Recovering a Sicilian Family : Researching and Writing a Story of Anger, Shame and Family Breakdown in the Ingham-Halifax Area of North Queensland (1926–1945)

PhD Thesis

Boyne, K.. (2024). Recovering a Sicilian Family : Researching and Writing a Story of Anger, Shame and Family Breakdown in the Ingham-Halifax Area of North Queensland (1926–1945) [PhD Thesis]. Australian Catholic University School of Arts and Humanities
AuthorsBoyne, K.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

This PhD research project comprises a fact-informed historical novel and an exegesis. The novel tells the story of the emigration of a Sicilian family to the Herbert River district of North Queensland during the interwar period. It is loosely based on the life of my anti-Fascist grandfather who arrived in Queensland in 1926, his wife, who never left Italy, and his two children, who emigrated a decade later. This family was fractured from the beginning by geographical separation, but catastrophic events in their lives in both Sicily and Queensland only deepened the fracture. The research reveals how becoming a canecutter in Queensland and the hardships, politics and prejudice that accompanied that choice, particularly in the Ingham area where there was a concentration of southern Italians, led to further family breakdown, exacerbated by the weight of secrets and shame. It also addresses the hardships experienced by the women who remained in the home country.
Italian immigration in Queensland is inextricably tied to the sugar industry and the canefields culture, which contributed enormously to the economic, social and cultural development of Queensland and its non-Indigenous settlement. Chain migration to the sugarlands saw the growth of concentrated communities of Italians as they found work with established, land-owning paesani or parenti. This led to a steady rise in land ownership by Italians in North Queensland, which in turn triggered deep resentment in the wider Anglo society of their economic success and perceived domination of the sugar industry, culminating in the injustice of internment of naturalised Italians during World War Two.
The exegesis reflects on the creative practice-led narrative inquiry research method adopted for this project and reviews a previously overlooked subgenre of Australian literature and popular culture I identify as ‘canecutter narrative’. A second literature review of the archival primary sources on which the semi-fictional story is built provides a hermeneutic analysis of these sources in their historical and cultural context. The exegesis establishes how the novel belongs in and uniquely contributes to the canecutter narrative subgenre.

KeywordsEmigration; Family breakdown; Sugar industry; North Queensland; Sicilian migrants; Internment; Canecutters
PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Research or scholarlyResearch
Page range1-346
Final version
File Access Level
Supplementary Files (Layperson Summary)
All rights reserved
File Access Level
Output statusPublished
Publication dates
Online29 Mar 2024
Publication process dates
Accepted25 Mar 2024
Deposited02 Apr 2024
Additional information

This work © 2023, Kerry Boyne.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International.

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