A road trip of Australia’s fibreglass monuments
The Big Cane Toad
Okay, let’s call a toad a toad and say it upfront – this is one scary looking Big Thing.
Welcome to Sarina, a little town situated about half an hour south of Mackay and 300kms north of Rockhampton. Apart from its breathtakingly ugly resident Big Thing, there’s not much else to say about Sarina, except that it claims to be where the very first jar of Vegemite was produced back in 1922. As no amount of research can actually verify this, the claim has the unmistakable whiff of a town seeking relevance, no matter how obscure.
Fortunately, no-one can deny Sarina’s claim to the Big Cane Toad, which squats proudly in the middle of the main street where it routinely terrifies small children. Its little bronze plaque states that the “previously wayward and sometimes neglected cane toad has seen glory, shame, neglect, resurrection and finally recognition as a tourist attraction”. That may be true, but it still looks like an alien mutant.
The Big Cane Toad was first built in 1983 as a papier-mache float in the Apex Sugar Festival Parade. No doubt its creators would’ve made it look a little less spooky if they’d known it was going to end up being a long-term public monument. After several years of haggling, Council acquired the structure, coated it in fibreglass and officially installed it in 1986.
Initially the Big Cane Toad wasn’t properly secured to the ground, which meant it was subjected to all kinds of indignities on a regular basis. It was constantly disappearing and then reappearing the following day either upside down or in strange and inaccessible locations. Once it was festooned with condoms and on another occasion had a bra strapped to it. The final straw came when a naked, drunk local straddled it and rode it like a horse. Yee hah! Eventually Council got the hint and cemented the long-suffering Big Thing to the ground, much to the disappointment of the local bogan population.
In 1998, a local town-wide competition to name the Big Cane Toad was won by a group of high school students who suggested the name of ‘Buffy’. This might seem no more than a populist reference to that TV character of vampire-slaying fame, but in fact it’s derived from the cane toad’s scientific name – Bufo marinus, proving, if nothing else, how easy it can be to underestimate the intellect of modern day schoolkids.
The acquisition of a real name seemed to finally change the fortunes of the Big Cane Toad, as its personal popularity and local standing has been on an upward trajectory ever since. It may be ugly. It may still look like a prop from a cheesy 1950s horror flick. But the residents of Sarina have become very fond of Buffy, warts and all, and accord him an almost royal status. It just goes to show that every toad has a prince lurking inside it, and that you don’t necessarily need a princess’s kiss to set it free.