Australia’s Big Things: what’s the attraction for you?
I’m from England and I think sometimes it takes an outsider to appreciate just how weird and wacky things that people take for granted actually are. There are 150-odd Big Things around Australia and there’s nothing like that really, in England.

What is it about Australia that has produced all these Big Things?
I don’t think there is really one answer. A lot of them are designed to get tourists
to stop their cars and visit something. The guy who built the Big Banana in 1964 was inspired by the Big Pineapple in Hawaii. And I think it works; he was trying to sell his bananas on the side of the road and people were stopping for the Big Banana and he was flogging heaps of bananas. I think people copied that. But also there’s a lot of jokey humour, Aussie larrikinism where people just go “bollocks, I can build a Big Thing”, and so they do. And with a few of them, no one knows who built them or how they got there. There’s a funny one where a local MP put up the Big Poo, in protest at how the water was being treated in Kiama (NSW). He put it up by the side of the road as a bit of a joke and everybody loved it. He obviously got heaps of publicity. But people were like, “yeah, we want to keep this thing”, as a permanent, I don’t know what, symbol of their town. And it’s still there.

They seem to be most popular in northern NSW and Queensland, why do you think that is?
Maybe it’s the sunshine – it’s twisted their brains? The Big Banana is in Coffs Harbour, so maybe it’s kind of spread from the epicentre. The Northern Territory has some of the best ones, like the Big Boxing Croc. But then they live in places like Humpy Doo, so who knows [about them].

Do you have a personal favourite?
Yeah, the Big Murray Cod in Victoria. It’s a beautiful thing. It was built for a movie. It was a leftover prop and the council found a home for it. It is an amazing artwork.

And a least favourite?
I haven’t actually seen it, but the Big Mushroom. We only included that [in the book] because we wanted to have a representative from everywhere. But we were a bit like, “come on guys, you can do better than that.”

The Big Cane Toad is a strange one…
The idea was to get tourists to visit [Sarina, Queensland]. But it’s backfired, if they were hoping to have the impact of the Big Banana or something. Obviously cane toads are hated. I think it’s a lovely sculpture. It’s pretty dark and menacing though, for kids. The people who tend to be responsible for these things are mainly operating on a different level.

Any others that are particularly bad?
Haha. Um, I think the thing to say is, for the communities they are in, none of them are bad. I mean the Big Wool Bales are pretty bad. But if you asked anyone in that community they would probably say they are fantastic. It’s just magnificent to have something that’s a little bit different.

Has there been any opposition to Big Things?
Generally the local communities love it. But in Rockhampton they had a problem with the Big Bull’s testicles getting stolen. I don’t know if that’s genuine appreciation, or some sort of protest? But someone’s got a garage full of bull nuts.

The Big Stubby and the Big Wine Cask appeal to TNT…
I think it was 17,000 stubby bottles were used to make the Big Stubby. So someone had a lot of fun putting that one together. The Big Wine Cask is a brilliant piece of improvisation. It’s actually two big sheds and they put a cap on it and painted it the right colours. it should give hope to anyone who wants to set up their own Big Thing. All you need is a shed and a bit of imagination.

Lastly, how many big things can you name in a minute?
Oh, you’re kidding!

Nope. Ready? Go!
The Big Stubby, Big Boxing Croc, Big Dinosaur – two of those – Big Croc, Big Staircase, Big Ram, Big Merino, Big Worm, Big Crab, Big Lobster, Big Oyster, Big Miner, Big Ned Kelly, Big Murray Cod, er… shit! Big Pineapple, Big Cassowary, Big Rocking Horse, Big Galah, Big Scotsman, Big Avocado, Big Mango, Big Axe, Big Pie, Big Macadamia Nut, Big Dugong, Big Cassowary [again], Big Cane Toad, Big Captain Cook, er, shit… Big Penguin, Big Tassie Devil… [total 31].

Big Aussie Icons is out now, published by The Five Mile Press,

While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.

Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.

After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.

Ugly mothertruckers

Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.

Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.

So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.

Roadhouse blues

Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!

The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.

So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!

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