Australia’s fascination with the ‘big’ and the ridiculously oversized is well known. Books have been written, documentaries made and the internet is bulging with pics of The Big Merino, The Big Bogan, The Big Ugg Boots and The Big Cane Toad – to name just a few. Scattered all over the country, these often absurd “big things”, as they are branded, encapsulate a brand of Australian humour that is very much old school.
Often conceived and erected to put a small town or regional centre on the tourist map, they are our version of the long established American roadside attraction – designed to lure the willing motorist and break the boredom of an often stultifying long distance road trip. In most cases they have a local reference like the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour or the Big Ned Kelly in Glenrowan, but in some cases there is little connection at all – like the oddly placed Big Bench in Broken Hill.
Whilst some of the big things are of sturdy construction, like Goulburn’s monolithic all-concrete Big Merino, others appear thrown together from essentially lightweight materials. Over the years Mother Nature takes its toll, as paint begins to peel and the structures bare a slightly bedraggled appearance, especially if maintenance is not a consideration. If anything they become almost more endearing as they express their vulnerability and the ravages of time.
Here in the massive metropolis of Sydney we are occasionally treated to some much vaunted oversized objects, like those huge rubber duckies that once graced Darling Harbour or Jeff Koon’s much celebrated floral puppy which sat for months outside the MCA back in the early 1990s. It’s fair to say that most of these big things fall into the category of object d’art, rather than some kind of wry social comment or parochial reference.
Back in 2016, Clover Moore mooted the much criticised idea of a $2.5 million giant milk crate in Belmore Park. But Sydney, we can do much better! Big things don’t need to be grossly expensive works of sculptured art rather than spontaneous expressions of community spirit, humour and at times even outrage. So let’s get building.
No need to pour tonnes of concrete like Goulburn’s Big Merino – recycled materials are all the go with paper mache at the forefront. Kings Cross already has the big Poo-Balls – but what about a giant smiling doorman, straddling the entrance to the Golden Mile, signalling to all that the Cross is open for business in the wee small hours.
I’d love to see a series of giant paper mache buskers fronting the ferry wharves at Circular Quay with even a big Eddy Obeid thrown in for good luck, given his historical association with the area. The now rather boring Devonshire Street Tunnel could be enlivened with a series of giant rats, strategically placed to give pedestrians a giggle and frighten off any smaller vermin. A giant Ibis, a giant Cockatoo and even a giant possum would certainly be a winner with tourists and locals alike in Hyde Park. And why not a humongous slippery eel, surfacing sporadically like the Loch Ness Monster in the duck pond in the Botanic Gardens? The possibilities are endless – time to think big!