Back Roads: Jan 30

In Queensland's Home Hill, Ayr and Bowen Heather Ewart learns about Italian cane cutters and tagging sea turtles.

This week on ABC Back Roads heads to the town of Home Hill, in the heart of Queensland’s sugar cane country.

Presenter Heather Ewart discovers a town that has grown up around one of the country’s largest sugar cane mills and the rich legacy created by the Italians who came here to cut cane in the early 1900’s.

Heather meets the Musumeci family, descendants of Italian cane cutters who keep their legacy alive today through strong family ties and amazing Italian food.

She joins them to celebrate the ‘Sweet Days and Hot Nights’ Festival’, which celebrates the start of the sugar cane season. The event kicks off with the community coming together to watch the first crop of the season set alight and burning into the night. The weekend festivities include a fiercely contested hand cane-cutting competition and Heather joins descendants of the early immigrants, who it seems have inherited their skills with a cane knife!

But not everyone came to the region willingly. Across the bridge in the sister town of Ayr, Heather meets Les Henaway. His grandfather was from the Pacific Island of Tanna and was brought to the area to cut cane against his will. Known as Black Birding, thousands of South Sea Islanders, like Les’s grandfather, were conned or forced into coming to the region to cut cane. Heather learns how Len and his wife Denese have struggled with the legacy of those times their whole lives.

And it’s not all about sugar in the region. Heather meets local elder Jim Gaston, of the Gudjuda Reference Groups Sea Ranger program. Len and the team monitor sea turtle population numbers along the coastline. Heather takes a trip off the shore of Bowen about 100km away, to see the incredible process of catching and tagging the turtles up close.

8pm Tuesday on ABC.

Leave a Reply