Women prove the secret weapon of cane industry

This article was originally published in the Innisfail Advocate on 23 March 2019

Mary Angelini can tell you a thing or two about the role of women in the sugar industry. She’s got plenty of experience to draw on after farming alongside husband, Pietro ‘Peter’ Angelini, since the ‘60s.

“It was back in ‘67 that my husband filled in a government ballot application for a block of land,” Mrs Angelini said. “There were three people lucky enough, or unlucky enough, to draw a block and one was my Peter.”

The block was all standing scrub, with a large lagoon, and it took a lot of hard work.

“To say the days were long was an understatement,” she said. “We were all essentially pioneers in the area. All work was done by hand, including picking up timber, draining the swamp and planting the cane. We paid the block off over a period of time and it took us a good decade to completely establish the farm.”

Working alongside one another has always been a key part of the couple’s success.

“It’s all about teamwork and getting the job done,” she said. “People don’t always see the important role farmers’ wives play and what they have done for the industry.”

Like many women in the cane industry, Mrs Angelini had no problem with getting her hands dirty.

One from the photo album. The Angelinis after planting cane near Kurrimine Beach.

One from the photo album. The Angelinis after planting cane near Kurrimine Beach.

“When planting season came around, I was right there with Peter, planting the cane by hand,” she said.

Even pregnancy didn’t slow her down. The day before the birth of her son she was still in action, wanting to make sure everything was left clean. This even included lighting the boiler fire to do all the washing.

“The most amazing thing happened while I was in the hospital - the electricity was connected,” she said. “I came home with our new baby and I had to work out how to use all the appliances, it was like winning the casket.”

It wasn’t always smooth sailing and when the hard times came knocking, Mary answered with grit, ready to face the next challenge.

“When my husband had an operation and needed to stay off the farm, I had to prove a point - to get myself a job and bring money in,” Mrs Angelini said. “You just have to prop-up and bolster the income sometimes and, when you’re in that boat, well, you just keep rowing.”

In 1967, the couple harvested their first crop by hand. More than half a century later, the process of growing sugarcane is almost entirely mechanised.

Mrs Angelini said the industry has benefited greatly from innovations and new technologies replacing much of the manual labour. While life on the farm is a little easier now, she is still heavily involved.

“There are still some things that will never change,” she said.