Big Things

For over ten years I’ve been on a quest to visit each of Australia’s Big Things. Lately I’ve made a point of having myself photographed with them, but I didn’t in the pioneering days. I guarantee though that all these pix are taken by me or my travelling companion Alec.

Here’s Alec (below) behind The Big Merino at Goulburn, which may well be the biggest of Aussie Big Things. It’s certainly the most majestic of the Biggies, which is why it bestrides this post like a colossus. The Big Merino is a ram and no rammy detail has been spared, as you can see from this rear shot. Well, perhaps not quite every detail…

Alec in front of the Big Ovine Wedding Tackle

Here I am at the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour. Not as big as the Big Merino, but undoubtedly bigger proportionate to its size. They say this was the first of Australia’s Big Things, having been built in 1964. It’s much older than the Big Merino, built in 1985.

Also at Coffs Harbor, indeed at the same complex as the Banana, is The Big Golf Ball. I don’t like it much. Having two Big Things smacks of greed. Besides, it’s broken at the top with a stupid cartoon head sticking out. Boo!!!

Horrible mutant Big Thing (the golf ball, not Alec)

The Big Koala is at Dadswell Bridge, 27 km north of Stawell in Victoria’s western district. It houses a cafe, which makes it an exemplary Big Thing, because Big Things should be as shamelessly kitsch as possible.

The Big Koala

There is a long-standing rivalry between the Tropical North Queensland towns of Tully, Babinda and Innisfail as to which has the highest rainfall. Since 1970 the wettest town has been awarded the Gumboot Trophy. This inspired Tully to claim the gumboot once and for all and in 2003 it erected the Golden Gumboot, which has attracted an – ahem – flood of visitors ever since.

Babinda has actually had more rainfall in recent years, and threatened to retaliate with a giant umbrella. Alas, this has not yet happened. Note: Tully can also claim the Big Green Tree Frog.

Big Gumboot and Big Green Tree Frog

Queensland is home to a cornucopia of Big Things. At the Gemfields towns of Sapphire and Anakie, west of Rockhampton, you will find the Big Sapphire….

Big Sapphire

….the Big Sapphire Ring,

Big Sapphire Ring

The Big Spanner….

Big Spanner

… and the Big Pick and Shovel, which is more than their fair share of Big Things really. Should there be a law restricting each little town or locality to just one Big Thing?

Big Pick and Shovel

Also in Queensland we have The Big Captain Cook…

Big Captain Cook

and a Big Ned Kelly at Maryborough. He’s at least as good as THE Big Ned Kelly at Glenrowan (see below), but what’s he doing in Queensland?!? Isn’t this cultural appropriation? And shouldn’t it be condemned by all right-thinking people?

Big Ned, Maryborough

Sea creatures are popular subjects for Queensland Big Things. Here’s a Big Whale (of sorts) at Yeppoon.

Big (Crappy) Whale

You could say this one doesn’t really count because it’s arguably life size. But it does have the advantage of being deeply kitsch. Note the entrance forming the whale’s mouth. Also the fact that it’s part of an abandoned Marineland adds to its general crappiness, is also a virtue in a Big Thing.

Biggish Ram

What about this ram, at Blackall in Queensland? Do rams get this big? Seriously, cases like this do raise an interesting question in Big Thing taxonomy. How much bigger than life size does a Thing have to be before it can be said to belong to the category of Big?

Big Plesiosaur

Another case in point: this plesiosaur at a dinosaur museum at Hughenden in outback Queensland. Probably based on a fossil skeleton, so it’s a replica, not a proper Big Thing. On the other hand, check the spelling on the podium: ‘Korner’ is cheesy advertising krap. That’s more in keeping with Big Thing aesthetics than scientific display.

Krys the Crocodile

The same question arises about this Big Crocodile at Normanton. It’s a replica of what might be THE biggest crocodile ever! It was made according to the measured dimensions of a croc shot in 1957 – by a sheila, I might add – which measured 28 foot 4 inches, or 8.63 metres. Does it deserve to be here among the other Big Things? You be the judge. Personally, I just had to put it in because it’s so ama-a-ay-zing!

