There is an infamous Simpsons episode in which the TV cartoon family goes to Australia and sows all kinds of havoc and destruction. The episode is titled “Bart vs. Australia” and is a piece of sheer unadulterated xenophobia and Aussie bashing (in the episode a postage stamp declares “Australia – Celebrating Ten Years of Electricity” for instance.)
Actually it is surprising that Australia never declared war on the States. Or at least boycotted Fox TV, which runs the show. Fox, as you might know, is run by Rupert Murdoch – also an Aussie . . .
In this particular episode, Bart frees his pet toad after landing at the airport and seeing a sign prohibiting the import of foreign flora and fauna. Soon the whole of Australia is being overrun as this particular toad crossbreeds with local toads in a proverbial Biblical plague.
Bart needn’t have bothered. Australia is already being overrun by a plague of toads. And I’m convinced that the writers of this particular episode of the Simpsons must have seen this 1987 documentary before coming across this particular idea.
In 1935 100 so-called cane toads were imported from Hawaii to Queensland, Australia by sugar cane farmers so as to battle an outbreak of cane grubs eating their crops.
Thus, the cane toad proved perfectly useless when it came to actually eating the cane grubs. In fact, an effective poison was developed a decade later which dealt with the grub problem. By then, it was far too late: the Aussies now had a cane toad problem.
You see, the one thing the cane toad was good at was breeding . . .
In fact the cane toad seems positively sex crazy! One astonished visiting
American scholar recalls how a male toad endlessly copulated –hours on end in fact! - with a female toad. The only problem being that the female toad had been dead for several days after being squashed by a car . . .
The cane toads are sort of real-life alien (as in the ALIEN movies) invaders, biologically geared towards one thing one only: multiplication at a frightening rate at the expense of indigenous wildlife. For starters, they eat anything … and I do mean anything. (One disturbing scene shows a toad swallowing a field mouse whole.)
Also, the toads are poisonous – any predator eating them dies soon after. While the newly introduced cane toads didn’t diminish the cane fly problem as they were supposed to, they did manage in killing off hordes of wild dogs that made the mistake of eating them.
Despite being hazardous to household pets and humans (if manhandled they excrete spurts of poison from their skin), the cane toad is also butt-ugly. However, despite all this, most locals have taken a liking to the creature!
We’re not just talking about a few eccentrics here. One town wanted to erect a huge statue in honour of the vile creature. Another city council sent off a book covered in cane toad skin to Prince Charles and Princess Diana as wedding gifts.
Here truth becomes truly stranger than fiction as this documentary veers into sheer Monty Python territory, except the Python were never this weird.
As its title may tip you off, CANE TOADS: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY isn’t your average nature documentary. If you have OD’ed on nature documentaries on TV as I have then, then this one, directed by Mark Lewis and running for a scant 47 minutes, might just be the antidote.
It is one of the funniest (both as in “ha ha” funny and “that’s weird” funny) things I have seen in a long time . . .