Burdekin resident John Arrate was introduced to the art of hand cane cutting by his father while growing up on their small family farm at Clare.
He will line up in the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships, part of the Sweet Days, Hot Nights Festival at Home Hill Showgrounds this 30 May and 2 June, with nothing but respect for the original hand cane cutters in the field.
“They’re the ones I take my hat off to. I think it’s a bit of an honour to think you’re still competing with the guys who have done this for a living,” Mr Arrate said.
“It’s important people have the chance to see how it was done while those guys are around. Some of them are in their seventies. Being a bit of a competitor it just bugs me that I still can’t beat the old guys.”
Mr Arrate, who now owns and operates his own sugarcane farm at Home Hill, has been competing in the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships since the introduction of the Kevin Swindley Memorial prize for local cutters in 2012. “I knew the Swindley family so I thought it would be a good way of paying tribute,” Mr Arrate said.
When he first signed up it was “just to make up numbers” however one of the older cutters soon become a mentor to Mr Arrate, who has been honing his skills ever since.
He went on to win the Kevin Swindley Memorial in 2016. “Hopefully this year I’ll be holding a trophy again,” he said.
Burdekin Shire Council Mayor Lyn McLaughlin said Sweet Days, Hot Nights would incorporate the First Fire of the Season and the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships and package them with a range of family-friendly, festival-styled events.
“The First Fire on Wednesday 30 May offers visitors and locals the chance to experience the awe-inspiring sight of cane fire up close,” Cr McLaughlin said.
“On Saturday 2 June at the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships, festival-goers will witness a test of skill and endurance, a competition that brings to life the back-breaking work of a by-gone era.”