Big Van Gogh Sunflowers

This big version of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ on a big easel in a public park at Emerald is actually a commissioned work of art. Does that disqualify it from being a true Big Thing? (See discussion in update post below)

Cassowary with Big Head

This cassowary at Mission Beach is not particularly big but it does have that cheapjack kitsch quality that is the hallmark of the true Big Thing. Besides, its head is way bigger than on a real cassowary, which looks like this (and doesn’t have a stupid grin either):

More of Queensland’s watery bounty. In Normanton on the Gulf of Carpentaria we have the Big Barra…

Big Barramundi

At Charleville the Big Yellowbelly…

Big Yellowbelly Fish

…and at Hervey Bay a big breaching whale. Here we have a trifecta of probems: it’s probably life size, it looks like public art and it’s insufficiently commercial.

Big Breaching Whale

Also in Hervey Bay, the Big Shark’s Maw. Well, it’s certainly sufficiently crass and crappy.

Big Shark Head

And so we say farewell to Queensland, Australia’s home of Big Things. But not to the fishy theme. Check out the Big Trout at Adaminaby in New South Wales…..

Big Trout

And the Big Murray Cod at Swan Hill in Victoria.

Big Murray Cod

Here’s the Big Shark at Westernport in Victoria. As someone who still occasionally swims in the sea, I hope to Christ this IS greater than life size and that sharks don’t grow this big!

Big Shark

Birds are next. Here we have the Big Pelican at Loxton on the Murray River in South Australia,

Big Pelican

The Big Pheasant at Gumbuya in Victoria,

Here I am with the Big Chooks at Meredith in Victoria. I’m doing the chicken dance, I think.

Big chooks

Here’s the Aussie version of The Big Apple – at Batlow in NSW.

Big Apple

In the realm of big fruit, here are the Big Cherries at Young in NSW. Now I know for an absolute fact that I’ve been there and seen them and taken their photo, but do you think I can find that photo? No I cannot, dammit!!! But cross my heart and hope to die I’ve seen The Big Cherries, so I’m putting in this pic.

Here’s the Big Thylacine at the Waratah Roadhouse in Tasmania. I love these folks. A very nice bloke there got under my car to sort out a rogue bit of plastic that had come loose from the undercarriage and was making a god-awful noise as we drove along. Took him half an hour and they didn’t charge me, even though I couldn’t buy any petrol because I’d just filled up a little further back up the road. But we did buy as much food as we could cope with and I gave them a big plug on TripAdvisor. Here’s another plug.

Big Humans are uncommon. We’ve seen the Big Captain Cook in Cairns, and the Big Ned Kelly that shouldn’t be there. Here’s Ned where he belongs, at Glenrowan in Victoria:

Big Ned Kelly, Glenrowan

This one’s at Jerilderie in NSW. This one’s fair enough because the Kelly gang did ‘hold up’ the town once and it’s where Ned wrote his famous open letter excoriating the Victoria Police.

Big Ned

Apart from those big tools at the Queensland gemfields, and the Big Gumboot, we don’t see many inanimate objects elevated to Big Thing status. Here’s an exception – the Big Bench Seat at Broken Hill. Again, it’s probably art. The fact that you’re actually allowed to interact with it (ie sit on it) strengthens that presumption. But I like it.

Big Bench Seat

A friend of mine reckons this Big Garden Fork at Kingston in Tasmania doesn’t qualify because it’s purely an advertising prop, located on commercial premises – a big garden complex. But I suppose you could argue even the ones commissioned as public art, such the Big Van Gogh Sunflowers or the Big Bench Seat are there to promote tourism.

Big Garden Fork

Is this where the line should be drawn? Where you just put up an outsize version of the branded product on sale within? I suspect so, but I’ll leave it up for the time being for the sake of the argument. This big chainsaw is in Hobart, by the way.

