The crusty crustacean creating a big stink
Anyone who thinks size doesn’t matter obviously hasn’t spent time with the Big Prawn in the northern New South Wales town of Ballina.
Designed in the late ‘80s by a sculptor whose research involved the time-honoured artistic technique of dissecting a tiger prawn in a café, this symphony in fibreglass and cement is one of Australia’s biggest Big Things.
At six by nine metres, it’s longer than Rockhampton’s Big Dugong, heavier than Mount Vernon’s Big Chook, and just a little bit weirder than Sarina’s Big Cane Toad.
The Big Prawn’s beady black eyes also possess the uncanny, Mona Lisa-esque ability to follow drivers up and down the Pacific Highway (though admittedly its enigmatic expression is more B-grade horror movie than Renaissance sfumato).
Another fascinating factoid about the Big Prawn concerns the way local opposition has morphed into local fandom.
When this crusty tourist trap was first proposed, a prominent architect said it would be crass, gross and tacky, hitting visitors like a “baseball bat between the eyes”.
What he overlooked was the fact that many people actually enjoy being belted about by kitsch in this fashion.
Consider the lavish praise offered by David Clark in his 2004 book Big Things. “The Big Prawn is the very epitome of Big Things,” he writes, “it’s huge, it’s tacky, it pays tribute to a vital local industry, and it was built by a small group of dedicated visionaries against the wishes of many in the local community.”
Sadly, high upkeep costs and soaring insurance premiums have faded the Big Prawn’s monstrous glory, and for a while there it seemed doomed to be wrapped in metaphorical newspaper and chucked out on garbage day.
But council approval of plans for its demolition in 2009 prompted a mighty roar of opposition, including a Save Ballina Big Prawn Facebook page.
As a result, Bunnings, the new owners of the 2.5 hectare site, have rejected proposals for a small, tasteful pelican statue and announced a makeover for the giant crustacean.
“It is an icon that does provoke a lot of emotion,” the managing director of the hardware retail giant told the media. “We’re not going to be the ones who knock it down.”
Debate is now focussing on whether the proposed refurbishments should involve colours depicting a live rather than broiled subject (prompting a predictable cocktail of don’t-come-the-raw prawn-with-me-isms).
As a long-time Big Prawn lover, I’m just glad those plus-sized puce tentacles will be left intact to dangle another day. Big may not be beautiful in this instance, but it is beautifully bizarre.
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