A Beaut of a Cut Near Cairns: The Butty Gang System in the Cane Fields in John Naish’s The Cruel Field

Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka (2023) A Beaut of a Cut Near Cairns: The Butty Gang System in the Cane Fields in John Naish’s The Cruel Field. Labour History, 124 (1). pp. 31-61.

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Fictional works are a medium to not only understand the past but to give voice to the marginalised and lost. For over a century and a half sugar cane was harvested by hand in Australia, first by Melanesian indentured labourers, Asian labourers and then by free, mostly white labour. With the post-World War II economic boom, the sugar industry expanded. Thousands of men signed-on to cut cane, despite its brutality and itinerant lifestyle. For an intense seven months they lived together in barracks and worked in gangs, eyes fixed on the pay packet, cut-out day and the retention money. The powerful sense of mateship that bound the gang often faltered under the heat of a tropical sun, as the cutters battled tangled cane, avaricious farmers, and the intransigent mills’ field arbiters, the cane inspectors. Welsh immigrant author, playwright, and cane cutter John Naish’s sugar country novel, The Cruel Field, authentically exposed the dynamics and workings of the butty gang system in the Australian cane fields in the 1950s and 1960s. In this article, Naish’s novel is used to examine the butty gang in the cane fields, suggesting the potential cogency of seeing labour history through the lens of a fictional work.

Item ID: 78705
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1839-3039
Keywords: John Naish; Sugar Cane; Sugar Industry; Butty Gang; Queensland; Manual Cane Cutting; Sugar Country Fiction
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2023 00:51
FoR Codes: 43 HISTORY, HERITAGE AND ARCHAEOLOGY > 4303 Historical studies > 430302 Australian history @ 100%
SEO Codes: 13 CULTURE AND SOCIETY > 1307 Understanding past societies > 130703 Understanding Australia’s past @ 100%
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