Big Chainsaw

That’s it for the time being. I welcome any suggestions about Big Things I should visit, likewise any comments about the various ethical issues I’ve raised, such as how many Big Things can one place have, and whether the place has to have a connection to the Thing. Then there are the definitional issues, such as whether a true Big Thing must meet thresholds of crappiness or kitschiness or size proportionate to its real-life counterpart.

Thank you for listening and looking.

August 2022 update! Worst Big Thing announced!

A slightly longer version of this post was published in the New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News on 12.8.22

From the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour in NSW to the Big Murray Cod at Swan Hill in Victoria to the Big Gumboot at Tully in Queensland to the Big Pelican at Loxton in SA, there are Big Things in every Australian state and territory. 

There is some argument about the numbers.  Estimates range from 150 to 230, as there is also philosophical argument as to what constitutes a proper Big Thing.  Does it count if it’s a publicly commissioned artwork like, say, the Big Bogong Moth in Tuggeranong in the ACT?  Or the Big Van Gogh Sunflowers, a giant replica of the famous painting on a giant easel, set in a public park in Emerald, in Queensland?    

Ideally, the Big Thing should be associated with a local commercial enterprise or council, and not be too sullied by the attentions of actual artists.  Tasmania’s Big Penguin is a case in point.  It was thought up by George Daniels, President of the Penguin Traders Association, to mark the town’s centenary in 1975.  It was based on a picture of a penguin in one of his daughter’s storybooks. The Goliath Cement Company at Railton built it out of ferrocement and installed it in three days.  It was later coated with fibreglass.  Voila: the textbook Big Thing.   

The Big Penguin gets a hug from the author

A couple of funsters called Geoff Rissole and Rick Furphy – I suspect those are not their real names – recently took an online poll of the worst – or is it the best? – of Australia’s Big Things.  

Their shortlist is as follows:

The Big Koala at Dadswells Bridge on the Western Highway in Victoria, a giant concrete object which harbors a gift shop within.  The competition was intended to be a bit of a laugh, according to Rissole and Furphy, but the owner didn’t think it was funny.  She was offended by their description of the koala as ‘a gigantic red-eyed, hairy-eared replica of the only creature with more chlamydia than a local youth’.

She pointed out that when the koala was voted Australia’s Best Big Thing in another online competition a few years ago it led to a boost in visitor numbers, although she did admit it was possible visitors came to make fun of the koala. 

Next, the Big Captain Cook at Cairns in Queensland, an 8 metre high painted concrete statue of the great navigator that had stood there for 50 years but was recently pulled down and sold to a private buyer for just $1 after falling afoul of the culture wars.  I’m not usually in favour of removing statues for PC reasons, but this one was no historical monument.  For one thing, Cook’s extended forearm did look as if he were making a Nazi salute, and for another, it was pretty crappy.  This made it a prime candidate for the competition, but events overtook it and it was out of the running.  

Next, the World’s Tallest Bin at Kalgoorlie-Boulder in WA.  It’s a long piece of pipe standing eight metres tall.  Thousands nominated it.  According to a local historian it was installed in the early 1980s as part of the Clean Up Australia campaign.  He remembered throwing cans into it as a kid but said there was not much else to it.

The Big Merino at Goulburn was the preferred choice of Geoff Rissole, who didn’t think it looked like a real sheep.  ‘It looks like it was designed by someone who’s had a sheep described to them over the phone’, he said.  I’ve visited this giant concrete ram a few times and I think he’s being unfair.  I think it’s very lifelike, right down to the ram’s, er, genitals, at the back (see photo at top of post).  Nevertheless it failed to make the final cut. 

The Big Ram from the front

And so to the winner:  The Big Potato at Robertson in NSW, an ugly big grey dome of a thing about the size of a municipal toilet and used by the public as such until access was blocked off for that reason.    

Australia’s Worst Big Thing. I haven’t seen it – not my photo.

Anyway, it’s kind of nice to know our Big Penguin wasn’t crappy enough to make the shortlist.  Interestingly, we have our own Big Potato too, at Sassafras.  And it can’t be desecrated in the same way as Robertson’s Big Potato, because it’s up on a stick.  With a hat.   

Worse than the one in NSW? You be the judge