Big Things have been embedded in Australian culture since the 1960s. Back then, giant sculptures were built as tourist attractions. Most of them proudly represented a town’s local industry, native animals, history or another claim to fame. In many cases, they were beautiful works of art or faithful replicas of natural flora and fauna. Others were purposely ‘cheesy’ – designed to attract attention and make people smile (or groan!).
Some of those earlier Big Things have fallen into disrepair or disappeared. However, quite a few have been lovingly restored in recent years, often as a result of community campaigns. Not only that, new Big Things are starting to appear… and some of these have been made by Natureworks!
Historic Big Thing sculptures
If you ask any Aussie to name a Big Thing, they might think of the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, the Big Pineapple in Woombye, the Big Merino at Goulburn or some other sculpture in their local region. They may even name one of the larger-than-life sculptures made by Natureworks, such as the giant koalas at Billabong Zoo, Olympic mascot Matilda the kangaroo or even the face of Luna Park in Sydney.
Here are some pictures of historic Big Things created or refurbished by Natureworks between 1980 and 2010…
Big Things can become BIG tourist attractions
Big sculptures – especially those that represent something unique to an area – become township icons, acting as local landmarks and tourist drawcards. As such, it’s not unusual for travellers to plot a route specifically designed to see Big Things around Australia. There are websites dedicated to this purpose, such as Big Things of Australia, which explains the history of many of the sculptures, listing them by state.
Tourists can also read reviews of Big Things on travel websites such as Trip Advisor. For example, read the reviews of the Big Kookaburra at Kurri Kurri or the Big Prawn at Ballina, NSW. Such reviews are highly subjective, of course! But love them or hate them, many Big Things have become cult classics. And now, it’s time for a cult revival…
The recent revival of Big Things
There is renewed interest in Big Things and township icons, largely due to something out of our control – the Covid pandemic. Over the last couple of years, there has been an increase in travel around rural Australia. Although this was initially due to Covid restrictions forcing people to holiday at home, the trend to hop in a car and explore your own country is likely to continue.
Because of this, many regional towns, local councils and businesses are looking for ways to attract and retain visitors. One way to do this is to install an iconic Big Thing. This could be a public art sculpture or a leisure attraction featuring sculptures of animals, natural features, products or symbols from the local area. Examples of this include William the Wombat at Thallon, giant sea creatures at a water play park at the Gold Coast, the Cloud Reef sculpture at Coffs Harbour and the giant thorny devil at Gumbaya Wildlife World, Victoria.
Here are just a few of our more recent projects for towns, local councils and wildlife services…
How social media spreads awareness of Big Things
Another key factor in the revival of Big Things is the selfie culture, propagated by social media. A selfie is a self-portrait taken with a smartphone or digital camera. It seems these days a visit to a tourist landmark is not complete without a selfie! Big Things are ideal for this purpose because they are highly recognisable – and taggable.
For instance, try searching Instagram for #bigbanana or posts from Big Prawn, Ballina. Some posts mention how seeing a sculpture like the Big Banana triggers fond childhood memories of holidays years ago, thus creating positive associations with the local area.
When commenting on social media posts, users often make jokes that have the side effect of promoting a business. For example, Instagram users joke about needing a big barbeque from Bunnings to cook the Big Prawn! Because Bunnings sponsored the revival of the big prawn sculpture (which appears next to their store in Ballina), this is a highly appropriate comment. In addition, it reinforces the sponsor’s name. Posts like these not only create an incentive for people to visit the sculpture, they support local businesses in the process.
Taking the selfie concept further, big sculptures can be designed specifically with that purpose in mind. For an example of this, see Cuddles the giant koala by Natureworks. The sculpture has a gap at the back so people can enter to be ‘cuddled’ by the koala. Another example is the Jumbo grizzly bear, whose paws provide a perfect seat for visitors to pose for photographs.
Big Things promote businesses and local organisations too
Although often used as township symbols, Big Things can be a highly effective way to promote a tourist-based business, sports club, cafe, hotel, entertainment venue or other local organisation. Having a memorable symbol – preferably visible from afar – helps people remember (and find) a business.
Often, a big sculpture is based on a symbol associated with the business name. Examples of this include the majestic giant bronze lion sculpture Natureworks created for The Lion sports club at Richlands in Brisbane, and the giant crab for Catch A Crab seafood farm at Tweed Heads. Another more humorous example is the enormous redback spider on a dunny commissioned by Redback Landscape Supplies in Brisbane. And a few months ago we had great fun sculpting a colourful giant chameleon 3D sign for the Chameleon Lounge Bar at the Gold Coast.
Getting funding for Big Things or community projects
The idea for building a Big Thing usually originates at a grassroots level – from local residents, businesses or council members. But designing and building a big sculpture costs money! This money can come from sources such as government grants, private donations or business sponsorships.
