was by far the most serious.
The Maffra Sugar Beet Company was registered in 1896, with capital of £70,000. Building of the factory commenced in the following year
and was completed in 1898. The Colony’s first 500 tons of sugar were refined that year.
Unfortunately drought seriously affected production and the Company was unable to continue profitably, so the Victorian Government took over the factory in 1899. It was kept in ‘mothballs’ until 1910, when the industry was revived following a report from a Dr Walter Maxwell
To ensure a continual supply of raw material, the Government insisted that each farm on the newly developed Closer Settlement schemes in Boisdale and Kilmany had to grow a specified quantity of beet, originally ten acres. Despite another severe drought in 1914-15, the factory showed its first of many profits in 1917.
The Glenmaggie irrigation scheme was commenced in 1919 on the Macalister River, initially to provide water for the beet farmers. It was only later that this same water supply became so important to our dairy industry.
The sugar-beet industry flourished for the next 20 years. In 1925 the factory was actually upgraded and expanded in anticipation. The peak production occurred in the 1939-40 season.
World War II eventually brought about the end of the industry as the essential labour force was taken away. Dairying had become far more profitable and farmers post-war were reluctant to re-engage in the more difficult and less rewarding beet growing.
The factory finally closed in 1948; the machinery was auctioned off in 1953; the main building was demolished in 1964.
Little remains today – the wooden office and weighbridge has been moved about 1km from its original site to become the main part of the Sugar Beet Museum complex in McMahon Drive (see below).
The only structure on the original site is the former sugar store located to the south of the Gippsland Vehicle Collection (which is housed in an old Vegetable Dehydration factory).
A more detailed history has been published and is available from MDHS or come and visit us on our next open day on the first Sunday of the month from 10 am to 2 pm.