As a young girl, my mother and I spent a few years living in the regional NSW towns of Cootamundra and Ardlethan. They were halcyon times characterised by long, hot summer days, kicking around in the bush with mates and a true sense of small-town community, punctuated by trips to the Big Smoke to visit my grandparents.
Back in the late 1970s, the Hume Highway was bumpy, narrow and slow — not the long stretch of grey multi-laned efficiency it is today. Travelling with an annoying “are we there yet” kid in the back seat meant taking breaks in towns en route, many of which are now bypassed by the freeway.
One of my favourite stops was Goulburn because of the Big Merino. To an adult it may be a cheesy, outlandish attempt to showcase the region’s fine wool pedigree, but to a kid it was awesome. Standing tall on the main road next to the servo, the Big Merino was a behemoth, a gaudy fascination, but also a playground. I could barely contain my excitement running up the staircase inside to stare out at the town and hills beyond through the ram’s eyes.
The Big Merino is just one engorged statue in a much-loved Aussie tradition of building big stuff as a tourist magnet to showcase our agricultural or artistic prowess. Impressive? Mostly. Corny? For sure.
Here we list the ‘classic’ big things across Australia that were major draw cards in their day, and a few underrated and quirky ones you just might want to add to your next road trip.
These attractions are those that you automatically associate with Australia’s big history — the ones that arguably set the stage for Australians’ fascination with showy tourist stops.
THE BIG BANANA
Coffs Harbour, NSW
Established as a quirky structure to draw a crowd to a roadside stall, the modern Big Banana Fun Park has so many attractions for travellers it’ll be hard to bend your brain around them all.
John Landi had the idea to bump up banana sales way back in 1964, which makes the Big Banana Australia’s first big attraction and Landi perhaps the father of the movement. It stopped traffic alright, with 2000 visitors per day walking through the huge piece of fruit when it opened, soon inspiring the creation of an on-site milk bar and souvenir store. The banana plantation grew in the late 1960s and received a $30 million redevelopment in the late 1980s.
It was bought in the 1990s by Kevin Ruby who added a toboggan ride and an ice-skating rink, both of which are still operational. Current owner Village Building Co has boosted The Big Banana Fun Park’s ‘ap-peel’ by adding nine attractions over the last seven years including Laser Tag, a Water Park, a 4D ride simulator and what they claim is Australia’s biggest giant slide.
When it was built: 1964
Entry cost: Free to enter, attractions incur a fee (packages available)
Address: 351 Pacific Highway, Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450
Contact: Ph: (02) 6652 4355, web: www.bigbanana.com
Nearby campgrounds: BIG4 Park Beach Holiday Park, 1 Ocean Parade, Coffs Harbour, NSW 2450. Ph: 1800 200 555, web: www.big4.com.au
Woolgoolga Beach Holiday Park, 12 Wharf St, Woolgoolga NSW. Ph: (02) 6648 4711, www.coffscoastholidayparks.com.au/parks/woolgoolga-beach/
THE BIG PINEAPPLE
Built in 1971 by pineapple farmers Bill and Lin Taylor on the gloriously sunny Sunshine Coast, the 16m-tall fibreglass pineapple attracted 700,000 visitors annually in its 1980s heyday.
A small train took visitors through the plantation, and in 1978 the ‘Nutmobile’ tour was launched — complete with macadamia nut-shaped carriages.
Prince Charles and Lady Diana stopped for a visit while on an Australian tour in 1983, and in 2009 the pineapple was added to the Queensland Heritage Register.
But it has had its fair share of drama as tourist numbers dropped and it changed ownership and closed for several years. Since 2013 the owners have hosted the Big Pineapple Music Festival attracting the likes of Midnight Oil, Regurgitator and Birds of Tokyo which offers onsite camping for attendees. There is still a train ride plus a zoo and a treetops walk.
When it was built: 1971
Entry cost: Free but costs apply to the train ride, zoo and music festival
Address: 76 Nambour Connection Rd, Woombye, Qld, 4559
Contact: Ph: (07) 5442 3102, web: www.bigpineapple.com.au
Nearby campgrounds: Rainforest Holiday Village, 557 Nambour Connection Road, Woombye, Qld. Ph: (07) 5442 1153, web: www.rainforestholidayvillage.com.au
Marshall Ski Lakes Campground, 1 Leafy Lane, Sunshine Coast, Qld. Ph: 0408 711 469
THE BIG MERINO
The Big Merino has a name: Rambo. Inspired by a real-life stud ram of the same name from a nearby property, Rambo stands 15m tall, 18m long and weighed 97 tonnes when constructed in 1985 from a steel frame and concrete.
