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The Cane Barracks Story
Eugenie Navarre

The barracks book is the history of cane barracks between Mossman and Ingham, narrated by the colourful characters who were the essence and energy of barrack culture and folklore.

Cane barracks remain the most characteristic and enduring example of Tropical North Queensland architecture.

Hundreds of these original structures have been lost to cyclone, flood, fire and time; others miraculously have endured, a handful from the 1890s, to bring an historic insight and hand era nostalgia to this fast moving modern NQ tourist oriented 21st century.

The basic barrack structure was linear (single banked rooms in a row), with variations of this simple style when additional space was required.

Linear double banked rooms, L-shaped with single banked rooms and large double barracks, of which few have survived, played a vital role as North Queensland worker quarters.

Cyclone Larry in 2006 devastated a selection of barracks in the Japoonvale, Mena Creek, Babinda, Miriwinni and Innisfail areas.
Some of these old structures had already been documented and photographed for this book prior to the holocaust of wind and fury.

The fortitude of old cement barracks that had been kept in good repair came to the fore when the category 5 cyclone warning was flashed from media outlets. One family abandoned their beach home and hurried to the safety of a barracks.

The grand pioneer generations who made these basic structures ‘home’ in the off season - often moving into the stables with a dozen horses when the season began - relate extraordinary stories of courage, corruption, disaster and determination.

These are the families who have left an indelible stamp on the wilderness and wonderment that is North Queensland.
Many memorable characters have died since recording of the barrack history began in approximately 2000, but their yarns and memories are fascinating - the “stuff of folklore” now.

ISBN 9780646476537

Release date: 15 July 2008
History, Biography, Architecture: 124 pp, paperback, with extensive photos
RRP: NZ$33.95
RRP: US/CAN$17.95
RRP: £8.95

Eugenie Navarre has worked for Queensland Homes magazine for the last 15 years as a journalist specialising in the architecture of
North Queensland.

We rely on her knowledge and passion for the unusual and the interesting, and value her creative skills.

Eugenie has the ability to capture in words the architectural detail of buildings, bringing a sense of the history of the dwelling and of the imperatives which informed the design elements.

– Margaret McGuire
Deputy Editor
Queensland Homes

When Ms Navarre informed us that she was collating a collection of images and stories of Cane Barracks in Queensland, we were relieved that this important part of architectural history was to be recorded for future generations. Especially so, in light of the state of decay of some of these dwellings.

Cane barracks were a characteristic architectural style of a period of Australia’s pioneering history. The characteristic vernacular of corrugated iron and bush timber still exists as a significant influence in Queensland architectural style.

– Sophie Walter
President of BDAQ NQ Branch
Building Designer
BSc. Architecture




Eugenie Navarre

Eugenie Navarre is a writer with a passion for the colourful and different - personalities who made a positive contribution to the Planet - and little known outback places.

A rural upbringing at a whistlestop township, Macalister in S.E. Queensland, a journalism cadetship with Queensland Country Life newspaper and a degree in Journalism from Queensland University provided the essentials for the challenge of documenting the iconic cane barracks and folklore stories of pioneers whose epic feats tamed a wilderness wonderland.

Eugenie Navarre has lived at Trinity Beach since 1977. She works as a freelance journalist for magazines and newspapers. The animal rights activist, environmentalist and ‘gypsy wanderer’ has two adult children and a ninety-four year old mother who still runs her own grain grazing property.



The Cocos

Despite her eighty years and more, Santa Coco bubbles with exuberance and vitality like a good vintage champagne.

Together with ‘her Joe’, the late family patriarch, Santa epitomises the industrious canefield migrant saga when fortitude and endurance overcame overwhelming early 20th Century pioneering obstacles.
“There was no fancy stuff then. We survived because we had trust,” announces Santa Coco.

The psyche of the cane heyday remains deeply etched with a distinctive cultural patchwork of colourful bush yarns. North Queensland folklore evolved as the stories of courage and tenacity emerged out of the shadow of time.

Migration to the hot, steamy north was not for the fainthearted. Newcomers faced white Australia prejudice, language barriers, and difficulty in obtaining the most menial job in the lawyer cane-bound wilderness.

There were no subtle television introductions to the big bird cassowary, lurking crocodiles or poisonous reptiles. In fact nothing prepared new arrivals for such extraordinary wildlife, so alien to Europeans.

Initial telephone connections came in the 1930s, offering an important emergency lifeline, while supplying contact with the world outside this North Queensland cocoon.

The early settlers came, saw and endured. Emerging through monsoon and mosquitoes as the backbone of The Great Northern Sugar Movement.

Santa Coco retains a crystal clear recollection of her barrack heritage almost a century ago.

“My parents lived in the barracks and moved into the stables in the cutting season.

“The barracks had four rooms, for eight men, one after the other, a verandah and a big kitchen.

“I think it was iron on the outside.”

She remembers Aboriginals from the bush would come to the door wanting bread, sugar and bacca (tobacco).

“We had nothing, a pannikin to drink our tea, enamel plates and one hurricane lamp. That’s it.

“Some women were so poor they wore bags.

“A part of the stable was partitioned off and we had fertiliser bags for sleeping. I can smell those bags even today.



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