Fairymead House, built in 1890 to an Indian bungalow plan, was originally the manager's residence at nearby Fairymead Sugar Plantation, built for Ernest and Margaret Young, owners of Fairymead Sugar Mill and Plantation. Mrs Young's brother was an architect, and is said to have had a hand in the grand design. In 1988, the house was given to the city of Bundaberg as a bicentennial gift from Bundaberg Sugar, the company that owned and operated the mill. The house was carefully transported to its new site in the botanic gardens in six pieces, with its collection now housing interpretive items donated by local cane farming families and icons in the Bundaberg community. Designed by Sydney architect John Shedden Adam, the architectural style of Fairymead House demonstrates an approach to building design that was influenced by Queensland climate and culture. In particular, the Indian Bungalow style home features a floor area of 600 square metres, 16-foot ceilings, wide verandahs and extended eves, designed to provide shade and natural cooling against the Queensland summer heat. The architect introduced a number of special inclusions in his design to accommodate requests made by Mrs Young. One request was to design the front stairs with a landing a couple of feet from the ground so that she could alight from her carriage without soiling her shoes.
Between World War I and World War II the house was used as single men's quarters by Fairymead mill and plantation workers, and in the early 1950s the house was reportedly used for European refugee accommodation. In 1960 Christopher Young (grandson of Ernest and Margaret Young) moved his family back into Fairymead House and remained there until 1986. In 1990 the Bundaberg City Council began work on a development plan for Fairymead House and over the next four years undertook a number of conservation works on the property. The adaptive re-use of the property from a residence to firstly a museum and now a visitor attraction involved utilising the space underneath the house, which was subsequently bricked in to provide room for a theatrette and education centre. The interior of the original home has undergone very few structural changes since its construction in 1890 and many of the rooms have been furnished according to their original use. Most rooms contain a series of static displays illustrating the lifestyle of a plantation owner in the late 19th Century and the social aspects of the development of the sugar industry. Fairymead House also reflects the life and work of the Young brothers - Henry, Horace and Ernest - who established one of Bundaberg's earliest and most successful sugar plantations.
The Young brothers made a number of valuable contributions to the development of the sugar industry in Queensland, establishing state-of-the-art irrigation systems to combat drought, integrating more efficient cane processing techniques and introducing the now universal cane transport system, the Fowler's tramway. The rooms within Fairymead House have been furnished to reflect their original use and contain a series of static displays illustrating the lifestyle of Ernest and Margaret Young, a pioneering family of the late 19th Century, and their contribution to the establishment of Queensland's sugar industry.
Celebrating the history of Bundaberg's sugar industry
The origin of Bundaberg's sugar industry dates back more than one hundred years to the introduction of the Sugar and Coffee Regulations Act 1864. Faced with the high cost of importing sugar from overseas, the Colony wanted to find a way to encourage people to invest in sugarcane growing, and the Sugar and Coffee Regulations Act 1864 was introduced into Parliament by Charles Coxen (member for the Northern Downs), proposing permitted persons or companies to select land suitable for sugar in lots ranging from half a square mile to two square miles. The introduction of the Act brought about a renewed interest in sugar cane growing and people raced to accumulate land up and down the coast of Queensland. The Brown brothers, Alfred and Arthur, were one of many who acquired land under the Sugar and Coffee Regulations Act 1864. In the early 1870s, the brothers acquired 13 square kilometres of land and developed the cattle property "Tantitha".
Working under the Act the brothers divided up a central section of their property into three blocks, Jamaica, Barbados and Mauritius and experimented with the growing of sugarcane. These subdivided sections later became known as Fairymead, after a friend of the family visited the plantation and described the place as being like a "fairy mead" on a misty morning. The Browns abandoned their venture into sugar after the floods of 1875, which saw the land swamped and the cane trampled by cattle, and they sold the five square miles of land devoted to sugarcane to the Young family in 1878. Arthur and Horace Young, with their younger brother Ernest, began to transform Fairymead into a profitable, state of the art, sugar plantation, and, like many others who had heard of the potentially profitable sugar industry in Queensland's north, Arthur, Horace and Ernest had no knowledge of the sugar industry except their father's theoretical experience. They had formally held two sheep stations in New Zealand, but when rabbits devastated these stations in 1878, the brothers began an eight-month search for another suitable investment.
Their original intent was to investigate the pastoral possibilities in Australia but they were immediately won over by the possibility of a profitable sugar industry in Queensland. Arthur and Horace began operations at Fairymead in 1880, while Ernest went to England to acquire some necessary equipment for the plantation. By 1883 the rougher pioneering work was done and the first major crop harvested. For the first two years the Young’s punted the juice from their crops to Millaquin plantation and sugar refinery, and in 1884 they installed a clarification unit and boiling plant, which enabled them to refine their own sugar as well as the sugar crops of smaller plantations in the Bundaberg region. By the end of 1884 cane from the Fairymead plantation, processed by their own mill, was producing fifteen tons of sugar daily. The Young brothers were also responsible for the introduction of a number of innovative cane harvesting and crushing techniques, many of which are still in use today. In setting up Fairymead Mill the Young brothers chose to install 81cm rollers imported from Glasgow to crush the cane instead of the standard 76cm rollers. They installed a Relieux furnace to improve processing efficiency of the raw juice and in circa 1882, they initiated the use of Fowler's tramway system to bring cane to the mill, introducing the now universal system of cane railways to the Bundaberg district. In 1902 the Young brothers established an irrigation system to help combat the effects of long periods of drought in the region and began working towards the mechanisation of the cane harvesting industry.
In 1938 the Young Brothers took their first step towards the mechanisation of cane harvesting by financing the development of a new single-row cane-cutting machine, considered a significant advance in cane-cutting technology, capable of cutting over 200 tonnes per day in straight cane - an investment that paid off during the labour shortages of World War II, and the rest of the Bundaberg region also benefited from this reduced demand for cane cutters, who were made more available to service other sugar plantations in the region. Their second step was the development of the successful two-row cane-cutting machine, a post-war development made possible using the mechanical skills of Jim Vichie and the encouragement of Charles Young (son of Ernest and Margaret Young). In 1972 Fairymead Sugar Company merged with Gibson and Howes Pty Limited to form the Bundaberg Sugar Company Limited, while Milliquin Sugar Company Pty Limited became part of the group in 1975.