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Cane Toad Times

Cane Toad Times: Poking Fun in a Police State

This slim volume which served as the catalogue for the exhibition Cane Toad Times: Poking Fun in a Police State, contains a keynote essay by Robert Whyte, Cane Toad Times editor from 1985 to 1990, entitled BEFORE FITZGERALD… there was the Cane Toad Times. In it he writes:

What’s the difference between a Queenslander and a cane toad?

Not much, apparently. Both are reviled and ridiculed. Both inspire fear and loathing — especially in the south. Both are tales of embarrassing bungles, all-consuming appetites and environmental destruction we’d rather weren’t made public.

It could only happen in Queensland. We see Australia depicted deeply disconsolate, turning away, letting the curtain fall back to conceal the appalling brutality of police on Black Friday, 2 February 1912, when protestors were savagely attacked in a banned street march. Sound familiar?" [In this paragraph he is referring to the political poster Black Friday by Jim Cage which originally appeared in The Worker in 1912, a commentary on the General Strike.]

Move forward 65 years to Queensland, 1977. Joh Bjelke-Petersen is a decade into his despotic, erratic and vainglorious reign. The rule of the peanut farmer from Kingaroy had seen the banning of the soundtrack of the musical Hair, a state of emergency declared to protect a team of rugby union footballers, the banning of political demonstrations and the arrests of hundreds of street-marching protestors. Joh fed the chooks, as he called the media, incomprehensible babble about revolting students, communists, despicable homosexuals and “don’t you worry about that”. In a truly bizarre rise to supreme executive power over a cowed cabinet, this Lutheran conservative believed he was chosen by God to lead Queensland, claiming his 15 years living alone in a converted cow-bail, clearing 40 hectares of brigalow a day, gave him a better education than an Oxford degree.

Was Joh some Queensland Rasputin, dabbling in the black arts, hypnotising the bewildered masses, reducing them to fawning, dribbling idiots? Hardly. His workaholic, anti-greenie, anti-intellectual strongman- on-a-mission act — two parts racist, three parts sexist, four parts homophobic — resonated deeply with the prejudice and backwoods suspicion of many Queenslanders, especially outside the towns, where a country vote could be worth up to five times as much as a vote in the city.

In the 1971 Queensland state election, Joh’s Country Party somehow grabbed the largest number of parliamentary seats with the smallest number of primary votes. Labor won half the two-party preferred vote, but ended up with only 41 per cent of the seats to the Coalition’s 59 per cent. Hmmm. Does that seem fair to you?

As time went on, protests were crushed, venues shut down, and young people were fitted up, busted and harassed. Joh’s mangled rants about getting rid of communists and unions, weeding out troublemakers and atheists became inextricably interwoven with notions of Queensland pride. There was widespread nodding agreement with Joh’s disgust of gays, greens, blacks and reds. Protesters were misfits and malcontents, typified by Joh as ‘friends of the dirt’, the ‘anti-nuclear lot’ and the ‘everything for the aborigines crowd’. By 1983, Joh’s Nationals were ruling in their own right with the simple slogan “Joh. Queensland.”

There was something deeply disturbing about the readiness of Queenslanders to support Joh’s Canberra bashing. He said Queensland would run its own affairs, have its own flag, its own seat in the United Nations, and even have its own currency, the Queensland dollar. During a Japanese trade mission he announced, “I am here to say we are not Australians — we are Queenslanders.”"

In 1977, John Jiggens and other co-founders of Cane Toad Times were ruminating over a variety of tropical produce when someone suggested the cane toad as their satirical Queensland champion. They all laughed. The cane toad was repulsive, but also a heroic and ultimately hilarious celebration of a super fit mascot with an out-of-my-way komodo-dragon-like swagger of invincibility, deadly poison sacs and morose frown. The idea was simply funny. And so Cane Toad Times was born.

