Shiny new collection attracts Australia’s ‘Big Things’ expert | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Accessibility links

Shiny new collection attracts Australia’s ‘Big Things’ expert

From the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour to Victoria’s Giant Murray Cod at Swan Hill – Australia has a rich history of building “big things”.

Massive, misshapen, outsized replicas of iconic animals, food items… even power tools. Erected in the middle of fields, on the side of highways and on top of roofs.

As Australia Post releases a limited-edition collection of coins and stamps on the theme, University of the Sunshine Coast history expert Dr Amy Clarke says Big Things have advanced so far in the Australian psyche, they are now considered “icons” and loved by many.

“My suspicion is that everyone is a secret fan of Big Things, but very few people thought they could admit this out loud until recently,” Dr Clarke said.

Big Cow at Highfields Pioneer Village, Queensland.

Too kitsch to be cool?

Until recently, Big Things have been dismissed as ‘kitschy’ or ’tacky’, and not ’serious’ art, Dr Clarke said.

Compelled to know more, she instigated Australia’s first serious academic study on why they were built in the first place, and why they continue to capture our attention.

“Australians started building Big Things in the early 1960s as a way to draw tourist attention to roadside businesses,” Dr Clarke said.

Dr Amy Clarke

“They’ve since been embraced by councils and tourist operators as a method for promoting entire regions.

“Once I started to reframe our Big Things as useful indicators of regional identity and publicly shared my own ‘love’ for them, I’ve noticed that we seem more comfortable as a nation with openly embracing Big Things as part of our material culture,” she said.

Now she’s known as Australia’s Big Things expert. And when Australia Post needed a historical check on all things larger-than-life, they called her for historical insight.

Dr Clarke saw an opportunity to engage the nation on a topic that fascinated her, and she leapt at a chance to discuss it on Australia’s flagship radio interview show Conversations.

“I think people are fascinated by human endeavours of all kinds; from great feats of strength and endurance, to discoveries in science, to creative masterpieces,” Dr Clarke said.

“All of these require the people involved to have an almost single-minded focus on the task at hand, and a belief in themselves and in their end goal. Big Things are part of that, especially the more folk-art and hand-made versions created by amateurs.”

“Once I started to reframe our Big Things as useful indicators of regional identity and publicly shared my own ‘love’ for them, I’ve noticed that we seem more comfortable as a nation with openly embracing Big Things as part of our material culture,” she said.

Caption: Dr Amy Clarke, age 11, at the Big Pineapple. She is the little figure waving at the top. Credit: Kaye Clarke.

Memory lane

Dr Clarke continues to be pleasantly surprised by the level of mainstream interest in Big Things, and people's willingness to share memories.

Her own cherished childhood memories feature visits to the gift shop at Nambour’s Big Pineapple, eating fruit parfait and buying themed souvenirs. She knows others share similar fond memories.

“I knew that Australians were familiar with our Big Things and perhaps tolerated them, even if they didn’t take them seriously or like them as landmarks,” she said.

“What’s surprised me is how many people, from vastly different walks of life, have come forward to share their stories with me.

“The overwhelming message has been one of joy - people are happy to see my research out there in the world, perhaps because it makes them think about their own encounters with Big Things, and other quirky landmarks.

“And we can appreciate that someone has invested a huge amount of time, creativity and energy into producing the Big Thing in question.

“I think we are innately drawn to that kind of passion. We want to understand more about the person behind the landmark.”

Helpful history

History, she says, is a fascinating topic.

“We often look to history for answers, particularly at times of uncertainty,” Dr Clarke said.

“History can be reassuring - we’ve survived worse before, so we can survive this. But it can also provide us with warnings that if we don’t change course, we could be headed towards disaster.

“This is why people are interested in history, but they perhaps don’t realise how many important, future-facing skills we can learn through studying history closely.

“Historians are skilled critical thinkers, able to evaluate the trustworthiness of sources, evidence and even people. We are flexible thinkers, too. We notice patterns, trends, anomalies and gaps and we ask ‘why’.

“These are skills that artificial intelligence has yet to replicate and will be increasingly valued by employers in the future.”

The Big Merino, Goulburn.

Just a day trip away

Several famous Big Things sit in close proximity to UniSC campuses.

Sunshine Coast: The Big Pineapple in Nambour and the Big Pelican in Noosa, the Big Lawnmower and the Big Chainsaw in Beerwah.

Moreton Bay and Caboolture: Big Strawberry at Elimbah, on the site of a local strawberry farm.

Fraser Coast and Gympie: “I think the Fraser Coast is lucky to have a sporting icon in the form of the Big Matilda near Gympie, which started out life as a parade float for the Brisbane 1982 Commonwealth Games.”


Media enquiries: Please contact the Media Team