Catching up on old times at yesterday’s reunion are Percy’s Gang members Percy Powell (front) with (rear, from left) Russell Powell, Paddy Powell, Athol Sneesby, Terry McKeough, Dick Bell, Tom McLean, Jack Ryan and Jeff Butler.
Catching up on old times at yesterday’s reunion are Percy’s Gang members Percy Powell (front) with (rear, from left) Russell Powell, Paddy Powell, Athol Sneesby, Terry McKeough, Dick Bell, Tom McLean, Jack Ryan and Jeff Butler. Cathy Adams

Cane-cutters reunite

STORIES were flowing as fast as fresh-cut cane juice at a rowdy reunion of almost 300 former sugarcane-cutters and cane workers at the Broadwater Community Centre yesterday.

And the memories seemed as sweet as sugar as old mates recounted simpler times and traded tall tales.

It may be 36 years since the last hand-cut harvest, but these men and women spoke of it like it was yesterday.

The idea for a reunion sprang from the gathering of one cane-cutting gang last July.

Rileys Hill resident Terry McKeough organised that get-together at his home.

“We all worked for Percy’s Gang,” he said.

“Percy Powell is one of the oldest-surviving cane-cutters at 90 years of age, and he cut cane for over 35 years.

“We had up to 10 on the gang at any one time, but six of us stuck with Percy for 18 years.”

Mr Powell described it as dirty, sweaty work, but said conditions were ‘pretty good thanks to the union’.

“We worked from seven to five, five days a week,” Mr Powell said.

His little brother, Paddy, 83, bought an old army truck which became the key to the gang’s success.

“We bought it to transport livestock, but there was no money in that so we put it to work on the cane paddocks,” Paddy Powell said.

“We used to camp out or sleep in cane barracks and Percy hired a cook who kept us fed.”

Percy’s Gang enjoyed their reunion so much they decided to take the idea a step further and booked the hall for a gathering of all former Northern Rivers cane workers.

They put the word out, but little did they expect such a huge response.

Former workers responded immediately and travelled from as far away as Port Douglas, Moree and Mildura.

When the cane-cutting gangs disbanded in 1974, most went to work for the expanding sand-mining industry in the area.



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