Bigger and Better in the Land Down Under

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I’m back! Hopefully the New Year has been treating you well (and if not, there’s still 350 odd days left to turn things around). As for me, I have returned from a road trip throughout Australia and, my God, I am absolutely exhausted. I pushed myself to the absolute limit – driving across South Australia in a single day twice – and my body is still trying to figure out what the hell just happened! I didn’t get anywhere near enough rest during the journey so I’ve been napping incessantly since coming back to base. Rest is incredibly important and is certainly something I will incorporate into future itineraries. Sure, I’m young and dumb enough to endure such self-inflicted torture now, but keeping up such a pace long-term can only result in premature physical deterioration!

Anyway, I saw plenty of things and got up to some unusual activities. But one of the best parts of doing a road-trip throughout Australia is pulling into some far-removed town and seeing some Big Thing. I’m being very literal here; you’ll see a big sculpture of something that usually isn’t that big. You may have heard of some of them, like the Big Prawn in Ballina or the Big Potato in Robertson (it does not look like a potato at all, but rather a piece of a four-letter-word that rhymes with sit). However, there’s heaps of Big Things down under. In fact, given the size of Australia (pretty much the same size as the contiguous forty-eight US states and larger than Europe sans the Russian bits), you’d be spending years trying to visit them all, especially the ones out in the middle of the desert! But why are there so many oversized monuments in Australia dedicated to such things as fruits, alcohols, footwear and even a dead fish?

The Big Bogan in Nyngan, New South Wales, with his companion Rusty. Bogans can be rough as guts at times, but I’ll gladly hang out with them over middle class yuppies any day of the week!

The first Big Thing built in Australia was the Big Scotsman in Adelaide in 1963. It’s exactly what it sounds like: It’s a five metre tall statue of a Scotsman playing Bagpipes in his Royal Stewart kilt. ‘Scotty’ was a novelty, but he certainly didn’t usher in a rush oversized objects. It’s a year later in 1964 that one can trace back the true origins of the Big Thing phenomenon (it’s okay Scotty, although you didn’t make it popular, at least you’ll always be number one).

The story began when this guy named John Landi wanted people to stop at his roadside banana plantation in Coffs Harbour. He brainstormed ways of getting people to not only pull over from the highway, but also give him money in the process. Finally, the answer came to him in the form of a water tower in a cannery in Honolulu, Hawaii. Wait, what? Yes, a water tower in a city nearly 8,000km away gave him the answer. You see, that water tower looked like a big pineapple, complete with leaves and everything (It doesn’t exist anymore: it was dismantled in the 1990s due to corrosion and the closure of the cannery). It was affectionately called the biggest pineapple in the world by locals. The gears turned in Landi’s head and he thought, ‘hey, why not the biggest banana in the world?’ So he built a 13-metre long yellow sculpture and named it the Biggest ‘Banana’ in the World.

The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, the Big Thing that kickstarted the trend. To the right was a massive queue of people, and it wasn’t even peak visiting hours yet!

His plan worked. People certainly did stop to gawk at it and bought some produce whilst doing so. But it quickly became apparent that travellers were more interested in the Big Banana than Landi’s regular-sized bananas. Word spread that if you were driving up the east coast of Australia, you had to see the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour. People from all over Australia were marking it as an essential stop and even foreign holidaymakers wanted to witness the oversized berry for themselves (bananas are technically berries, as are lemons and cucumbers(!?)).

Before long, a roadside café, souvenir shop, a bigger carpark and even accommodation were built to serve all the guests. Nowadays, it’s a popular waterpark for families during the Summer holidays. The waterpark has kept the banana plantation theme and receives over a million visitors a year. Although it has changed a bit throughout the years, The Big Banana is still long, yellow and big, and that’s all people care about. You have to queue up to walk through it or even take a photo under it, which can make navigating the café area an utter nightmare. However, it’s been there for nearly sixty years and such a simple idea – making a big version of something that’s usually small – has generated vast amounts of wealth & publicity and has become a cultural icon of Australia.

