Queensland canecutters Roo and Barney have spent the previous sixteen summers off in Sydney with their girlfriends, Olive and Nancy. Each year, Barney has ritualistically presented Olive (a barmaid) with a kewpie doll. Time has begun to take its toll, however, and this seventeenth summer is very different. After a bad season--which saw him lose his position as head canecutter to a younger man, Dowd--Roo quits the gang, leaving him without a job and short of money. His and Barney's friendship is subsequently tested when Barney decides to continue working under Dowd. In another change since their last visit, Nancy has married, and although Olive has arranged for Pearl, a manicurist, to move in with Barney, the new arrangement doesn't feel right. When Roo tries to persuade Olive to settle down with him in marriage after all these years, she at first refuses angrily but later accepts.
The film's screenplay moves the play's location from the Melbourne suburb of Carlton to Sydney. The theme of faded dreams is also weakened by a more optimistic ending.
The film was heavily criticised in Australia, largely in response to the changes in both the setting and the ending of Ray Lawler's play and the casting of non-Australian actors in the principal roles.