The original Cane Toad Times collective was a group of young Queensland writers and friends who had met at The University of Queensland in the 1970s, including John Jiggens, David Richards, Gerard Lee, Ian Roberts, Bill Thorpe, Sue McLeod and Janice Knopke, who teamed up with a group of cartoonists from 4ZZZ-FM’s Radio Times, including Matt Mawson, Terry Murphy, Damien Ledwich and Ross Hinckley. The year of 1977 coincided with the onset of two crucial years of pitched battle on the campuses and streets of Brisbane. The battle was between Joh and his cohort of white-shoe property developers, industrialists and open-cut profiteers on one side — and on the other a rag-tag alliance of civil liberties lawyers, marxists, students, academics, unionists, musicians, actors and women.

In May 1977, the first issue of Cane Toad Times hopped off the presses. On its cover was a worldweary, Silver Jubilee Cane Toad Queen. So began a tradition where no cow was too sacred. It was a declaration of independence, a generation claiming its own space, its own fun.

One of the key contributors was Matt Mawson, cartoonist and layout artist from the first issue in 1977 and a major force in the second collective (1983–1990). Matt was a link between the two groups, along with Damien Ledwich and Terry Murphy, both of whom also worked on 4ZZZ’s Radio Times. Matt remembers the first collective produced the magazine at the Planet Press building in Spring Hill, where games of indoor cricket occurred in breaks between sessions of magazine production. John Jiggens held editorial meetings at his home in Miskin Street, Toowong. The illustrators could get creative with the Cane Toad Times layout — Damien and Matt would encourage each other to push the limits.v

Over the next 12 years, there would be 22 issues of the Cane Toad Times, produced by two collectives. The first collective produced seven issues from 1977 to 1979. The second collective produced 15 issues between 1983 and 1990. Originally a stapled quarterfold, the magazine assumed its eventual tabloid size by the fourth issue, The Incredible Peanut.

The first collective was proudly counter-cultural, selling ads to alternative businesses like Rocking Horse Records and staging benefits including The Cane Toad Hop, Joys for the Jaded, The Deranged Ball and The Night of the Lesser Suave. The punk band Razar, managed by Ian Roberts and famous for their anthem Task Force, were frequent performers, as were The Go-Betweens and The Riptides. The magazine proclaimed Cane Toad Times represented “hope for oppressed minorities and depressed majorities in the sugar cane republic”.

History was not kind. The flickering flame of hope represented by Cane Toad Times was soon snuffed out. By 1979, when Cane Toad Times Version 1.0 folded, Joh Bjelke’s jackboot tactics kicked the crap out of the political and cultural left in the protest movement. Many retired to the relative safety of academia. Others left the state. Cane Toad Times fizzled out while an increasingly successful Joh presided over a churchy, holier-than-thou, whiter-than-white conservative establishment. This thin veil of Sunday School and pumpkin scones barely concealed a deeply corrupt police force in bed with politicians, prostitution racketeers, SP betting, drug laundering, illegal casinos and payoffs.

Chris Masters, whose Four Corners exposé The Moonlight State would help bring down the corrupt regime, explained: “Hector Hapeta’s main brothel Top of the Valley commanded a useful corner position at a major Fortitude Valley junction. It seemed to me that in the tradition of giant pineapples and giant prawns you see at coastal tourist towns, a giant penis would have not been out of place. It would have been no less blatant.”

During this time when political protest was crushed, the cultural left rallied around the successful FM radio station 4ZZZ and the Brisbane music scene. Oddly, radio leaves no mark in history. Cane Toad Times was one of very few products to remain as a transcript of the times. The legacy of Cane Toad Times Version 1.0 was seven issues — Royal Cane Toad May 1977, Cane Toad goes to Mullumbimby July 1977, Giant Mutant Cane Toad October 1977, The Incredible Peanut December 1977, Phantoad April 1978, From Behind the Peanut Curtain June 1978 and Juvenile Delinquency June 1979.