Designed to showcase the region’s reputation for fine wool production, Rambo was a fixture of the town’s main street, but when the Hume Highway was built and tourist numbers slid, Rambo was relocated 800m down the road closer to the highway exit. A heavy-duty, customised rig with 96 tyres was needed to move him and the big guy now has a home with a snazzy gift shop and an exhibition of the industry’s 200-year history.
When it was built: 1985
Entry cost: None, but a store is next door if you need new ugg boots
Address: Corner of Hume and Sowerby streets, Goulburn NSW
Contact: Phone: (02) 4822 8013; www.bigmerino.com.au
Nearby campgrounds: Goulburn South Caravan Park, 149 Hume St, Goulburn, NSW 2580. Ph: (02) 4821 3233, web: https://topparks.com.au/
THE BIG LOBSTER
Affectionately known as Larry, the 17m-tall spiny lobster stands in all its shiny orange glory in the fishing town of Kingston Southeast on South Australia’s Limestone Coast. Unveiled by then South Australian Premier David Tonkin on 15 December 1979, Larry is magnificent and, like many others in the big attractions club, was borne from an idea to showcase the town’s rich pedigree, in this case seafood.
Made of steel and fibreglass, Larry took six months to construct and served as the face of the town ever since, heralding visitors to a restaurant behind its tail. That business faded as fascination with all big things waned, but the town decided Larry should not only stay, but be restored to his former glory.
Radio presenters Hamish Blake and Andy Lee spearheaded the #PinchAMate crowdfunding campaign to give Larry a dazzling makeover, and you can grab a bite at the new cafe called Janet’s Takeaway.
When it was built: 1979
Entry cost: Free
Address: Princes Hwy, Kingston SE, SA 5275
Contact: Ph: (08) 8767 2019
Nearby campgrounds: Kingston Foreshore Caravan Park, 34a Marine Parade, Kingston SE SA 5275. Ph: (08) 8767 2050, http://kingstonforeshorecaravanpark.com.au/
BIG NED KELLY
Australians love to celebrate an underdog — even a murderous, thieving one — which is why the Victorian town of Glenrowan has thrived as the last stand of notorious bushranger Ned Kelly and his gang in 1880.
The main 6m-high statue of Ned stands in the main thoroughfare (Gladstone St) adorned by his trademark tin mask and armour and wielding an equally oversized shotgun. There’s also a fantastic museum here in the Glenrowan Tourist Centre explaining bushranger history along with a fabulous interactive animatronic show of the gang’s last stand.
When it was built: 1992
Entry cost: Free to see the statue, fees apply for the show
Address: 41 Gladstone St, Glenrowan, Vic 3675
Contact: Ph: (03) 5766 2367, web: www.glenrowantouristcentre.com.au
Nearby campgrounds: Glenrowan Tourist Park, 2 Old Hume Highway, Glenrowan, Vic 3675. Ph: (03) 5766 2288, www.glenrowanpark.com.au
UNDERRATED AND UNDERAPPRECIATED
You may not have heard of these big things, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth a stop to take a snap and stretch the legs.
THE BIG TROUT
Trout fishing is a beloved pastime in Adaminaby, 50km north-west of the Snowy Mountain town of Cooma. The Big Trout is a 10m tribute to this and has stood for more than 40 years in Adaminaby Lions Club Picnic Park.
Local artist and trout fishing enthusiast Andy Lomnici created the sculpture after another angler, Leigh Stewart, suggested the idea. Lomnici reportedly froze an actual fish to get the right shape, sketched it and then created the steel frame and fibreglass body. The whole process took four years, and in 2010 it was given a much-needed
makeover by The Friends of the Fish Committee. Time your visit for November and take part in the annual Snowy Mountains Trout Festival.
When it was built: 1973
Entry cost: Free
Address: Adaminaby’s Picnic Park, Denison St, Adaminaby NSW
Nearby campgrounds: Providence Holiday Park, 46 Providence Rd, Adaminaby NSW. Ph: (02) 6454 2357, web: www.providenceholidaypark.com.au
Dadswells Bridge, Vic
Lazy marsupial or ticked off drop bear — you be the judge at the Big Koala on the Western Highway between Stawell and Horsham in Victoria’s Grampians region.
Beryl Cowling, owner of the Koala Country Kitchen and Koala Country Motor Inn, asked her brother-in-law John McEwan to create the steel skeleton structure (out of seven tonnes of steel), upon which Dutch sculptor Ben Van Zetten made the 6m-tall koala from cold cast bronze and a mixture of fibreglass and plaster. Take a look inside to check out the gift shop, snack bar and tavern, all within the belly of the beast, so to speak.
