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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: 9-10
Strand: Time, continuity and change
Theme: Immigration & Work

Key Concepts

Image; Representation; Identity; Multiculturalism

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Time, continuity and change, High school band
NSW:History, Stage 5, Topic 4
NT:Social systems and structures — Time, continuity and change Band 5, SOC 5.1
Qld:History Years 9 and 10, Time, continuity and change Level 6, TCC6.1
SA:Time, continuity and change, Standard 5
Tas:Social responsibility — Understanding the past and creating preferred futures
Vic:History Level 6, 6.2
WA:Time, continuity and change — Early adolescence

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?

Although the video clip shows a cane community, there is virtually no reference to women in the community. Suggest reasons why women might have been excluded from this representation of a particular community and society at this time?

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, in fact virtually dominated it. Why would one image be presented, and the other representation of it be suppressed?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Do you think this video clip was made for a local (Australian) audience, or an overseas one? Use evidence to support your answer.
  2. Research change over time in a cane community. Focus on the number of workers involved, changing technology, changing economic significance, and changes in the national origins of the population.
  3. Research the role of Pacific Islanders in the sugar cane industry, and the impact of the 1901 Pacific Islands Labourers’ Act. What did the Act do? Why were these restrictions created? Who was affected by it? What impact has it had on people today?

Modules That Use This Clip

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