By the early 1980s, Queensland was a national disgrace, a disturbingly corrupt joke. The Queenslanders who remained were the butt of this joke, happily kicked by the southern media. In 1983, Anne Jones and Damien Ledwich took the long view — Joh Bjelke-Petersen couldn’t last forever. Labor was back in power nationally and was supporting the Queensland political and cultural left with arts funding, notably funding the Popular Theatre Troupe, an agit-prop ensemble satirising Joh’s banana republic in factories and shopping centres.

Raymond Evans, in his 2007 History of Queensland, places Cane Toad Times in the broad context of Queensland radicalism, flying the ‘freak flag’ with radio station 4ZZZ. However, this referred more to the first Cane Toad Times, for which Ray was a contributing cartoonist, than the second. Not in the least bit freaky, Anne Jones and Damien Ledwich were both 4ZZZ and Semper alumni, equipped with radio and newspaper communication skills. From the start, they took a direction setting them apart from the first collective — there were no reviews. When the leading lights of the ‘counter culture’ either left or were headhunted by the emerging youth culture venues in the southern states, or hid out in the establishment to outlast the Joh years, there was nothing to review. Queensland was not only a literary and arts vacuum, in 1983, it was a journalism-free zone. Reporting in The Courier-Mail was as far from genuine journalism as you could get, selling papers with puff pieces, hokey meat-pie philosophy and a-nod-and-a-wink to the blind horse gobbling up Queensland mineral wealth, environment and real estate.

Cane Toad Times 1983–1990 was a mixture of hard-hitting journalism, rants, cartoon strips, parodies, lists, short stories, quizzes and bold graphic design. It rejected anything needlessly obscure, pretentious or arty. It was not a place for self indulgence or celebrity. Its famous campaign against ‘creeping poetism’ was really a rallying call to seize back the mainstream in the absence of any meaningful culture in Queensland. An eight-point list of aims in Issue 1 of The Eccentric Voice was not kidding when it asked its writers, illustrators and readers to boldly go where no poet has been before, to seek out and vigorously oppose creeping poetism in all its earthly manifestations, to wipe poetry off the face of the earth, and to undermine the family and totally destroy western civilisation as we know it.

We’re just here for the fear – Queensland Paranoia written by ‘Someone Else’, set the tone. ‘Someone Else’ was Steve Stockwell, now Professor of Journalism at Griffith University.

Among Cane Toad Times editors, it was Damien Ledwich who was most insistent on the need to seize the mainstream publishing tools of mass production and wide circulation. He was not interested in one-off performance, or appealing to the arts ghetto. The Cane Toad Times editorial process was a friendly one, with food, drink and plenty of laughter, but it was a tough school. Good ideas got better, bad ones got dumped. The individual voice of the ‘auteur’ was happily sacrificed for finely-honed material forged by the group. No one was too precious about their ideas and even lame jokes with the germ of a good gag were thrashed out around the table.

The hard work paid off. Like 4ZZZ before it, talent at Cane Toad Times was recognised by southern journalists, illustrators and writers who got on board for the crazy ride. Queensland was the funniest show in town. High-quality humour and invective started pouring in when each theme for the coming issue was announced. Two telling issues were #4 Food and Corruption and #5 Death and Style. Cane Toad Times was not opposed to those ‘in power’ so much as intent on bypassing and ignoring them, except to poke fun at their obvious stupidity and evil.

Costs were covered by rocketing sales when distribution in newsagents went Australia-wide, plus Cane Toad Hops, benefits with bands awash with alcohol, and t-shirt sales. Sympathetic southern editors gave the editors paid work writing or cartooning for their papers and the obvious quality of the innovative layout of Cane Toad Times got the design and writing team work producing stuff for other people.

