The big country
Look, it’s a giant banana, a monster of a pineapple and an oversized rocking horse
THE admirable Aussie impulse to build massive and daggy objects from fibreglass or ferro-concrete appears to be waning, but the best (or most durable) creations linger.
Perhaps it’s time to build more Big Things? Whether eyesore or artistic installation, the sight of a giant gumboot, lawnmower or potato livens up a car journey and brings a smile.
The 21st century hasn’t been kind to Big Things. Some have gone to the big wall. Others have been pulled down or died of neglect, collapsing to moulder ignominiously among weeds and rust. About a decade ago, the 14m-high Big Bull in Wauchope, NSW, drew inquiring gazes and the occasional gasp. A vital portion of the bull’s anatomy swung alarmingly in the breeze, generating notoriety and the occasional complaint. Alas, the bull is no more.
But some Big Things are thriving. The Big Rocking Horse (chunky, angular and less controversial than the Big Bull) continues to lure guests to an adjacent toyshop in the wine country of Gumeracha in the Adelaide Hills.
It’s our No 1 big Aussie icon (at least as judged by wotif.com.au) and stands more than 18m and weighs 25 tonnes, occupying the site of an unlamented Big Giraffe.
Another perennial rocker is the Big Golden Guitar in Tamworth, 12m tall and adjacent to a museum where you can gaze at your favourite country music stars, lovingly recreated in wax. Some look better that way.
Big Things evoke nostalgia as well as mirth. As Tourism Australia managing director Andrew Mcevoy puts it: ‘‘There can’t be too many family photo albums that don’t have a shot of mum, dad and the kids lined up in front of the Big Banana or the Big Pineapple.’’
Those family shots are getting rarer. The advent of low-cost airlines and last-minute seat sales has induced more families to fly, rather than drive, to holiday destinations. Big Things are, essentially, spur-of-the-moment roadside attractions.
Both the attractions Mcevoy mentions are still with us. There’s fresh juice in the Big Pineapple — its new owners plan to revive this huge fibreglass fruit on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast after years of neglect. With spiral staircase and observation deck, the heritage-listed figure sprang up in 1971 at Woombye, near Nambour, possibly inspired by a famous pineapple-shaped water tower at a fruit cannery in Hawaii.
Australia’s Big Pineapple quickly attracted stalls, a little train and other tourist diversions. The huge fruit has touched people’s lives, not necessarily with its rough end. Last November, a reunion of former Big Pineapple employees and associates drew about 400 guests.
Many presume the Big Thing bonanza stemmed from the 11m-long Big Banana on the northern edge of Coffs Harbour in NSW. In fact, Adelaide’s Big Scotsman — a hulking, kilted, bagpipeplaying figure guarding Scotty’s Motel in the Adelaide suburb of Medindie — is a year older than the walk-through banana.
Built in 1963, the Big Scotsman was the first of the breed. Oddly, perhaps, the effigy reminds the motel’s owner, Yanka Shopov, of her homeland. ‘‘I’m Bulgarian,’’ she explains. ‘‘They have bagpipes in Bulgaria; not exactly the same but very similar. Scotty is an expensive boy. He needs a facelift every four or five years. I haven’t had one, but he has had quite a few.’’
The Big Scotsman’s designer, Paul Kelly, didn’t rest with a single creation. He went to work on another figure, the Big Lobster (locally known as Larry), at Kingston in South Australia.
The Big Lobster is very big because the craftsmen behind it made a big mistake.
Murray Pitt, who owns and manages the adjacent Big Lobster restaurant ( guess its specialty dish?), explains that the lobster was meant to be fixed over the restaurant’s front door, but plans originally laid out in feet in the 1970s somehow ended up being built in metres, making the crustacean so huge it has to be anchored to the ground.
‘‘A lot of people stop by and take a picture of him,’’ Pitt says. ‘‘I’ve got grooves in my car park where people move backwards and forwards to take a photo without actually getting out of their car — even if they’re towing a caravan.’’
At the risk of offending the Big Scotsman, Big Rocking Horse and Big Lobster, the Big Banana remains Australia’s most famous Big Thing. It has earned its own postage stamp in a set of five Big Thing commemorative 50c stamps issued by Australia Post in 2007. (To be fair on the Big Lobster, it has also featured on a stamp.)
The Big Banana lets visitors go tobogganing and contemplate holographic projections in a World of Bananas multimedia theatre. You’ll find virtually everything there — except, that is, a straight banana.
In contrast, the Big Potato in the spud-growing NSW town of Robertson offers no holographic projections, or indeed anything else. It simply stands. Locals at the Robertson Inn, which faces the potato, have been known to refer flippantly to their town’s most famous feature as ‘‘the big poo’’, or worse. Other residents, however, view the dirt- brown eminence with quiet affection; Australia Post has yet to immortalise it.
Also in NSW, Rambo, Goulburn’s Big Merino (another postage stamp subject), continues to delight. ‘‘You can go right up inside his head and look out his eyes all over Goulburn,’’ says Debbi Rodden, strategic projects officer for Goulburn Mulwaree Council.
You can buy a pair of Aussiemade Ugg boots in there, too. In its heyday in the mid-1980s, the Big Merino attracted up to 40 busloads of people a day. When the Hume Highway bypassed Goulburn, the Big Merino found itself off the tourist track. The giant concrete ram was moved 800m by suitably massive trucks to a more auspicious location in 2007, which was no easy task as it weighs 97 tonnes.
More baleful is Ballina’s Big Prawn. The local council approved demolition of the prawn in 2009, but at last check the monstrous crustacean was still startling drivers, even with the searchlights in its eyes switched off. Hardware retail giant Bunnings, which now owns the northern NSW site, seems disposed to keep the prawn.
A smaller version, just 4m long, has stood for 25 years on a giant stick outside the Big Prawn Service Station at Fraser Park on the NSW central coast.
Other Big Things dot the land. The Big Wine Cask (perfect for holding 400,000 litres of riesling for that intimate soiree) still turns heads at Mourquong via Buronga, NSW, though the cellar door beside it has closed. Swan Hill, Victoria, boasts a Big Murray Cod (visitors have been known to climb inside its mouth); there’s a Big Trout in Adaminaby, NSW; a Big Earthworm in Bass, Victoria; and a Big Gumboot in Tully, Queensland.
Most Big Things are located in NSW, Queensland and Victoria, but the Northern Territory boasts the Big Boxing Crocodile at Humpty Doo: it is an enormous reptile wearing red boxing gloves (some locals reckon the croc is looking a bit tatty). Kakadu National Park’s Gagudju Crocodile Holiday Inn is a resort built in the shape of a croc. It’s probably the biggest Big Thing of the lot, though some purists maintain that to qualify, an attraction should be either souvenir-oriented or, better still, just a crazy, whimsical adornment with no real purpose at all.
Its future uncertain, Ballina’s Big Prawn still startles drivers, even with the searchlights in its eyes switched off
Patsy Flint, right, at the Big Pineapple former employees’ reunion
The Big Banana at Coffs Harbour, NSW, has earned its own postage stamp
Tamworth’s Big Golden Guitar