When it was built: 1988
Entry cost: Free
Address: 5829 Western Highway Dadswells Bridge, Vic
Contact: Ph: (03) 53595230, web: www.thegiantkoala.com.au
Nearby campgrounds: Grampians Edge Caravan Park, 20 Krause Rd, Western Highway, Dadswells Bridge, Vic, 3385. Ph: (03) 5359 5241, www.grampiansedgecaravanpark.com.au
About 135km north of Alice Springs on the iconic Stuart Highway sits the Aileron Roadhouse and Caravan Park, home to two very impressive statues celebrating Indigenous heritage.
Anmatjere Man arrived first in 2005, a 17m-tall Aboriginal hunter inspired by the local Anmatjere community which stands behind the Roadhouse but clearly visible to the road. He spent a few years as the sole attraction until a second 17m statue, Anmatjere Woman and Child, joined the property. Both are built by local artist Mark Egan.
It’s a 30-minute walk up and around both statues before or after lunch at the Roadhouse and a wander through the art gallery. There’s a caravan park onsite for an overnight rest while en route north from Alice or south-bound towards Uluru or Adelaide.
When it was built: 2005
Entry cost: Free
Address: Stuart Highway, 135km north of Alice Springs
Contact: Ph: (08) 8956 9703
Nearby campgrounds: Aileron Hotel & Roadhouse on site offers powered sites, pool, barbecue areas, fuel and a bar.
THE BIG PENGUIN
Constructed in 1975 to commemorate the centenary of the seaside town of Penguin, the Big Penguin is a local favourite. Constructed of ferro cement and fibreglass, he stands 3.15m high as a permanent tribute to the fairy penguin, after which the town was named.
He’s even more adorable because of the outfits he is fitted with to mark various occasions throughout the year. In December it’s not unusual to see him wearing a Santa suit, a bow tie and bowler hat made from tiny flags for Australia Day and, as we went to press, the Big Penguin has a huge heart for Valentine’s Day. Nawww.
When it was built: 1975
Entry cost: Free
Address: Scenic Drive, Penguin
Nearby campgrounds: Penguin Caravan Park, 6 Johnson's Beach Road, Penguin, Tas 7316.
Ph (03) 6437 2785, www.penguincaravanpark.com.au
WHAT THE QUIRK?
Some of Australia’s more random big things have a rather, er, eclectic flavour. There were so many to choose from — a big Van Gogh easel at Emerald, Qld; the Big Beer Can outside the Kulgera Pub, NT; and the Big Captain Cook in Cairns, Qld upon which some lark wrote ‘Made in China’ — but here are two crackers.
THE BIG BOGAN
Bogan Shire, NSW
Despite rumours the steel statue of the Big Bogan is modelled on a particular resident of the Bogan Shire in NSW we’re told it’s more reflective of our national bogan identity. Controversial and divisive in a community where some embrace the ocker connotation of their region’s namesake and those who think the statue of a bloke in thongs holding a fishing rod and packing an esky is embarrassing, nevertheless the statue has increased tourism in the town of Nyngan since its erection in 2015.
You can find it at the Teamsters Rest Parking Area near Nyngan (along with an antique Cobb & Co coach) with a great
parking area to accommodate RVs. There’s also a suite of Big Bogan merch at the visitor centre in town if you’re in need of a mug, flanny shirt, stubby shorts or a sticker for your bumper.
When it was built: 2015
Entry cost: Free
Address: Teamsters Rest Parking Area
Nearby campgrounds: Nyngan Riverside Tourist Park, Barrier Hwy and Mitchell Hwy, Nyngan NSW 2825. Ph: (02) 6832 1729, web: www.nynganriverside.com.au/tourist-park
WORLD’S TALLEST BIN
Well, it’s not really a proper bin but it is certainly a talking point. In 1980 Kalgoorlie entered the state-wide Tidy Towns competition. In an effort to encourage townsfolk to stop littering, the Keep Kalgoorlie Clean Committee decided to repurpose an 8m water pipe into the World’s Tallest Bin.
Schoolkids painted the moniker on its side, and we are reliably informed that mischievous local young ‘uns have been attempting to lob their rubbish in as an after-school lark ever since. In case you were wondering, the town came equal fourth in the contest.
Just down the street is another little known ‘big’ attraction — a 59m-long Indigenous mural called Karkurla Dreaming. Created by local artist Jason Dimer, a Wongutha, Ngadju and Mirning man, it tells the story of the spiritual connections between the people, the waterholes, the flora and the fauna of the Karlkurla area. It’s also hailed as the longest dot painting in the world.
When it was built: 1980 (bin), 2017 (painting)
Entry cost: Free
Address: Hannan St, Kalgoorlie
Nearby campgrounds: Kalgoorlie Goldfields Discovery Park, 286 Burt St, Boulder, WA 6432.
Ph: (08) 9039 4800, web: www.discoveryholidayparks.com.au. Kalgoorlie Caravan Park, 8 Great Eastern Hwy, Somerville, WA 6430. Ph: (08) 9021 4855.