I was a Cane Toad Race Virgin! Kununurra, Western Australia
The pairing of Australians and Cane Toads works well. Almost as well the pairing of pavlova with pepperoni! Although, come to think of it, while the Cane toad is an introduced species, so are its colonial counterparts … but I digress!
77 years after ‘experts’ deliberately introduced the Cane Toad (Bufo Marinus) into the wild, this alien animal has infested nearly every habitat in the country. From a gene pool of just 102 toads in first release, numbers are estimated at above 200 million. It has no natural predators.
So what do you do?
Panic? Call in the National Guard?? Stop watching the B-Grade Horror movie???
NO! Because the pairing of Australins and Cane Toad RACING actually DOES work!!
Downunder here in OZ, the toxic toad has become an Australian ‘cultural’ icon. And along with the ‘unique’ (yes, that’s a euphemism for ‘tasteless’) novelty gift items and a bizarre, cult-status documentary about the sad story of their arrival, they’re an obvious choice for a day at the races!
Because the thrilling unpredictability of racing the arguably unintelligent, ungainly and UGLY Cane Toad is at least as logical as racing, say, horses. Or dogs. Or even camels! And for race organiser and caller ‘Fats Thommo’, of ‘Thommo’s Toad Races’, it’s a whole new industry!!
A chance chain of coincidence and we had ring-side seats for Thommo’s virtuoso performance as Cane Toad race organiser AND caller at the July 2012 Kununurra Agricultural Show. Where, ashamed to call myself an Australian without ever having attended this most prestigious of Australian sporting events, I lost my Cane Toad Race virginity!
I’m sure the high gained from bufotenin, the chemical classified as a Class 1 drug secreted by the poisonous pest, is at least partly offset by the revulsion one would feel from ingesting it via toad-licking.
That probably means instances of bufotenin addiction are so rare, they may soon appear in TV shows featuring hospitals or emergency rooms. And I’m sure bufotenin ingestion played no part in Thommo’s crowd pleasing antic AND fabulous photo opportunity (see top photo)!
Cane Toad racing isn’t just about the race. Getting the venemous villains to the starting barrel is a lengthy process, starting with the auction. Auction?
With an cry of ‘C’mon, you tight-a**ed tourists’ (and perhaps a nod to a previous profession?), Thommo launched the crowd into a bidding frenzy. Where strangely, purchasing your very own noxious nuisance for an average of $AUD50 seemed not just normal, but highly desirable! Having thus raised over $AUD500 for the Kununurra Wildlife Rescue, the poisonous predators were ready to ‘line up’.
Because the concept of racing doesn’t come naturally to untrained Cane Toads, a few modifications to the standard racing format are required. There’s no point setting Start and Finish lines, gates or racing lanes; and a starting pistol would be about as useful as a sandbox in the desert.
For Cane Toad racing, the ‘track’ becomes a well-defined circle and the ‘starting gate’ a bucket or barrel in its centre, into which the abject amphibians are placed. This wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
As the crowd gathered around the ‘track’, Thommo insisted each new owner personally place his or her toad in the barrel by hand. But as the Cane Toad has taken nearly 77 years to reach Kununurra from its first release in Far North Queensland, the art of toad-wrangling is virtually unknown. Which placed the more squeamish at a disadvantage that Thommo was quick to exploit.
‘Give us a kiss and I’ll do it for you,’ he offered.
‘I’d rather kiss the toad,’ one feisty owner replied.
After seemingly endless rounds of dropped toads, escapees, posing for photos, toad-kissing and shrieks of revulsion, the toads were ready to race.
With the owner of the first toad to reach the circle’s perimeter after the barrel was lifted (ie the ‘winner’) to receive a highly desirable prize (ie a Thommo’s Toad Races T-shirt and 6 bottles of wine cane toad juice), the stakes were high. So Thommo issued strict instructions that the crowd was not, under ANY circumstances, to interfere with the race outcome.
With a flourish, Thommo removed the barrel and revealed a clutch of 10 toads, blinking in the sunlight after their enforced rest in the dark.
Nothing happened some more.
Then, despite wild – and desperate – shouts of encouragement, nothing continued to happen.
The cunning cane toads weren’t playing.
Thommo entered the ring and made threatening noises. That did the trick! Suddenly, a freedom-seeking toad saw an opening in the crowd, took off like a rocket, leapt the barrier like a seasoned Olympic hurdler and disappeared into the crowd, who obligingly parted. Its fearsome friends followed.
Thommo declared the race – and my virgin experience – over.
I hope it was as good for you as it was for me!