Australian hand cane cutting championships

Burdekin hand cane cutting contest keeps tradition alive.


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It was backbreaking work under the blistering sun as contestants competed in the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships in the Burdekin on the weekend.

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It was backbreaking work under the blistering sun as contestants competed in the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships in the Burdekin on the weekend.

About 30 men and women traveled from across Queensland to take part in the annual contest, which is the only of its kind in Australia.

North Queensland was well represented, with four generations of the Gilbert family, from Far North Queensland, taking part.

At just 16, Angus Gilbert from Tully, a student at Good Counsel College, kept up the family tradition in competing for the first time.

The youngest competitor on the day quickly had a few blisters popping up on his hands, but held his own in the hotly contested under 35’s category.

Angus said his brother’s and uncles had competed and he always wanted to give it a go. And while it was hard work, he expects to return again next year.

At the other end of the age range, was oldest competitor Olivio Pozzebon.

At a sprightly 84 years of age, Mr Pozzebon, proved that age is just a number and that he had forgotten nothing of the backbreaking work he undertook as his first job in Australia after arriving from Italy.

Mr Pozzebon said he arrived in Australia in 1956 and got straight to work on a Burdekin cane farm until 1959.

Without the modern day harvesting equipment, the cane knife was the only way to harvest.

The days were long and the conditions relentless.

Mr Pozzebon said he would often start work at 6am and not finish until at least 4pm, depending on the tonnage that was required that day.

And while it was unheard of back in the day, there was also a section for the ladies, with Burdekin Mayor Lyn McLaughlin trying her hand against a number of the well-known Burdekin’s Vass family matriarch.

 For those not competing, there was plenty of entertainment at the Home Hill Showgrounds, as the region incorporated the contest into the inaugural Sweet Days, Hot Nights festival.

The event started with the traditional first fire to signal the start of the cane season on Wednesday night, and culminated with the contest.

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