Bowen – Fruit bowl of the north
Looking for some harvest work in winter and want to enjoy some balmy, tropical ‘dry season’ weather at the same time? Bowen, in Far North Queensland, may be the place to go.
Named in 1861 by explorer George Elphinstone Dalrymple after the first Governor of Queensland, Sir George Bowen, it is Australia’s largest winter vegetable growing region.
Bowen is located 1,160 km north of Brisbane via the Bruce Highway, 192 km north of Mackay, and 205 km south of Townsville. The region in north Queensland is known as the Whitsundays.
As well as a wide range of vegetables, crops grown around Bowen include tomatoes, melons and mangoes. Growers send their produce to domestic and export markets with an estimated farm-gate value of $460 million.
The region, including Gumlu (68km to the north-west), has approximately 8,700 hectares of land in production. Consequently there is a large demand for workers with an estimated 3,200 skilled and unskilled vacancies available each year. Vegetable production is from April/May through to November, and mango production November and December.
Unlike other areas of Far North Queensland, Bowen growers do not have access to reticulated irrigation water from any nearby dam. They have to either harvest and store water during high rainfall events, or use local groundwater. Bowen has several accommodation options including caravan parks and motels. For people looking for work, several working hostels are located in town including Aussie Mates, Bowen Backpackers and Barnacles.
Bowen acts as a service town for the northern Bowen Basin coal industry. Abbot Point, located 19km north of Bowen, is Australia’s most northerly coal shipping port. It was opened in 1984 and has direct rail links with inland coal mining towns such as Collinsville and shipped 29 million tonnes of coal in 2018/19.
Compared to the neighbouring towns of Mackay and Townsville, tourism is only a minor part of the Bowen economy. Although there were over one million travellers using the Bruce Highway, a recent survey revealed that only 6% stopped in Bowen. However, for those travellers that do call into Bowen, they are likely to welcome the fact that they did.
Things to do
The Bowen Visitor Information Centre is a good place to start an investigation of local attractions. Located on the Bruce Highway at Mount Gordon, South Bowen, it is also the home of The Big Mango, built to celebrate that mangoes have been grown in the district since the late 1880s. Unveiled on 25 May 2002 as a community initiative, The Big Mango made world news in 2014 when the three-storey, 10 tonne structure was stolen from the visitor information centre. The disappearance was later revealed as a publicity stunt for a local chicken restaurant.
Bowen also has many quiet, unspoiled beaches, starting with the town beach which is located close to the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Water temperatures range from 28o in summer to 22o in winter. Other beaches include Horseshoe Bay, Grays Bay, Murray Bay, Kings Beach and Queens Beach.
Check before you travel
While large numbers of workers are needed in Bowen, there is no guarantee work will be available for travellers who simply turn up, particularly when it is out of peak growing season. Contacting the National Harvest Labour Information Service (1800 062 332), or some of the local hostels will provide up to date information on the state of the harvest work market.