Cane Toad Times’ finest moment was probably Issue 4’s detailed list of everything rotten in the state of Queensland. Compiled by Stephen Stockwell, this built on Kev Hooper’s landmark revelations under parliamentary privilege. There was also a less strident but equally insightful side, representing Queensland in short stories such as Bobby Skurm by Denis Peel, set in the late 1950s about the first kid to skateboard down Camp Hill, Denying the faith by Errol O’Neill about an exchange between a State School kid and two Catholic boys, and Sean Mee’s Des ne refuse rien about going to the dump — all celebrating quintessentially Queensland experience and finding admirers further afield.

What a delicious irony it is to know that Rupert Murdoch caused the downfall of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his cronies. In 1987, Murdoch bought The Courier-Mail. Not being a Queenslander, Rupert had no particular interest in protecting those in high places, mired in corruption. After all, here was a great story begging to be told — a story that would sell papers. His new editor Greg Chamberlain and chief of staff Bob Gordon wanted to find out who owned Sin Triangle in the Valley. The task was taken up by Phil Dickie, and the rest as they say is history.

Phil Dickie’s newspaper reports led to the broadcast on Four Corners of Moonlight State. Having watched the Four Corners expose, acting Premier Bill Gunn ordered an inquiry the following day, 11 May 1987. Who knows what would have happened had Joh not been overseas? The Fitzgerald Inquiry, led by Tony Fitzgerald QC, ran from May 1987 and ended in July 1989.

For the editors and contributors of Cane Toad Times, the Fitzgerald Inquiry was heaven on a stick. Cane Toad Times set up what was called the Tony Fitzgerald Fan Club. In reality, it was just a t-shirt. A photo of 7:30 Report anchor Quentin Dempster tearing open his business shirt to reveal a Tony Fitzgerald Fan Club t-shirt underneath made it into The Courier-Mail. ALP leader Wayne Goss was photographed wearing one on his daily run. The Tony Fitzgerald Fan Club t-shirts sold like hot cakes, especially to the media and staff assisting the Inquiry.

Corruption – the board game, the game that gets you rotten, appeared in Cane Toad Times, Issue 11, Spring 1988. The idea came from editor Mark Bracken. It featured all of the elements being investigated by Fitzgerald: vice, crime and gambling — and one he did not investigate, drugs. These were the halcyon days of Cane Toad Times. The lid was lifted off the can of corrupt worms, releasing a sickening, embarrassing stench. On TV, there were nightly re-enactments of Fitzgerald Inquiry hearings. Comedians like Gerry Connolly and Max Gillies made hay. Still in government, but reeling in the polls and staggering with the dead weight of Joh Bjelke-Petersen at the helm, the Nationals in parliament rebelled and deposed their leader, choosing Mike Ahern instead. Addled, arrogant — and let’s face it — nutty as a fruitcake, Joh asked the Governor of Queensland to sack all his ministers so he could continue to rule. The Governor declined. The house of jokers and wild cards was falling.

By 2 December 1989, it was all over. Cleanskin lawyer Wayne Goss and Labor swept to power. Former civil liberties lawyer and ALP State Secretary Peter Beattie was given the job of chairman of the parliamentary committee overseeing the Criminal Justice Commission, now the Crime and Misconduct Commission. Beattie went on to be Queensland Premier.

Cane Toad Times was not the most important thread in the fabric of its time, it simply is one of the very few remaining ones. Because much of the history of the era went unrecorded, the physical existence of a mass circulation national newspaper-magazine meant Cane Toad Times survived where other products have faded and disappeared. Even during its life, back issues were eagerly sought by new readers, and many full sets are in existence in private collections and in libraries.

If Cane Toad Times were to exist today, it would be made to last. It would not be a Twitter feed with a half life of a nanosecond. It would not be a Facebook page. It would not serve the cults of personality or celebrity — much of its material would be group written. It would be funny. Twenty years after it appeared, it would still be funny.

It would get its writers and illustrators noticed. It would appeal to people appalled by the commercial media’s race to the bottom and exasperated by the vacuous consumerism, knee-jerk xenophobia and the useless fiddling while our biome burns.

