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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).

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

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


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:
H.6 A student engages with the details of text in order to respond critically and personally.
H.8 A student articulates and represents own ideas in critical, interpretive and imaginative texts from a range of perspectives.
H.10 A student analyses and synthesises information and ideas into sustained and logical argument for a range of purposes and audiences.
H.11 A student draws upon the imagination to transform experience and ideas into text, demonstrating control of language.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies 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.

Literacy Activity: Focus = Representing / Composing

Choose either:

  1. Design a flow chart which maps the process of cane cutting; from signing on to harvest (5 marks) or
  2. Compose a short poem which uses some of the phrases and rhyming words used in the clip. (5 marks)

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