Is it time for Wagga to jump on board the ‘big things’ trail?
Australia is known for its quirky ‘big things’, ranging from Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana to the the Big Pineapple in Woombye.
The Riverina is on the map with the Big Guitar at Narrandera, which is Australia’s biggest playable guitar. The area can also boast about the Big Tennis Racquet in Barellan.
More recently there was the unveiling of Ungarie’s Big Sherrin to honour the the Daniher brothers Terry, Neale, Tony and Chris, who played alongside each other in the VFL/AFL.
Not far from us we also have the big-in-reputation Dog on the Tuckerbox at Gundagai and the Big Merino in Goulburn.
The list goes on and on. With more than 200 super-sized talking points around the country, it seems that Australia has been obsessed with using these landmarks to bring in tourism.
Travellers will often make a point to stop and snap the iconic landmarks during road trips, so is Wagga missing out? And, if we were to build a landmark, what should it be?
Suggestions have been made – whether in jest or seriousness is yet to be seen – that Wagga’s big thing could be a Chiko Roll, a green swamp (in reference to Lake Albert’s algae bloom) or a big metal wave down at the beach.
Amy Clarke, a lecturer in history at the University of the Sunshine Coast and noted ‘big things’ buff, said there were a couple of theories as to why Aussies are so obsessed with large landmarks.
First of all, the idea came from the United States where it had started up in the 1920s and 1930s.
“It stuck with us because we've this wide open landscape with really long distances that people have to drive,” Dr Clarke said.
“People assumed the best way to get people to stop a long road trip was to stick up a massive icon, like a pineapple.”
Dr Clarke said that since then Aussies took the idea and ran with it, constantly building more landmarks with some icons gaining a cult following of people who take photos with each one.
The majority of the ones that have been built were constructed as tourist attractions to identify and celebrate a significant symbol of the town.
“It’s a great way to brand the region,” she said.
“Generally, however, these can be a flash in the pan where they get attention for a while and then another one goes up and people want to go and look at that one instead.
“It’s hard for them to maintain long-term tourist interest unless they start doing what they’ve done at the Big Banana at Coffs Harbour where they keep adding to it.”
Dr Clarke said often the best spot for ‘big things’ was along the highways in keeping with the original idea.
“The main idea is you don’t know they are there and you’re driving along and suddenly there’s this massive Merino that just appears on the horizon,” she said.
“That was the gimmick.”
Dr Clarke has compiled a list naming 500 potential icons. With tips from locals and newspapers, she continues to look into just how many ‘big things’ are out there.
Unfortunately, due to poor maintenance, some of the big icons have been taken down, but Dr Clarke encourages towns to continue the tradition.
“Wagga should go ahead and do something, I love the Chiko Roll idea, that’s amazing,” she said.
So would a Wagga 'big thing’ create more tourism for Wagga?
Visitor economy and events co-ordinator Fiona Hamilton said often ‘big things’ tend to reach iconic status through connections with their particular location.
Although a Wagga icon could potentially supplement tourism by providing a talking point or ‘selfie’ opportunity, Ms Hamilton said visitors demand more than a social media moment.
“More and more visitors to our region are telling us they are looking for interactive and authentic visitor experiences such as farm visits or cellar-door stops,” she said.
“These also lend themselves to longer stays and greater benefits to our region’s visitor economy than static attractions.”