It would do stuff, not just talk about it. It would consider postmodernism a soft target, and move on to something more substantial to ridicule.

A critical culture capable of questioning everything is not something that just happens. It takes just a bit more effort than a blog. Until you can get past your personal problems (no one’s interested), your job (not even you’re interested) and your hobbies (yawn) — you’re not participating in the world, let alone changing it. It’s not about you. Pick a theme. Get some friends. Make something good and make it last. It’s that simple. And remember, if it was any good, they wouldn’t need to call it art.

The 15 issues of Cane Toad Times, 1983–1990 were: Queensland 1983, Religious Mysteries 1984, Sex, Leisure and Technology, Food and Corruption 1985, Death and Style, Science Fiction and the Family 1986, Hot Summer, Cars and Romance 1987, Fear and Clothing, The Birthday Issue, Music and Money 1988, Art and Perversion, Superstition 1989, Sydney Exposure, Green and Bear it 1990."

Novels - Life sometimes overtakes art, and so it is here. Manacles was "published" in 1995 in a Small Press edition.
Stories - Here I have collected a few oddities as well as some published stories.
Music Reviews - Steely Dan and more recently, CD Baby independent artists
Teaching Resources

Selected Tweets, just pith and wind

The definition of stupidity is attempting to define stupidity.
The 80 20 rule: In first 20% of toothpaste tube's life you use 80% of the toothpaste, in the next 80% of time you eke out the 20% left.
I was sneaking around in my mind finding interesting things to think about. I have a furtive imagination.
Just because it's motionless doesn't mean it isn't still there
I've got a cat. Now, where are the pigeons?
Pavlovian responses: when I see a pound of mince I can't decide whether to go buy a dog or a pavlova.
When all you've got is a hammer, all you can see is a thumb.
"When trying to pour liquid into a funnel, make sure the thin end is not pointing upwards."
If you say something intelligent and expect people to understand you, you're an idiot.
My memory is getting terrible. It's so bad I can't remember what I used as an excuse before Alzheimers.
I saw this in a signature: "A good beginning is half the battle" and immediately agreed until I saw the last word wasn't "bottle".
The difference between children and priests should be further apart.
Mooning isn't all it's cracked up to be.
How should I put this? Uh... If someone sends me a bunch of neuroses, should I be worried?
Knock Knock. Who's there? Awesome. Awesome who? Awesome one else.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and not recording the results.
Kama Scooter. Sex on a moped.
I didn't do it my way. I avoided it completely.
Anything is impossible.
I have to slow down. I've been burning the bottle at both ends.
Christmas commercialism. I'm frankly incensed. Do you demur?
When Winter comes, can another Winter be far behind?
You can lead a man to reason, but you can't make him think.
Comedy is a joke. Comedians should be gagged.
You can't trust anyone any more. I just watched a pot, and it boiled.
How many exceptions does a rule need before it isn't a rule any more?
I'm all for ad-hoccery, but there's a time and a place.
Life is mainly froth and bubble Two things stand like stone Kindness in another's trouble and bad poetry.
My memory is getting terrible. It's so bad I can't remember what we used as an excuse before Alzheimers.
Apparently there are all these things on your phone to play with. They appear as soon as you get reading glasses
Time travel. That's nothing. You should have been here yesterday.
Hi, I hope you are well. I was surfing through your web site and realised while it has great search engine optimisation it looks like crap,
Behind every stupid man there's a smart woman holding him back.
I went to see a homeopathic comedian. She told one joke and I laughed for two hours.
You know you are old when your nostrils are bigger than your eyes.
If the grass was as high as an elephant's eye why didn't the poet mow it?
There's something I just don't get. People say: "Have you got what it takes?" But if it's already taken, how could you still have it?
I am going to attempt to qualify for next year's Altruism Games by giving up my spot for someone less altruistic.
When someone asks me to procrastinate, I find some work to do instead.
