Hindsight condemns the release of the invasive cane toad into Far North Queensland sugar cane paddocks back in the 1930s.
But a new collaborative exhibition opening at Cairns Museum just in time for the school holidays tells the true story of the great hope this toxic South American amphibian held for the survival of the region’s major industry.
The Toad vs Beetle: Clash in the Cane 1935 exhibition is a collaboration between Queensland State Archives (QSA), Cairns Museum and Mulgrave Settlers Museum.
Open to the public from June 22 to September, the exhibition focuses on the introduction of the cane toad to Queensland in 1935 to combat the cane beetle scourge and the years before and after.
The interactive exhibition themes includes an overview of cane beetles as sugarcane pests and invasive species.
It looks at what was being done about the cane beetle problem before the introduction of the toad, the work of scientists at the Meringa Sugar Research Station south of Cairns, the BSES (Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations) breeding and release program and an assessment of the success of the program.
Mike Summerell, executive director and state archivist with QSA, said the interactive exhibition included the game Place Invaders, where visitors could use their mobile phone to eradicate some of Queensland’s better-known invasive species.
It also allows the user to see community responses to how invasive species have had an impact life by sharing their own photos and experiences. “Toad vs Beetle is a fantastic collaborative venture that has enabled QSA to bring its collection to Cairns.
“The integration of augmented reality and interactive elements, alongside archival material and museum objects, demonstrates how heritage collections can be made accessible for all,” Mr Summerell said.
An added attraction will be a bus tour to be held in September (subject to COVID-19 restrictions) to some of the key sites associated with the introduction of cane toads, including the Meringa Sugar Research Station, a cane farm at Aloomba, just south of Gordonvale, and the Mulgrave Settlers Museum.
The exhibition includes one of the first Australian-born cane toads, bred at the Meringa BSES in 1936. The rare specimen is on loan from the Queensland Museum.
The current Australian cane toad population, estimated to be in the hundreds of millions, started from just 101 toads imported from Hawaii.
A handful were released on arrival, with the rest bred in a purpose-built toad house at Meringa – the successful breeding of these toads in captivity was a world first.
Suzanne Gibson, manager of Cairns Museum, said it was a unique opportunity for the Museum to tell the true story, including exhibiting original documentation held by QSA.
“The Toad vs Beetle exhibition was developed for Cairns Museum by QSA, recognising that the story of the release of cane toads, is a Far North Queensland story.
“We hope this is start of further collaboration, enabling QSA and Cairns Museum to tell more local stories from our shared collections,” Ms Gibson said. She said the toad was such a common sight in the Far North and she expected the exhibition to provide a fascinating school holiday excursion for families.
“Children will also have the chance to make and decorate their own cane toad, as part of the Museum’s Covid-safe holiday program,” Ms Gibson added.
Entry to the exhibition in the Cairns Museum in the School of Arts building on the corner of Lake and Shields streets is free to Cairns Museum members and to non-members who have paid for Museum entry. Book online to pre-purchase Museum entry or to buy a membership.
Please not that due to COVID-19, social distancing and restrictions on the number of people that can enter the museum at one time, are in place.
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