‘Rambo,’ the Big Merino in Goulburn, New South Wales. You can climb inside him if you want to explore your Scottish roots.

Given the unbelievable success of the Big Banana, other places around Australia followed suit and constructed their own Big Thing in an attempt to get a piece of the Big Thing pie (there’s a Big Pie in Yatala, incidentally). Some followed the same line of thinking – have the big thing be relevant to the surrounding locale – and these are generally the ones that enjoy the most attention. Examples include:

  • The Big Golden Guitar in Tamworth (because it’s an important town for Australian country music)
  • ‘Rambo,’ the Big Merino in Goulburn (because wool is largely produced in this area)
  • The Big Barrel in Bundaberg (because that’s where Bundaberg Rum is made)
  • The Big Penguin in the Tasmanian town of Penguin (must I really explain the connection here?)

Others are just bizarre or downright hilarious:

  • The Big Bogan in Nyngan (bogans are everywhere in Australia, save for inner city suburbs where the hipsters lurk, but Nyngan got to it first!)
    **EDIT** It’s because of the Bogan River that Nyngan sits upon, I just discovered. It’s probably the etymological source of the word bogan, but we don’t know that for sure
  • The Big Boxing Crocodile in Humpty Doo (that is a real place)
  • The Big Ned in Glenrowan, the town where Ned Kelly, the infamous bushranger, was finally captured after an ill-fated showdown
The Big Ned in Glenrowan, Victoria, depicted in full armour and ready to shoot. Ned Kelly, the notorious bushranger who murdered police and robbed banks, is hailed as an Australian hero – a ‘champ’ in local parlance!

Others are well known not because they’re particularly impressive or fascinating, but simply because they’ve either been around a long time or are in a spot tourists and travellers are likely to stop at anyway:

  • The Big Axe in Kew
  • The Big Pocket-Watch in Melbourne Central
  • The Big XXXX Can outside the Kulgera Pub
  • The Big Kangaroo & the Big Whale on the border of South Australia and Western Australia (the Big Whale is smaller than an actual whale, but nobody cares)

But some small towns looking to make some money from tourists try to jump on the bandwagon and utterly fail. Why is that? See, it’s usually a private business or individual that decides to erect a Big Thing to attract business, but a local council will sometimes decide to use ludicrous amounts of taxpayer money very inefficiently (shock horror) to build a contrived Big Thing. Usually, they pick something like a big fruit that’s been done a bunch of times before, or they pick the ‘Big Shoelace’ or something equally uninspiring and people can just smell the cash-grab from a mile away. They often pick something unrelated to the town and put it in a place where nobody can stop and take a quick picture and would you look at that there’s a café and souvenir ship right next to it to spend all my money how convenient. Then the angry locals are left to foot the bill for the sculptural monstrosity that comes to symbolise how much local councils can truly suck.

By the way, local council rates are going up this year…again. What a coincidence!

On the hill lies the Big Winch in Cooper Pedy, South Australia. Cooper Pedy supplies 90% of the world’s opal supplies, so if you got some, it most likely came from here.

There are hundreds of Big Things out there in Australia. Some are novelties just to give you a chuckle like the Big Bench in Broken Hill. Others, like the Big Lobster in Kingston SE, are on ‘must-see’ lists when you visit the area. Some are just…unique (looking at you, Big Koala in Dadswell Bridge). But if you’re ever looking for an excuse to pull over while driving across this massive country, why not stop and grab some lunch by a gigantic bird or an oversized bottle of wine? Besides, there’s few places to rest along the desert roads of Australia, so why not stop by the Big Dice in the middle of nowhere? You know what they say – the bigger, the better!

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Remember to share my articles with others if you like them! Also, check out the videos on my Youtube channel if you’re into sleep-deprived rambles that are more tangents than stories. Don’t worry, I’m working on it – remember, the only way to get better is to start and figure it out as you go along! See you soon – Jacob

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