Notes from the field: Obsessed with Big Things

By AG STAFF 29 January 2024
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Australia’s Big Things aren’t only quirky froth and bubble. They’ve been a fixture of family road trips for generations of Aussies.

Tim the Yowie Man, who’s written on these phenomena, recalls, “Like many kids who lived away from the beach, my most vivid summer holiday memories are of the annual pilgrimage to the coast – those excruciatingly long road trips, hanging wet tea towels over the windows as pseudo air conditioning in our clapped-out station wagon – and those roadside stops at Big Things.

“For me, the stop was more about the opportunity to temporarily separate my bum cheeks from hot vinyl seats and get some respite from my nagging sister, rather than to gawk at an oversized something.

“Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana was a glorious sight. That garish piece of bendy fruit screamed we were half way to Surfers Paradise. And of course, [we bought] banana-flavoured ice cream, which invariably ended up a puddle on the floor of the back seat.”

Photographer Trent Mitchell also feels deeply nostalgic for these larger-than-life structures, and the regional communities they belong to.

“During the school holidays when I was a kid we’d leave Sydney’s comfortable and predictable suburbia, venture north to the Central Coast and set up camp for weeks at a time in a caravan park,” he says.

“This is where my eyes were opened to coastal regional Australia, which I grew to love more than Sydney’s comforts. I felt more at home in a small coastal Aussie town than in the Big Smoke. The rawness spoke to me and informed everything I love about Australia today.”

The Giant Koala delivered a hit of serendipity to photographer Trent Mitchell. Image credit: Trent Mitchell

Trent has spent years travelling regional Australia and documenting the idiosyncratic attractions sprinkled en route. “Indirectly, I ended up creating an archive of roadside oddities along the way, just being curious with my dry sense of humour,” he says.

“All these big things kept recurring in my snapshots – the Big Things, the DIY regional tourist traps, the roadside eye candy, the signage, the shops, the advertising.”

He describes his Big Things commission as “a dream assignment” – but one that was not without challenges. Take the Big Banana, for example: “After all these years I’d never photographed it. The banana scares me: it’s so iconic and commercial; it’s given me creative blocks in the past. Rethinking my approach helped to make some successful images of that extra-large old piece of fruit.”

Photographing other Big Things was easier. “Within minutes of me turning up at the Giant Koala, a Windsor caravan pulled up right in front of it with a big sun-bleached sticker slapped on the back that read, ‘Home among the Gumtrees’. I couldn’t believe my eyes – road-trip serendipity at its finest.”

Related: The bigger they come