A Far North Queensland time capsule

To celebrate Big Screen’s upcoming tour to Cairns, Mission Beach, Kuranda and Babinda, here are a range of films featuring Far North Queensland, dating from 1899 to 2005.

Click here to view National Collection items relating to Far North Queensland, available for viewing through the NFSA in Canberra, and its access centres around Australia.

South Sea Islanders Cutting Cane (1899)

_NFSA: 43706_

Produced by the Queensland Department of Agriculture, this clip filmed in 1899 is one of the few pieces of footage of Melanesian labourers cutting cane in Queensland. Filmed using a static Lumière Cinematographe.

Watch the full video on ASO.

An Australian Invention: Falkiner Cane Harvester in Operation (c.1925)

_NFSA: 43557_

Shot in Bundaberg, Queensland, this film promotes the use of the mechanical harvester – a real innovation at the time.

Watch two excerpts of the film on ASO.

The Cane Cutters (1948). Made by The National Film Board. Directed by Hugh McInnes. Part of the NFSA’s Film Australia Collection.

Takes a look at the life of Queensland sugar cane cutters. It shows itinerant workers contracting with a cane farmer, cutting the cane and loading it for transport, from early morning to dark.

From The Tropics To The Snow (1962). Made by The Commonwealth Film Unit. Directed by Richard Mason and Jack Lee. Part of the NFSA’s Film Australia Collection.

A scriptwriter and a director argue their approaches to the problem of a comprehensive documentary about Australia: one favours an experimental style, the other a more conventional approach. Excerpts, wittily observed, from both proposed films indicate the faults of each, and the problems of making such a film are chronicled with considerable humour. Far North Queensland features from 13:40.

Life In Australia: Cairns (1964). Produced for the Department of Immigration by The Commonwealth Film Unit. Part of the NFSA’s Film Australia Collection.

Made to attract migrants and tourists to the Cairns region, the film depicts everyday work and leisure in Cairns in the 1960s. Includes footage of cane burning and cutting, sports such as fishing, and local tourism.

Will The Great Barrier Reef Cure Claude Clough? (1965). Made by The Commonwealth Film Unit. Part of the NFSA’s Film Australia Collection.

Directed by John Milson. This film takes the form of a psychiatric session, using the metaphor as a way to explore the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef.

A Big Country – Peninsula People (1968)


Taken from the iconic series Big Country, developed by the ABC’s Rural Department.

This particular episode focuses on life on Musgrave Station in Far North Queensland. Every day, planes come into the station airfield to refuel. Both passengers and pilots find a ready cup of tea from the station owner’s wife, Mary Hales.

Watch two excerpts of the program on ASO.

Message Stick – Babinda Boulders (2005)


Taken from the ABC’s Message Stick program. The story of the Devils Pool, near Babinda, recounted by Yidinji elder Annie Wonga, is an ancient love story. Young men fall victim to a waterhole where the spirit of a woman dwells.

Watch two excerpts of the program on ASO.

If you have enjoyed looking at this slice of life in Far North Queensland, you might also enjoy our West Australian and Tasmanian time capsules.

For more films about Queensland see the NFSA Films YouTube Channel



I really enjoyed watching "Life in Australia - Cairns". I loved seeing all the old buildings and how simple the daily goings on of life were back then. Good to see that since then to today, Mt Mooroobool has had it's rainforest re-grow after years of sugar cane fires used to burn up it's hillslopes.

Jane Sharp on 04 Jan 2014, 11:12 p.m.

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