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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: SOSE/HSIE
Year: 11-12
Theme: Immigration & Work

Key Concepts

Image; Representation; Identity

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Past; Sources; Processes
NT:History Stage 2
Qld:Senior History Unit 8 Modern Australia
SA:History Stage 2
Tas:Senior Australian History — national identity
Vic:Australian History Unit 3 — Colony to Nation
WA:Year 11 Australian Studies — Australian identity

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

  1. What is the image of the cane cutter and the cane industry that is presented in the video clip?
  2. How is this image achieved or realised? Consider such elements as the images presented, and the personal narrative style.
  3. 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 and personal values.
  4. What does this video clip suggest about the dominant national image or national identity of the time?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. The cane industry and cane communities were strongly influenced by both Italian and Pacific Islander immigration. Why might these voices have been excluded in the representation of the past as shown in this video clip?
  2. Research the development and role of the cane industry in Australian history. Consider its economic, social and political aspects. What was its significance in Australian national development?
  3. The industry has been protected by government subsidies and tariffs for many years. It is no longer able to compete internationally without such assistance — at a time when many people are arguing for free trade, rather than protection. Is there a case for protection of such an industry and the communities that it supports? Or should these be cut loose to sink or swim according to their economic viability alone? Prepare a case that supports your view.

Modules That Use This Clip

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