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About the Video Clip:

Video Clip Synopsis:
A group of men get together in a pub and form a cane – cutting gang. Five million tons of sugarcane have to be cut by hand in back breaking conditions in North Queensland.

2min 13sec

Cane Cutters and Mateship is an excerpt from the film Cane Cutters (10 mins), produced in 1948.

Cane Cutters: This short film takes a look at the life of Queensland sugar cane cutters. It shows itinerant workers contracting with a cane farmer, cutting the cane and loading it for transport, from early morning to dark. Other sequences show the cutters in their quarters eating as much food as they need to carry out a tough job. The film is straightforward in its approach: cane cutting is hard work although the pay is good and the industry itself means much to the thriving state of Queensland.

Cane Cutters is a National Film Board Production. Produced by the Department of Information.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: English
Year: 9-10
Theme: Immigration & Work

Key Concepts

Image, Representation; Identity

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Everyday texts – Language: Contextual understanding
NSW:(1997 Syllabus) C5 Mass media
(2003 Syllabus) Stage 5 Outcome 4
NT:R/V 5.1 – 5.3
R/V 5+.1-5+.3
Qld:Cr 6.2
SA:Texts and contexts 5.3
Tas:Communicating – Being literate, Standard 4
Vic:Reading – Texts 6.6
WA:Understanding Language
Attitudes, values and beliefs

Context / Background Information

The sugarcane industry became a significant economic and social influence in Australia from the 1870s, with the introduction of cheap, indentured, sometimes kidnapped South Pacific Islander labour, and later, in the twentieth century, Italian labour.

A process of chain migration helped create multi-ethnic communities in southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, based on the cane farms.

As with most industries, cane farms had experienced a boom in wartime economic conditions.

However, ten years after the end of World War Two, the Australian playwright Ray Lawler would write Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, in which he characterised itinerant cane cutters as fading heroes, a last remnant of a changing economic and social structure. These “heroes” attitudes and values were fixed in a past time, with Australian society, in a process of change, leaving them behind.

Discussion Pointers

What is the image of the cane cutter and the cane industry that is presented in the video clip?

How is this image achieved or realised? Consider such elements as the images presented, and the personal narrative style.

The video clip presents an image of a society, as well as of individuals. What are the main elements of that society? What is considered important in that society? Consider such elements as gender, technology, social values, personal values.

What does this video clip suggest about the dominant national image or national identity of the time?

Suggested Classroom Activities

The video clip presents an ‘Anglo’ image of the industry, whereas it was one where people of Italian and South Pacific origin were extremely significant, and in fact virtually dominated it. Why would one image be presented, and the other element of it be suppressed?

Read or watch a video version of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. Discuss and compare the similarities and differences in the image of the cane cutters presented in each.

What are the different strengths and weaknesses of the different media used for presenting an image?

Modules That Use This Clip

SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12, English Year 9-10