‘A great many of them die’: Sugar, race and cheapness in colonial Queensland

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The frontier of colonial Queensland was pushed northward through the second half of the 19th century by proliferating sugar plantations. The cultivation of sugar cane for these plantations rested predominantly on the shoulders of unfree, racialized Pacific Islander workers. This history reveals dialectics of cheap lives and land, as nature was produced for exchange at the commodity frontier, unfolding in crises of disease, death and exhaustion. In exploring the story of this frontier, an opportunity emerges to begin a conversation between a recent return to materialism within Australian historiography and the traditions of eco-Marxism and Black radicalism. The contention here is that this engagement represents both ‘urgent history’ and ‘truth-telling’, as plantation socioecologies of cheapness continue to (re)produce the crises of the racial Capitalocene.




Ryan, M. D. J. (2024). ‘A great many of them die’: Sugar, race and cheapness in colonial Queensland. Journal of Agrarian Change, 24(2). https://doi.org/10.1111/joac.12574

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