An Australian Invention: Harvesting and topping sugarcane

An Australian Invention: Harvesting and topping sugarcane
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An animated sketch demonstrates how the harvester elevates, tops and collects cane, illustrating all the major parts of the machine that aid this process. A live-action demonstration follows, broken down into the working parts engaged in this sequence. Intertitles are used to clarify and name each part. Summary by Poppy de Souza.

The development in ‘topping’ the cane stalks was incorporated into the harvester after identifying that cane tops are roughly the same length.


An Australian Invention synopsis

This promotional documentary for the mechanical Falkiner Cane Harvester incorporates animated sketches, intertitles and live-action examples to demonstrate how the harvester operates in the cane fields of Bundaberg, Queensland.


An Australian Invention curator's notes

The Falkiner Cane Harvester was one of the first mechanical harvesters to be developed for the cutting of cane. Until this time, cane cutting was done manually, and only decades earlier had been done by indentured Melanesian labourers brought to Queensland to work in the cane fields. This manual harvesting of cane has been captured on film in South Sea Islanders Cutting Cane, 1899: Nambour, Qld and serves as a contrast to the clips shown here.

The intertitles throughout this film succinctly describe the action and parts of the harvester in detail. The intertitles use the symbol of the cane stalk as a border to frame the text, providing a direct link to the action they describe. The illustrations and animated sketches often precede a live-action demonstration and are both easy to understand and detailed enough to let audiences grasp the mechanics and design principles. These devices combine to give a lot of information in an effective and interesting way. Sections of the film focus on specific features of the harvester, including the ‘revolving knives’ that it uses to cut the cane from below the surface of the ground. Additionally, a willing volunteer points with a stick or their hand, to the part being described.

Aside from the opening title, there are no production details on this film, and its intended use therefore remains uncertain. It was deposited with the National Film and Sound Archive by the Queensland Cane Growers Organisation (now known as CANEGROWERS) and was possibly made by them or an associated organisation to promote the use of the mechanical harvester – a real innovation at the time.

Notes by Poppy de Souza