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Sweet Burdekin
The Sweet Days Hot Nights Festival celebrates all things sugar cane and culture in the beautiful Burdekin.
Words and Images by: Allison Watt

If you’re planning to head north next winter, be sure to include a stop in the Burdekin, north Queensland, to experience the unique Sweet Days Hot Nights Festival, which celebrates the region’s rich – and sweet – agricultural history and culture.

The Sweet Day Hot Nights Festival will be held on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 May 2023 in the township of Home Hill, nestled on the north Queensland coast between Townsville and the Whitsundays. With two headline events and other activities over two days, the festival offers an impressive program celebrating the region’s people, produce, and culture.

The Burdekin shire is known as the sugar cane capital of Australia and the two main events - the Burdekin Cultural Fair featuring First Fire and the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships - mark the start of the sugar cane crushing season.


The Cultural Fair, featuring First Fire, will be held on Friday 26 May from 5.30-10pm at the Home Hill Showgrounds.

Celebrating the region’s many multicultural groups, the fair has a focus on improving liveability, social cohesion, cultural understanding, and a sense of belonging through song, dance, and culturally specific craft.

Cultural groups will come together to showcase an array of international food, activities and entertainment for the whole family. The onstage performances will include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers, belly dancers, Scottish dancers, Greek plate smashing and a Chinese lion. Children will be entertained for hours with interactive cultural activities such as hair braiding, flag-making and Indigenous painting, as well as games.

A highlight of the festival will be the lighting of the first fire for the 2023 sugar cane crushing season. The Burdekin is one of  the only regions in the world that still burns sugar cane crops to remove excess leaves before harvesting. Festival-goers will get a front row view of the local farmers as they prepare the cane paddock within the festival grounds for burning and then light up the iconic first fire. A cane fire is a truly unique experience and visitors will get to hear the roar and crackling of the crop, smell the sweet essence of the burning sugar and feel the heat of the fire as it tears through the paddock.


The second headline event of the festival encompasses a family fun day alongside the intense competition of the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships on Saturday 27 May from 11am-4pm.

The only competition of its type in Australia, the championships are a true test of skill and endurance, bringing to life the back-breaking work of the ‘cutters’ who cut sugar cane by hand, which was considered one of the toughest farm jobs in Australia prior to the invention of mechanical harvesters. Many of the competitors in the Over 55s category once cut cane by hand and some return to the district from many parts of the state. The experience and endurance of these 'old-timers' often leave the eager young competitors speechless and out of breath.

Hand cane cutting experts from across Australia have been battling it out for the title of Australian Hand Cane Cutting Champion since the 1960s, when the first event, the World Titles, was held. Championships have been held in various locations around Australia ever since. In 1999, the event moved to Dalbeg, a small Queensland town in the Burdekin shire, where it was held for the following 11 years before relocating to Home Hill in 2011.

Experience this unique piece of Queensland history up close and cheer on the men and women as they swing their cane knives on the way to one competitor being crowned the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Champion. You’ll have the chance to taste, see, and smell all things sugar-related, including the excitement of the 'Cut, Top and Load'. The championship is regarded as a family fun day, as there is something for everyone. Patrons can enjoy a bite to eat under the marquee from the array of food vans, explore the vintage tractor and machinery display, woodworking displays, taste traditionally made damper and purchase locally grown produce from the farmers market or just hang out and listen to live music.

Children will be entertained for hours in the ‘Sweet Days Park and Play’, which includes an animal farm, crafts, face painting, a mechanical bull, and tractor rides. Fire twirling, drumming circle, whip cracking, and duck races add to the celebratory atmosphere.

Both the First Fire and Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championship events are held  at the Home Hill Showgrounds leased by Gudjuda Reference Group Aboriginal Corporation. Gudjuda participates in the celebrations with a traditional smoking ceremony, Welcome to Country as well as storytelling and cultural activities throughout all the events.

Competitors battling it out in the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships

SEE YOU IN 2023!

If you are looking for a unique experience in 2023, don’t miss the Sweet Days Hot Nights Festival. There is nowhere else you can witness a cane fire up close, a gruelling Australian Championship steeped in history, a cultural feast for the senses and the warm country hospitality of a proud community who call the Burdekin home.


Located between the Whitsundays and Townsville, the Burdekin is a perfect pit-stop, weekend getaway or extended adventure when travelling along the Queensland coast.

