Canetoads vs Cockroaches

Canetoads, cockroaches: nobody likes them. The canetoad is a feral threat to Australian waterways and native wildlife, the cockroach is despised as vermin. So what are they doing in the following newspaper excerpts?

My Dad, a cockroach who nonetheless appreciates fine Queensland footballers. (1991, Brisbane Sunday Mail)

Here we go, a canetoad with swine flu. Who’ll be next? (2009, Gold Coast Bulletin)

In winter in eastern Australia it is difficult to escape the annual State of Origin Rugby League series, the premier Rugby League (aka mobile wrestling) competition in the country. Held since 1980, it is a hotly-contested best-of-three series of matches between New South Wales and Queensland. Players represent their ‘state of origin’ – not necessarily the Australian State in which they were born and bred, but the State in which they first played at senior level.

Cockroach tackles canetoad. Image source: BackPagelead

Billed as ‘state against state, mate against mate’, State of Origin games attract huge crowds and tap into a strong vein of interstate rivalry. This is apparent in the characterisation of each team as an intractable pest; the Queensland team are the canetoads, the New South Wales team are the cockroaches. These terms were first used in the mid 1980s. They initially referred only to teams and players, but have since broadened to include team supporters and those who identify with a State through birth or residence (see ‘my Dad, a cockroach’ above). And the meaning has been extended further in the quotation below, where canetoad is synonymous with the State of Queensland:

Meanwhile, the canetoad Government’s decision to back Enertrade’s to supply the Townsville power station gives the bankers … a seed asset for yet another trust. (2002, Sydney Morning Herald)

An academic worried in 1989 ‘whether the cane toad and cockroach business is a form of racism’ (Sydney Morning Herald). If it is, he might take heart from this suggestion that the problem is strictly limited:

The border for 362 days a year, the border between Tweed Heads [New South Wales] and Coolangatta [Queensland] is pretty much blurred… But come State of Origin time, things change dramatically. The battlelines are drawn firmly at the border, leaving no doubts as to where allegiances lie. You’re either a Canetoad or a Cockroach. (2002, Brisbane Courier-Mail)

The canetoads have won every series since 2006. Will they crush the cockroaches again this year? The final and deciding State of Origin match will be held in canetoad territory (Brisbane) on 4 July.




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