Australia's big problem with 'big things'

The Big Prawn (above) in Ballina, on the north coast of New South Wales, and the Big Trout at Adaminaby in south-west New South Wales. First installed to attract visitors in the 1960s, there are now 200 or more "big things" around Australia.
The Big Prawn (above) in Ballina, on the north coast of New South Wales, and the Big Trout at Adaminaby in south-west New South Wales. First installed to attract visitors in the 1960s, there are now 200 or more "big things" around Australia.PHOTOS: DESTINATIONS NSW, CHRIS ROUND
The Big Prawn (above) in Ballina, on the north coast of New South Wales, and the Big Trout at Adaminaby in south-west New South Wales. First installed to attract visitors in the 1960s, there are now 200 or more "big things" around Australia.
The Big Prawn in Ballina, on the north coast of New South Wales, and the Big Trout at Adaminaby in south-west New South Wales. First installed to attract visitors in the 1960s, there are now 200 or more "big things" around Australia.PHOTOS: DESTINATIONS NSW, CHRIS ROUND

Many of the iconic replicas are in disrepair as visitor numbers drop

Travellers in remote parts of Australia often come across a curious phenomenon in country towns or on outback highways: oversized replicas of animals, foods or historic figures. The assortment of giant objects scattered around the nation include a Big Sheep, a Big Avocado, a Big Prawn, a Big Mango and a Big Pineapple.

First installed to attract visitors in the 1960s, there are now 200 or more "big things" around Australia. Some, such as the Big Banana, which opened in 1964 in the New South Wales town of Coffs Harbour and calls itself "Australia's first big thing", have become iconic tourist attractions.

Others, such as the 6m Big Ned Kelly statue, which depicts a 19th-century outlaw in the Victorian town of Glenrowan, have been controversial. Last year, the great-grandson of a policeman killed by the outlaw appealed for the statue to be removed, but he did not succeed.

There are concerns that the country now has too many big things and that visitor numbers are dwindling, leaving some in disrepair.

An expert on cultural heritage, Dr Amy Clarke from the University of the Sunshine Coast, said Australia's attachment to big things "has an almost patriotic quality". But the proliferation had led to problems.

"In a nation now littered with at least 200 big things, there is a sizeable problem," she wrote in an article for The Conversation website recently. "What to do with them as they age and wear out? Many big things were built cheaply from concrete and fibreglass - materials that inevitably fade and decay."

SIZEABLE ISSUE

In a nation now littered with at least 200 big things, there is a sizeable problem. What to do with them as they age and wear out? Many big things were built cheaply from concrete and fibreglass - materials that inevitably fade and decay.

DR AMY CLARKE, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, on the decisions that heritage bodies and governments must make.

Several of the objects have been abandoned or face an uncertain future. The Big Pineapple in Queensland, built in 1971 on a pineapple plantation, was put up for sale several times from 1996 but was eventually added to the state heritage register in 2009. There are now fresh proposals before the local council to build a hotel, nature walks and water park on the site.

In some cases, local councils have struggled to find the money to repair the structures. In other cases, the item is on private land and there is little that the authorities can do to improve its appearance.

Despite concerns about the future of the phenomenon, towns are continuing to erect new big things.

Tourism Australia said the structures have helped to put smaller towns on the map and to break up long drives across remote regions.

"Australia is a big country and, for many years, Australia's big fruit, big vegetables and big animals have provided fun and memorable signposts to great road trips for generations of Australians and many millions of overseas visitors," Tourism Australia's managing director, Mr John O'Sullivan, told The Sunday Times.

"Destination marketing today is obviously much more about the experience, but these eye-catching landmarks are much loved, great selfie fodder and still have a part to play in telling our country's many great regional tourism stories."

Dr Clarke suggested that local and state governments will eventually need to intervene and should consider removing some of the dilapidated structures.

"These are undeniably public landmarks of socio-cultural significance, and some - like the Pineapple - warrant preservation," she said.

"Still, heritage bodies and governments will need to make difficult, and probably unpopular, decisions that may likely send some of our big things to the scrap heap."

Many of the objects are much-loved by their local communities.

In the New South Wales town of Adaminaby, the 10m, 2.5-tonne Big Trout, built in 1973, lost its colour and was mocked for years as an eyesore. The local community started a Friends of the Fish group in 2010 which began fund-raising and eventually raised A$60,000 for repairs. The refurbished "world's biggest trout" was unveiled in 2013.

An expert on rural development, Professor John Connell from Sydney University, said the more successful structures had a "local resonance" and depicted locally known produce or figures.

Asked whether there were too many of the big things, he said: "No, as long as they are spread out and there is not the same one every 5km. Australia is a big country."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'Australia's big problem with 'big things''. Print Edition | Subscribe