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Cane Cutters and Mateship

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.
Year of production - 1948
Duration - 2min 13sec
Tags - Australian History, identity, multiculturalism, see all tags


Cane Cutters and Mateship

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 cane_pr.mp4 (16.4MB).

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Additional help.

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About the Video Clip


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.

Curriculum Focus


Reading standard: Students read, view, analyse, critique, reflect on and discuss contemporary and classical imaginative texts that explore personal, social, cultural and political issues of significance in their own lives. They will also read, view, analyse and discuss a wide range of informative and persuasive texts and identify the multiple purposes for which texts are created. They explain how texts are shaped by time, place and cultural setting in which they are created.

Writing standard: Students write persuasive texts dealing with complex ideas and issues and control the linguistic structures and features that support the presentation of different perspectives on complex themes and issues.

Speaking and listening standard: Students engaged in discussion, they compare ideas, build on others’ ideas, provide and justify other points of view, and reach conclusions that take into account of aspects of an issue.

The activities in this learning module are relevant to the Interdisciplinary Learning strand of Level 6 Communications (Listening, viewing and responding standard; Presenting standard) and Thinking Processes (Reasoning, processing and inquiry standard; Creativity standard).

The activities are also relevant to the Physical, personal and Social Learning strand of Level 6 Interpersonal Development (Building social relationships standard; Working in teams standard) and Personal Learning (The individual learner standard; Managing personal learning Standard).

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


The sugar cane industry became a significant economic and social influence in Australia from the 1870s, with the introduction of cheap South Pacific and to a lesser extent, Italian labour.

Once the industry could expand, a process of chain migration helped create multicultural 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, within a few years of the end of World War 2 in 1945, 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 society. These 'hero’s’ attitudes and values were fixed in a past time and Australian society, in a process of change, leaving them behind.

*itinerant- travelling from place to place.

Classroom Activities

    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.
  1. The video clip presents an image of a society, as well as individuals.
    1. Discuss and list the main elements of that society.
    2. Comment briefly on how elements such as gender, technology, social values, personal values are placed in that society.
    3. Discuss and identify the dominant national image or national identity of the time Represented in the video clip.
    4. Compare that dominant national image, from 1948, to Australia’s current national image and list differences.
  2. The video clip presents an ‘Anglo’ (white English) 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.
    1. Give reasons why you think the ‘Anglo’ image would be presented, and the multicultural image be suppressed.
    2. Write a 600-word creative or personal piece exploring the theme, ‘Heroes in our country’. You might like to discuss ‘fading heroes’ or ‘present-day heroes’ or both in your piece. For example, sporting heroes, ANC heroes etc.
    1. Write a 600-word analysis describing how the filmmaker uses cinematic techniques including; visuals, voice-over, camera shots, music and editing to create the cane cutters’ image in the video clip. Include examples from the video clip of each cinematic technique.
    2. Identify and list the changes you would need to make to the video clip so that it reflected a truer representation of the cane cutters’ world in 1948.

Further Resources


Stage Play
Ray Lawler (writer), The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Samuel French Inc, 2000
Trevor Graham (director), Sugar Slaves, Film Australia, Annamax Media, Arcadia Films, 1995

Go to Pacific Stories and choose Sugar Slaves