The Steam Driven Sugar Mills of Java - Preserving the Skills

Owen Peake

Keywords: Java, Sugar, Skills

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The island of Java has had a sugar industry since colonial times and about thirty mills, built during the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century, driven by reciprocating steam engines, remain in operation. These contain machinery, much of which has remained largely as it was originally built. A tour of 27 of these mills during the 2006 crushing season recorded over 500 stationary steam engines still driving mills and other machinery. Narrow gauge, steam-hauled railway systems, to gather cane, were also observed.

These mills are being operated, maintained and managed by local personnel, trained within the mills. The great age of the machinery makes its maintenance intensive, especially as very few spare parts are obtainable. Trades observed included mechanics, machinists, welders, engine drivers, boiler attendants, and plant operators.

The skill levels observed in these mills were very high. Breakdowns were attended to quickly by well-coordinated teams with parts being repaired or made form scratch in extensive workshops. 

The Indonesian sugar industry produces the majority of the nation’s sugar requirements. The industry employs a large number of people with the benefits this brings to local communities. There is considerable pride in being involved in this sustainable industry.

REFERENCE: Peake, O. 2007 The Steam Driven Sugar Mills of Java - Preserving the Skills . Fourteenth National Engineering Heritage Conference 2007. Perth, Australia, 18 September – 21 September 2007. The Institution of Engineers Australia: Conference Papers.