The legend of the ‘gentlemen of the flashing blade’ : The canecutter in the Australian imagination

Journal article

Boyne, Kerry. (2022). The legend of the ‘gentlemen of the flashing blade’ : The canecutter in the Australian imagination. The Australasian Journal of Popular Culture. 11(1-2), pp. 45-61.
AuthorsBoyne, Kerry

The ‘gentlemen of the flashing blade’ laboured in an occupation that no longer exists in Australia: canecutting. It was a hard job done by hard men, and its iconic figure – the canecutter – survives as a Queensland legend, so extensively romanticized in the popular culture of the time as to constitute a subgenre characterized by subject matter and motifs particular to the pre-mechanization sugar country culture. Yet, it may seem like the only canecutters immortalized in the arts are Summer of the Seventeenth Doll’s Roo and Barney. To show the breadth and diversity of this subgenre, and the legend of the canecutter and sugar country culture, this article reviews a selection of novels, memoirs, plays, short stories, cartoons, verse, song, film, television, radio and children’s books. These works address the racial, cultural and industrial politics of the sugar industry and its influence on the economic and social development of Queensland. The parts played by the nineteenth-century communities of indentured South Sea Islanders and the European immigrants who followed are represented along with those of the itinerant Anglos. These works depict, and celebrate, a colourful, often brutal, part of Queensland’s past and an Australian icon comparable with the swaggie or the shearer.1

Keywordscanecutters; internment; Italians; Kanakas; Queensland; South Sea Islanders; sugar industry
JournalThe Australasian Journal of Popular Culture
Journal citation11 (1-2), pp. 45-61
PublisherIntellect Ltd
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Scopus EID2-s2.0-85145860855
Page range45-61
Publisher's version
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online27 Dec 2022
Publication process dates
Accepted08 Sep 2022
Deposited11 Jul 2023
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