The big coun­try

Look, it’s a gi­ant banana, a mon­ster of a pineap­ple and an over­sized rock­ing horse

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - PETER NEED­HAM

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 wo­ 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

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