For example, local businesses might pitch in to sponsor a sculpture, with their name recognised on a plaque or sign. This idea can be taken further, where businesses or individuals sponsor individual elements of a sculpture. This could involve sponsoring the legs of a giant spider or even cuts of beef on a giant cow! As an indication of how this might work, see our giant soldier crab concept, where the ‘sand ball’ seats around the crab could be sponsored.
The value of concept art in the funding and design process
When applying for a government grant to fund a Big Thing or another community project, artistic concept sketches are an invaluable way to sell the idea. A picture paints a thousand words! Concept art helps people visualise the project and identify questions, concerns and specific requirements. Our sketches of proposed sculpture designs have helped more than one grant application get across the line!
Concept art also helps to shape the direction of a project and encourage creative ideas. At Natureworks, we often build from our client’s original vision to create something even more special. A recent example of this is when we suggested a giant chameleon 3D sign could be backlit with LED lights, changing colour just like a chameleon does. We just couldn’t resist adding that touch!
Our artists are constantly sketching ideas for projects that we are keen to build. So if you’re looking for a fun concept for a public space, playground or tourist attraction, you may be able to take one of our existing concepts and run with it! For example, we have a few custom playground design ideas that are ready to roll.
Here are some concept art sketches for a few larger-than-life sculpture projects…
Designing and building Big Things to suit the purpose
For any custom project, it’s essential to first determine what is needed, then design the sculpture/s to suit the site and intended use. For example, if children are going to be climbing on a sculpture, it needs to be reinforced, and designed to maximise safety and minimise risk. How it’s mounted is important too, for security and safety considerations. Where needed, Natureworks can design and build sculptures to meet playground certification standards or adapt them to suit a certain space or purpose.
As well as choosing the appropriate materials and structural support for a sculpture, its exterior finish makes a big difference. Examples of slowly decaying historic Big Things demonstrate that it’s not enough just to build a functional and impressive sculpture – it needs to stay looking good! Maintaining the appearance and structural integrity of a sculpture is key to its long-lasting impact. Natureworks always advise clients on appropriate finishes to suit a sculpture’s intended use.
By listening to what the client needs, and combining this with extensive experience, Natureworks ensure the end result is fit for purpose. We also try to add a little something special to each project – the grin factor! If the sculpture is a source of delight for the client, visitors or other users, we feel we’ve done our job.
Finally, how big should a Big Thing be?
There are no rules about how big a Big Thing should be, apart from the fact it should be bigger than life-size. But how much bigger? How big is big enough? Well, that depends on a few little (and big) things…
Firstly, where will the sculpture be situated?
A sculpture’s location will impact how far away it will be visible. The further away it’s viewed, the bigger it needs to be. It’s also important to know how much space is available for the sculpture. The location might also affect the sculpture’s design details (such as whether a giant animal is sitting or standing, and which direction it is looking). It will also impact how it is mounted – on a plinth, on a rooftop, fixed to the floor, suspended from a beam, or other options.
Secondly, how will the sculpture be used?
Is the Big Thing just for looking at, or will people sit or climb on it? Does it need to be big enough for people to go inside it? Or designed for them to take photos and selfies at certain parts of the sculpture? Do parts of the sculpture need to be out of reach for safety or security reasons, to reduce the risk of vandalism? Will it be part of a water park, playground or park? If it is for playing on, what ages of children might use it? How accessible will it be for people with size/height differences or disabilities? The answers to all these questions will help determine the best size and design of the sculpture.
Thirdly, what’s the budget?
As a general rule, bigger things cost more to make because they use more materials, require more finishing and cost more to transport and instal. However, there may be ways to keep costs down. One such approach is adapting existing sculptures to suit the purpose. To this end, Natureworks has an extensive library of moulds for larger-than-life sculptures that could be used instead of custom designs. Or to reduce transport costs, it may be feasible to make a sculpture in pieces and assemble it on-site. We’ve often done this for larger sculptures.
Last but not least, what is the objective of the Big Thing?
If a sculpture is aiming to be a tourist drawcard, size matters. Big sculptures need to be big enough to stand out from the surrounding landscape. If it claims to be the biggest in the country, you’ll need to do some research to verify that. However, having the biggest sculpture is not always the most important factor. Where the objective is business promotion, having a unique sculpture that reflects the business and draws attention from passers-by is more important. Or for playgrounds, theme parks or shopping centres, simply having a larger-than-life animal is enough to bring smiles to people’s faces. A Big Thing doesn’t have to be gigantic, just bigger than normal!
As you can see from the size chart below, it’s best to think about sculpture size in relation to the size of human beings. After all, Big Things are designed for humans to enjoy!
So… do you need a Big Thing?
Who doesn’t! We hope you have enjoyed this article about the culture and design of Big Things. If you’d like help, advice or design ideas for unique larger-than-life sculptures, just contact Natureworks. We are experts in nature-based sculptures and themed props, and we love designing and making things, especially big ones!