Any kid who grew up in Mackay in the 1980s will remember the cane fires. They were in the late afternoon, usually. Spectacular roaring infernos, sometimes right next to suburban blocks where the streets filled with children trying to catch slivers of ash that fell from the sky like black snow. Mothers raced into backyards to strip clean washing off the clothesline. The rhythm of local life was set to the sugar season, planned around busy harvest months or "the slack".
Things have changed a bit since then. Farmers don’t routinely burn the crop, for a start -- harvesting green is more common. The town itself has become more of a high-vis hub for the booming coal mines in the Galilee Basin to the west. And the canefields that used to grow right at its doorstep have been replaced with “Cuttersfield Estate” -- a residential development, full of four-bed-two-bath-two-car kit-homes forming a patchwork of Colorbond fences and fluffy turf lawns.