Iwas swerving around the road in a fashion that looks drunken to southerners, and I bet you they'd also have missed the trail of flat toads puked out by my rear tyres along the bitumen. The ‘pop' is only just perceptible when you squash one flat, except if you get a big one – then it's like a very small speed bump, only real satisfying. Sooner or later it's gonna cause a fatal accident, if it hasn't already, this habit of swerving sideways to kill toads, but I reckon we get a thousand of them for every one they get of us. Visitors think it's a kind of self-loathing thing, us killing our stately symbol with such gusto, but it's mostly a matter of principle: we were here first. So I was swerving and yee-hawing with the window down one night when on the radio I hear this intelligentsia type getting interviewed about Queensland. I pulled over quick smart, all ears.
The obvious question first off the blocks: ‘What's with Queensland anyway?' Thought they'd never ask. Heart racing, I think maybe the intelligentsia is gonna make us one of 'em! Looks like them ‘smart state' number plates really paid off, our image is taking a turn – we've even got our own PM now. Plus they named a state after us. Maybe they saw our ad: ‘Queensland: we ain't as dumb as you think we am. Is.'
But the answer the intelligentsia guy gave amounted to a shrug. He honestly didn't know. I couldn't work out if we were being insulted or not. But we'd better answer the question, or they're all really gonna get the wrong idea about us.
So, well, what is it with us? We have a reputation for being backwards politically, or did, until some hobbits threw Joh's golden ring in that volcano in the Glass House Mountains (Mt Doom) and all corruption ended here forever and apparently couldn't return even if we wanted it to. Joh was a typical Queenslander, like most of us, but credit where it's due: the man could build a dam/road/hospital. When the cops stomped you for dressing hippie, you got patched up real quick and the ambulance didn't have congested roads to drive through.
I think we're still striving here for that delicate balance between a guvmint that doesn't stomp the heads of its citizens and builds infrastructure. That'll always be the dream, folks, so in the meantime I guess we're left with our magnificent environment.
I took a cruise through the northside of Brisbane to scope it out and to think of some poetic things to include in my homage. Some of the sights are just breathtaking between, say, Petrie and Kedron: service station, pub, service station, railway station, pub, servo, furniture store, bus stop, servo, Bunnings Warehouse, real nice set of traffic lights out by Carseldine, servo, car yard, servo. It may not be France, guys, but it's got heart, and if you need to renovate your home, boy oh boy are you covered. Still, none of this truly cried ‘QUEENSLAND' to me so I thought I'd better nut it out with my cousin Ben, who is an archetypal Queenslander if there ever was one.
I asked Ben what he thought of when he thought of Queensland, and like every other person I've asked, he said cane toads. ‘What else, ya cunt?' I say. He tells me about the Queensland spirit, like the football commentators are always going on about. I asked him to tell me a story about this fabled spirit.
‘Like the time I got in a fight with my father-in-law,' he says.
They'd found this huge toad, like you wouldn't believe how big, just sitting there, and as we all know, toads are a menace, they must be stopped, having thinned out the ranks of deadly snakes – you can't even step on a taipan these days. So Ben's dad-in-law spots this toad, and hands Ben this golf club and says, ‘Game on!'
Now, this being a local hobby, Ben was so into it, he screams a battle cry and brings the golf club swooping in this big overhead downward arc and brains this toad, breaks its head/spine and smooshes toad guts everywhere. Of course, the dad-in-law was thinking: we'll tee off on the thing, take turns and see how far we can hit it till it disintegrates but since there's now only flat toad pieces there, it's on for young and old. The old guy gets out of hospital next week. Passionate guys, Queenslanders through and through.
I told Ben I could hardly tell the intelligentsia about that, they'd think we were a bunch of savages. Changing the angle, I asked him what it's like to grow up in Queensland. What makes childhood in Queensland different to, say, France? So he told me what him and his friend Boazz used to do when they were kids having sleepovers in Kallangur. Boazz would capture a whole bunch of toads and tie them by the feet to a tree branch and leave them there, alive, overnight. By morning their heads'd be kinda red from too much blood and they'd be all woozy, like they were drunk. Next he'd get a plank of wood and set it up a foot or so above a red-hot barbecue hotplate, put a drunken toad at each end of the plank and start poking 'em in the butt with sticks, so they'd hop in the middle and fight. Apparently he had one toad which was the champ and survived like three bouts.
‘I guess that toad had the Queensland spirit?' I says.
‘It was a survivor,' Ben agrees.
‘So you kept it and fed it bugs and all that until it lost?'
‘Oh no,' Ben says solemnly. ‘It didn't last the whole day.'
Troubled, I asked him: ‘Isn't that a bit sadistic? Even the stuff of psychopaths?'
‘No worries,' he says. ‘All nine-year-old lads are psychopaths. Real Queenslander was Bo.'
NOW, IF I WAS AN INTELLIGENTSIA TYPE I'd have tied these toad anecdotes in with some gymnastic use of metaphor, such as: crows used to eat cane toads like they were frogs, not knowing quite what they had on their hands and it made 'em sick and killed 'em. But crows are smart birds – they discovered how to eat the cane toads by rolling 'em onto their backs and just pecking at the guts, away from the poison glands, and in the process discovered an abundant supply of chow. We Queenslanders, being – as our number plates say – smart, are maybe just figuring out how to do the same with our guvmints, eh? We flip 'em on their backs, pick out the non-poisonous meat, then go fly to the roof and make annoying amounts of noise, cawing all day long, and ... You know what I mean.
I'm driving home now, past cane toad corpses shrivelled from the scorching heat to little yellow skeletons, past Bunnings, past the service stations and pubs. We got more pubs and servos here than anyone else in the world and it occurs to me – that is something to be proud of.
Whatever else we are or aren't, if you wanna' renovate your home, get pissed or fill your tank, you are more than covered here up north. ♦