Manual assistance operators at work in the Nambour Telephone Exchange in 1966.
Manual assistance operators at work in the Nambour Telephone Exchange in 1966. Picture Sunshine Coast

Coast has grown strong on the backs of its workers

THE Sunshine Coast region was developed by and for the people who lived, worked, farmed and went about daily employment to create one of the finest regions in the country.

Unemployment was virtually unheard of except for the years of the Great Depression and workers, both male and female, participated fully in the social and cultural life of their regions.

Workers and the working class were celebrated.

The annual Labour Day March was a cause for great festivity. It was held on the first weekend in May and in the early days it was a day of great festivities, sporting events, parades, dinners and involved all facets of the community.


On Labour Day 1926, the Nambour community enjoyed a performance by the Brisbane Pipe Band and the festivities also included the Friendly Societies, children in fairy costumes with a prize for the best fairy, decorated trucks and marchers from the Masonic Lodges in the area.

The march was followed by a sports day and in the evening a concert of Scottish music.

Similar events such as these were held through the years except for 1951, when the march could not take place due to an outbreak of polio in the district.

Some Labour Day events were organised by the community, others by the Labor Party or the Protestant Labor Party and some by the union movement.

Labour Day marches were all over the Coast and were recorded in Landsborough and Maleny.

Various activities also included race meetings, bowling competitions and tennis matches.

In the early pioneer days, women and men worked alongside each other undertaking all the necessary daily tasks to ensure the region's prosperity.

Pioneer women worked in hard conditions, with little home comforts and searing heat in summer and bitter frosts in winter.

Wartime experiences saw women carrying on the farm work and keeping the farms.

Larger towns such as Nambour and Landsborough offered a wide range of employment opportunities.

There were the normal shops such as butchers, bakers, groceries, farming requirements and, of course, general haberdashery and groceries.

The farming industry in the region was a major employer and seasonal work in ginger, beans, bananas and of course cane provided both men and women with employment.

The cane industry was one of the major employers.

Sugar mills were in various rural towns and in the latter years the Moreton Mill provided employment for large numbers of people.

The mill employed both cane cutters, harvesters, factory operators, chemists, train drivers and administrative staff.

Pay day at the mill was a huge event, with people lining up for their pay (cash of course) and then going down the street to buy their groceries or perhaps a treat at Collins Café.

Cane cutters made up a large percentage of the workforce. Many lived in tiny cane barracks or in singles quarters near the mill and would leave in the early morning, arrive home in the late afternoon, covered in soot from the newly-burned cane.

Lighting the cane fires and watching the cane be prepared was hot hard work.

They not only battled the heat but also snakes, rats and other vermin who liked the cane fields.

There was always a ready supply of cane cutters except for the 1940s. As World War Two took the men to fight for their country, a crisis occurred in the cane industry, where 40-60 cane cutters were required or the cane harvest would need to be destroyed.

Part of the solution arrived when 20 Aboriginal workers from inland NSW came and cut cane for the duration of the war.

The Moreton Mill, cane train, stack and the cane season was a fixture in the Nambour town.

The sight of the cane train lumbering through the main street was a great excitement to children and the smell of the processed cane was an odour which permeated the atmosphere.

As soon as you washed your clothes, the black ash from the cane fire would fall on your washing.

The mill provided not only employment but socialisation and a sense of community.

The other major employers were the shire councils.

The municipal governments have a long history of employing workers in a varied range of works.

Some of our original roads, bridges, and public facilities were built by pioneer workers under difficult conditions.

Later, as local government became more community orientated, jobs such as child care and libraries were introduced.

By the late 1980s, local governments on the Sunshine Coast provided libraries, recycling, parks, gardens, community events, child care, sewerage and water, and of course built roads and other infrastructure, all funded largely by ratepayers.

Many of the early employment opportunities focused on men, but because of the war and changing times, there were a variety of professions that employed largely women workers.

Nambour General Hospital was a large employer, with large number of nurses working and training in both general and midwifery nursing.

Nurses lived onsite and the nurse's quarters became a crucial social hub for the nurses who worked long hours and varied shifts.

Nurses who lived at the quarters became family to each other and the special celebrations such as Christmas were celebrated in style.

In the latter half of the 20th Century, nurses did part of their training at the Royal Brisbane Hospital so they could experience specialist nursing such as psychiatric and children's nursing.

The running of a successful telephone service was a further employer of women.

Telephone exchanges were the crucial communication within the area. The women worked at the exchange, transferring callers to one another, assisting with emergencies and providing service at any time of the day or night.

The exchange was automated in 1969 and progress made yet another essential job redundant.

The working men and women of the district sowed the seeds for the economic and cultural benefits we experience today.

Mechanisation has created a faster and more efficient world, but in doing so we have lost many professions and activities which supported the economy and provided avenues for social and cultural advancement.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council's Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

In 2017 we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Naming of the Sunshine Coast. For more information on this milestone anniversary visit

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