Known as the sugar cane capital of Australia, the region encompasses the main townships of Ayr and Home Hill, which are linked by the iconic Burdekin River Bridge which crosses the mighty Burdekin River. The Burdekin is home to a diverse range of experiences and sights such as the world-famous S.S. Yongala shipwreck, stunning natural wetlands, unspoilt  beaches, world-class fishing, unique cultural experiences, great four-wheel-driving, boutique shopping, several entertainment venues for the whole family, and many eateries including cafes, pubs, and restaurants.

With 300 days of sunshine a year, the Burdekin is a perfect place to get away from a cold southern winter.

A team of local volunteers prepares and lights the first fire


Burdekin is an easy hour’s drive south of Townsville, less than a two-hour drive east of Charters Towers or a three-hour drive north of Mackay. Many smaller communities surround the major twin towns of Ayr and Home Hill including Alva, Brandon, Clare, Dalbeg, Giru, Groper Creek, Jerona, Millaroo, and Wunjunga. Roads to these townships are clearly signposted from the Bruce Highway. Self-drive is an obvious choice for travel in Queensland, giving you the flexibility and accessibility to see it all.


Make the most out of your experience at the Sweet Days Hot Nights Festival and the wider Burdekin region by staying for a few extra days. The towns will  be abuzz during the lead up to the festival with a number of events and activities being hosted throughout the community for visitors and locals to enjoy. May is the perfect time to visit with warm sunny days and cool tropical nights, perfect for exploring all that the shire has to offer.

From pristine beaches to exhilarating adventure sports, world-class fishing and unique cultural attractions, there is so much to discover. Famous for its wealth of water, abundant sunshine, and rich agriculture, Burdekin is home to more than 30km of unspoilt beaches – perfect for walking, swimming, picnics, kitesurfing, fishing and more.

Invicta Sugar Mill, Giru is one of four across the shire

Boat ramps and landings situated around the district provide access to creeks, rivers and estuaries as well as shoals and reefs situated just off the coast. For experienced divers or those wanting to take up diving, the S.S. Yongala is located just 22km from Alva. Rated one of the top dive sites in the world, it is one of the only places along the east coast of Australia where reef and estuary fish can be seen together. Burdekin boasts spectacular wetlands offering a diverse range of bird species that rival that of Kakadu National Park. The region is home to more than 26 per cent of bird species found in Australia.

The towns of Ayr and Home Hill offer great boutique shopping with an abundance of specialty stores offering fashion, homewares, giftware, and more. The quaint or funky cafes offer delicious coffee and the many restaurants and eateries offer a range of cuisines.

The Burdekin also boasts an impressive events calendar throughout the year, from football carnivals and theatre productions to festivals and everything in between, you will surely be entertained during your stay.

Family fun at the Australian Hand Cane Cutting Championships


If you are travelling in your motorhome or campervan, there are a number of options for you to choose from.

The Home Hill Showgrounds Caravan Park is within the festival grounds which means you only have a short walk to and from the festival each day. The Home Hill Comfort Stop is about a 15-minute stroll from the Showgrounds and offers a free stay for up to two nights with access to shower and kitchen facilities. There are nine other caravan parks in the region and early booking is advised.

Alva Beach Tourist Park

20-36 Braby Street, Alva

Phone: 07 4783 3383


Burdekin Cascades Caravan Park

230-240 Queen Street, Ayr

Phone: 07 4783 1429


Discovery Parks – Ayr

34 Norham Road, Ayr

Phone: 07 4783 3933


Home Hill Caravan Park

Cnr Eleventh Avenue and Eighth Street, Home Hill

Phone: 07 4782 2498


Home Hill Showgrounds

Hurney Road, Home Hill

Phone: 07 4782 0186

Hotel Brandon

54 Drysdale Street, Brandon

Phone: 07 4782 5255


Groper Creek Caravan Park

1305 Groper Creek Road, Groper Creek

Phone: 07 4782 0186


Michelle’s Caravan Park

158 Eighth Avenue, Home Hill

Phone: 0459 367 209

Mt Inkerman Caravan Park

3 Wallace Road, Inkerman

Phone: 07 4782 0181

Mt Inkerman is a 15-minute drive south of Home Hill



Plantation Park

Bruce Highway, Ayr

Phone: 07 4783 5988


12 Railway Avenue

Home Hill

Phone: 07 4782 8241


Sweet Days Hot Nights Festival

Visit Burdekin

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Category: Features
Written: Thu 01 Sep 2022
Printed: September, 2022
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