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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, economy, environment, identity, natural resources, see all tags


Cane Cutters and Mateship

How to Download the Video Clip

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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


Geographical Knowledge and understanding
They explain, using examples, how the interaction of physical processes and human activities create variations within the regions. They use evidence and appropriate geographical language to explain contrasts within smaller regions surrounding Australia. Students describe differences in culture, living conditions and outlook, including attitudes to environmental issues, in these regions. They demonstrate understanding of environmental issues based on inquiry and propose ways of ensuring the sustainability of resources

Economic knowledge and understanding
At Level 6, students describe how markets, government policies, enterprise and innovation affect the economy, society and environment in terms of employment, economic growth, the use of resources, exports and imports, and ecological sustainability.

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. The video clip:
    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. 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.
    1. Using the internet, find out more about the importance that the sugar cane industry played in Australia’s economy at the beginning of the century.
    2. The cane industry and cane communities were strongly influenced by both Italian and Pacific Islander immigrants. Why might these voices have been excluded form this representation of the past as depicted in this video?
  2. What environmental issues could be raised after viewing this film clip?

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