It was dirty, seasonal work, but Frank Doughty loved nothing more.
The former Bundaberg resident is part of the region’s rich sugar cane farming history, one of the last to have cut cane by hand before machinery took over.
Born in 1928 in Wagga Wagga, Mr Doughty’s parents had a small country sawmill at Rosewood. His father also had trucks and provided his townsfolk with fuel and fertiliser.
At the age of 19, with dreams of earning big dollars as a cane cutter, Mr Doughty left his family in New South Wales and travelled to Queensland, to his uncle’s pineapple farm at Rosemount, near Nambour.
In 1948 Mr Doughty managed to secure work with Bill Bullen on a farm in Nambour and in the same year also worked for Petersen’s cane and smallcrops farm at Rosemount.
With itchy feet and a desire to “chase the cut”, a year later he bought a motorbike and headed north.
“The Bruce Highway was little more than a two-wheel track at that time,” Mr Doughty’s son, Brian, said.
He found work near Ingham but finished up in February 1950.
“The way to cut those days was called “underarm” – usually two sticks at a time. Blokes from Bundy working there cut by stooling, which was faster, so Dad cut this way from then on,” Brian said.
A slack period saw him make his way back down the highway to Kenilworth at Doyle’s Mill before completing three-quarters of a season with Vic Clarke and the last quarter on a farm in Childers.
“Dad and his mate were gun cutters … others reckon they were hungry, called Dad Hungario One and his mate Hungario Two,” Brian said.
Another slack in 1951 forced a quick change in career to truck driver, before he again gained employment as a cane cutter at the Bingera Plantation.
Over the next 18 years until 1968, Mr Doughty worked at a string of farms across the Bundaberg region, including at Fairymead, South Kolan, Tegege, Qunaba, Sharon and South Bingera.
The next year – what was to be his last cutting cane by hand — Mr Doughty’s hard work and persistence paid off and he worked cutting cane on his very own farm. He was 41 years old.
He then went half shares in a second-hand wholestick cane harvester and in 1972 gave into the pressures of technology and employed a chopper harvester contractor.
“Christmas 1972 was a wet finish to the season and Dad was caught with 150 tonnes of burnt cane and the ground too wet to machine harvest. So out came the cane knife and with the help of a neighbour and both his teenage sons, he borrowed a portable tram line and started late on Christmas day. He had the last on the main line just in time before Bingera Mill closed for the season,” Brian said.
“This was the last wholestick cane to go through the knives at Bingera Mill as chopper cane had finally taken over.”
After 21 seasons hand-cutting cane, Mr Doughty had just one year break, such was his dedication.
“Dad believed that he was still improving at 41 years of age. He was extremely accurate with every stroke,” Brian said.
“He remembers his best achievement as hand cutting, hand topping and hand loading 1500 tonnes of cane from his own farm in the 1960s, as well as all the associated farm work, including carting out the loaded trucks.”
For Brian, his Dad is unique.
“Few cane cutters, without cane farmers in the family, made the transition from cane cutter to cane farmer,” he said.
His dad also had a sense of humour.
“The only time I use my head is to stop the cane rolling off the other shoulder,” he said, referring to the way he carried cane.
Mr Doughty sold his farm in 1981 and went sapphire mining at Ruby Hill before relocating to Landsborough at 60, where he remains.