This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use

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, changing communities, continuity, identity, values, work, 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).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 cane_bb.mp4 (7.7MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

buy iconYou can buy this clip on a compilation DVD.

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.

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, cane cutting work and the cane industry presented in the video clip?
  2. The video clip presents an image of a society, as well as 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.
  3. 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?
  4. What evidence is in the film clip to support the notion that work impacts on a person’s identity?
  5. “After we have signed on we seal the contract with a quiet drink – we know each other the country contracts and the cane” What does this statement tell you about the nature of work for its narrator?
  6. How has work in the sugar industry changed over time?

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