Driving between any two Australian towns or cities, you are likely to encounter an oversized and artificial roadside attraction. Typically built of fibreglass, plastic or metal, over 150 of these objects litter the highways and by-ways. Some are true works of art and important symbols of the well-being of a town. Others are built as the centerpiece of a commercial attraction while others are simply ugly and tragic. Quite a number are there purely as advertising gimmicks encouraging tired motorists to pull over and take a much needed break (and spend some money) on long distance drives.
The first of the Big Things, the Big Banana in the beautiful beachside city of Coffs Harbour recently celebrated its fortieth anniversary and several have passed their thirtieth. They have become such an icon of Australia that Australia Post recently issued a set of five stamps illustrating some of the better known ones. Many homes have matching kitsch souvenirs in teaspoons, tea towels, fridge magnets or bottle-openers.
Certainly, there is plenty of fruit represented – The Big Apple, Big Orange, Big Pineapple, Big Banana and The Big Mango would make for a tasty and juicy fruit salad fit for a giant. Australia’s close tie with the land is also memorialised with several Big Cows, several Big Sheep and a Big Chicken. There is even a Big Blue Heeler presumably to round up and corral the big sheep.
Indigenous Australiana can be found in the forms of The Big Koala, Big Kangaroo, Big Galah, Big Crocodile, Big Cassowary (a large and endangered flightless bird) and Big Tasmanian Devil while our affinity with the sea is enforced with The Big Crab, Big Prawn, Big Trout, Big Lobster, Big Oyster and Big Barramundi (Australia’s best known fish).
The discoverer of Australia, Captain Cook has been suitably enlarged in a regal pose in northern Queensland while the most famous and notorious of our outlaws has been immortalised with The Big Ned Kelly in Glenrowan, where he was finally captured. The Big Gumboot highlights Tully as the Australian town which receives the most rainfall while Tamworth celebrates its position as Australia’s country music capital with an enlarged version of its prized golden guitar awards.
A Big Ayers Rock provides a fuel stop but is many times smaller than the real thing. Yet at over 300 metres in length The Giant Earthworm is simply bizarre, though it attracts over 200,000 visitors per year.
In my view, the saddest “big thing” is the Big Potato found in the spectacular rolling green hills of Robertson. Somewhat embarrassing to the locals and lying idly in a field, it is in desperate need of a coat of paint and a little love. Some locals have irreverently christened it “The Big Turd”.
Why are they all here? Maybe it is Australia’s renowned sense of irreverent humor. Maybe they are there to entertain and amuse both overseas visitors and long-distance road travellers. Whatever the reasons, most Australians and many overseas visitors will have a photo album containing at least one family shot in front of their “Big Thing” discovery as they ventured across this diverse island continent.