"M'ladyship the peasants are starving for information! The Barons control the media. What shall we do?" M'ladyship: "Let them tweet."
Other people are people too.
Why was Milly the moo-cow feeling low? Because she had a moo disorder.
All his time I had no idea there was nothing on my mind. What was I thinking?
I think you mean what I know.
THE DESIGNER CLIENT PROCESS. Designer: "If you like it, I can make it better. If you don't like it, you will make it worse."
I hate punch lines. They're so pugilistic. I'd prefer to end this outside the box.
I'm crap at most things but I reckon I'm unbeatable when it comes to self deprecation.
Knock Knock. Who's there? Awesome. Awesome who? Awesome one else.
Sky News. "Man found dead at Melbourne Cemetery." What were they thinking?
Why did God invent the gag reflex, if he knew we had to floss?
It's not easy being difficult.
When in Rome ignore what the Romans do and just be yourself.
There is nothing wrong with diversity, as long as it can be standardised. We don't want any surprises.
I'm very flexible, really. Except when it comes to flexibility. On the topic of flexibility I just won't bend.
Is it possible to get a job as a procrastinator? Why don't I Google that?
I've got my shit. It just isn't together.
It's always going to be bad when you do things using two hands when you should be using just one. Picking one's nose comes to mind.
You know what I can't stand? I can't stand sitting.
Everyone's mouth looks smaller when it's shut.
Why don't non-realist philosophers just shut up about the Impossibility of ever saying anything?
They talk about the patience of Job. But Job did not have to put up with Buddhists.
You CAN choose your enemies if you still have your teeth.
Help! It's raining morons! Someone fetch me my dumbrella!
Why was James Dean thirsty? He was a rebel without a Coors.
I just realised there is an i in idiot.
Facts are the difference between right and wrong.
I have nothing against Miss Anthropy. It's just other people I don't like.
It is possible to think yourself slim, as long as you remember to think about not eating.
I wish there was a buzzing in my head I could stop.
I'm not anxious, but I'm worried I should be.
Worried your deodorant's not working? Choose 'smelly armpit' scent — and never have to worry again.
I guess in the Ottoman Empire they liked to sit down, a lot, which is good because so many other empires had inadequate seating.
Like the sun peeping through the clouds, people should simile more often.
Something's wrong! I took the placebo but it's not working!
How do you respond to the criticism: "You don't respond to criticism well."?
Even the slackest flosser spends about 6.25 weeks of their lives flossing. That's the longest 6.25 weeks you'll ever know.
To get the most from Twitter, avoid it.
The way to a man's heart is through his liver. You know it's true.
Happiness is when your brain is thinking about stuff you like.
Why would you remind me if you didn't mind me in the first place?
Monkeys really did write one of Shakespeare's plays. Unfortunately it was "The Two Gentlemen of Verona".
History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake—forget that! History is a flesh eating wound. It's a case of necrotising anachronism.
When all you've got is a psychiatrist, all you can afford is once every six weeks.
In Ancient Greece, Plato proposed raising fees at his academy to pay for more and better forms – the ones they had were less than ideal.
I've been trying to think of a joke about extranoughts in outer space but I've got nothing.
If life is mainly froth and bubble, why do we have dishwashers?
How to make marsupial gumbo. First, brown your kangaroux.
I studied engineering but I didn't like it. My teacher said "Build a bridge."
I don't get 'vainglorious'. If you are glorious don't you have a right to be vain?
I am enormously proud of myself to have found out that I am only modestly narcissistic.
You say tomato, I say potato, so what's the problem?
What happened to the oafish, insensitive and offensive hip hop artist? His raps were knuckled.
I'm going to start a nonconformists club where we can share our common interest in being different. We're going to need some strict rules.
Comedians. You know what the promblem is with comedians? They just don't take anything seriously.
As one balding man said to the other: "Hey, why don't you comb over tonight?"