In Australia, bananas are grown in both tropical and subtropical regions. This ensures the industry has good diversity in terms of:
- the geographical location of banana farms
- farming practices
- the size and type of farms that grow bananas
- the varieties of bananas grown and
- their flavour.
Where are the tropical regions?
The tropical banana-growing regions are in north Queensland, the Northern Territory and the northern parts of Western Australia. There are also subtropical growing regions in south-east Queensland, Western Australia and northern New South Wales.
In north Queensland, Tully and Innisfail are the major banana-growing regions – not only for north Queensland but for all Australia. Other major growing areas are Silkwood and Mourilyan, the Atherton Tablelands and Lakeland Downs.
The first banana plantations were started by the Chinese migrants working on the goldfields. In the Tully area, bananas were shipped to market via the Tully River and, in Innisfail, on the South Johnstone River.
The trade in north Queensland bananas stopped during World War I when there were restrictions on local shipping and outbreaks of plant disease.
The banana industry re-established in the area at the end of World War II in 1945. Stan MacKay and a number of other growers began farming in the Mission Beach area near Tully. Bananas were packed in 40kg wooden boxes and transported to market by rail up until the 1960s when road transport was introduced. Today bananas are packed in cardboard cartons and transported by both road and rail in refrigerated containers.
The industry has grown substantially and the total farm area producing bananas in north Queensland is about 12,000 hectares.
The Northern Territory
The Territory is Australia’s northern most banana production area. However, the soil-borne fungal disease Panama has substantially reduced banana production there. The disease was identified in the Northern Territory in the 1990s, and is the only known Australian location although Panama strains are found in Asian and South American production areas. Banana production figures from the Northern Territory Government’s Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries show banana production declined from about 7,000 tonnes in 2000 to about 2,000 tonnes in 2007 – no further production figures have been released by the department. In 2012 there was only one commercial banana plantation.
It is hoped the development of Panama-tolerant and resistant banana plant varieties will assist to re-establish the Northern Territory’s banana industry.
Some bananas are grown in the far north of Western Australia, near Kununurra in the eastern Kimberley region close to the Northern Territory border.