Town's unique Australia Day event to crack down on cane toads: 'Great entertainment'

One small town in NSW is adding a competitive edge to cane toad busting.

There is a sense of defeatism in NSW's northern regions after the inevitable spread of cane toads far beyond the Queensland border has rapidly accelerated in recent years. But a committed few are determined to keep the toxic pests at bay and one rural town has conjured up a unique way to get the community pulling together.

Coinciding with Australia Day, the small town of Bonalbo, about 120km inland from Byron Bay, hosts a cane toad weigh-in where locals bring their biggest catches in a bid to be crowned either King or Queen Toad Buster, while taking home $50.

"It's great entertainment and gives people bit of a laugh," Bernice Sigley, 2023's winner, told Yahoo News Australia. "We're a quirky little community".

A cane toad on the scales at last year's Bonalbo weigh-in. Source: Susanna Freymark/
A cane toad on the scales at last year's weigh-in. Source: Susanna Freymark/

And while locals aren't catching anything quite like the 2.7kg 'Toadzilla' found in the Whitsundays last year, anyone with a sizeable half kilo discovery will be confident of taking out the top prize. Sigley's 2023 win came in at 0.45kg.

Sigley had moved to the town of roughly 360 people from Mullumbimby in 2007 to escape cane toads, but in 2019, they began to creep into the community. In 2022 when nearby Lismore was hit hard by floods, Bonalbo was hit by a "big influx" in toads, which now pose a devastating threat to local wildlife and the environment.

Dead cane toads lined up on a concrete driveway. Source: Bernice Sigley/ Sharon O'Keefe
Some of the catches Sigley has helped bring in this year. Source: Bernice Sigley/ Sharon O'Keefe

Sigley works with the Border Ranges Richmond Valley Landcare Network who work tirelessly to keep the cane toads at bay in the region. While cane toad muster events happen all year round, The Great Cane Toad Bust occurs in a two-week period in January, where efforts are ramped up.

"We've been going pretty hard but it's a big problem as cane toads have just burst their seams in the last few years and are moving into areas they've never been seen before," she said.

"We win a few battles, but we don't win the war."

She said the weigh in was a great opportunity to keep awareness going, while hoping it inspired locals who may become dismayed with the enormous problem at hand.

Members of the community out for Bonalbo's Great Cane Toad Bust in 2022. Source: Tamar Cohen
Members of the community out for Bonalbo's Great Cane Toad Bust in 2022. Source: Tamar Cohen

Cane toad explosion 'really concerning'

While the weigh-in brings a bit of fun for the community, local Landcare Project Officer Tamar Cohen told Yahoo the area is facing a "really concerning" situation after northern NSW experienced an unprecedented explosion in cane toad numbers.

She encouraged people to take up cane toad busting, and pointed to the little-known fact that everyone in NSW has a biosecurity duty under the NSW Biosecurity Act 2015 to prevent the spread of cane toads.

"This year is a very active cane toad breeding year in Northern NSW. I haven’t seen a year like it since I started in my role in 2018," Cohen revealed.

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