This government short documentary profiles cane cutters in far north Queensland, revealing an industry that is almost completely unmechanised. While acknowledging and showing the backbreaking work of cane cutting, the film presents a romanticised representation of cane cutting as hard but honestly noble work that is well paid.
The film begins with a cane cutter leaving home and riding a bicycle to the cane fields. A horse drawn plow tills the ground and cane cutters are seen slashing at the cane with machetes. The process of forming work teams is shown as cutting gangs organise themselves in town and sign agreements with growers to harvest the cane, agreements that are overseen by the union and said to be as fair any in the world.
To remove disease and vermin, workers are seen burning the cane, which is followed be extensive footage of men cutting cane by hand, punctuated by a short water break. Time is money and the more cane cut the more money the workers make. The midday heat is avoided as the men return home, or to a bunkhouse, where the cook prepares a meal while the men wash themselves and their clothes – something they do twice as day if they want to stay in the bunk house. Washed and well presented, the men sit down to a meal together where the narrator highlights the multi-cultural make up of the cane cutters. New Australians from the Baltic have joined this particular gang. Bad workers are dropped while good workers are welcomed as mates, no matter where they come from. A good mate is a good mate. After lunch they sleep, before heading back to the cane field in the afternoon to load the cut cane into railway trucks. After weighing and accounting procedures, the cane trains are seen traversing the countryside on their way to market.
Produced by the Department of the Interior and an Australian National Film Board Production.
Author: J Bird, 2023