Australia, Cuba

Incongruously, there is a small town in the Zapata Peninsula of Cuba called Australia. It used to be a thriving town when the sugarcane industry was booming as it had a large mill which was central to Cuba’s thriving sugar industry.

A decline in the sugarcane industry means that the Australia Sugar Mill is now closed and has fallen into ruin. Instead, a steam engine museum and salvage yard has opened, utilising the locomotives and tracks which once transported the sugarcane to and from the nearby plantation.

Visitors can take a ride on the old ‘Australia 1716’ steam locomotive, passing through the fields where visitors can taste sugarcane hand-picked by locals who now work at the museum. There are also demonstrations of how the national tree of Cuba, the towering Royal Palm, is climbed to harvest its fruit which is not eaten by humans but a staple diet for the country’s plentiful population of pigs.

The nearby home of the former plantation owner is now a small museum dedicated to the time when it was commandeered by Fidel Castro as his headquarters to direct the revolutionary army during the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961. This was an unsuccessful action by US-backed Cuban exiles to overthrow Castro’s communist government and the invading army were defeated within three days. On invasion day, 17th April 1961, troops and militia from all over Cuba gathered at the Australia Sugar Mill to begin the defence of the island.

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