Revisiting Matilda the Kangaroo, decades after the 1982 Commonwealth Games

Matilda The Kangaroo
Matilda the Kangaroo. Source: Creative Commons

Matilda the Kangaroo is arguably the most publicized Big Thing of Australia. She is well-remembered for her role as the official mascot of the 1982 Commonwealth Games held in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. The event involved 46 nations, 1,583 athletes and 12 sports. It was officially opened by the Duke of Edinburgh and closed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

Where is Matilda the Kangaroo?

Having played her role exceptionally during the Commonwealth Games, it was only fair for Matilda to retire gracefully. She sits proudly at the Matilda Fuel’s Kybong service along the Bruce Highway, South of Gympie, Queensland, Australia.

But it is worth noting that Gympie was not the first place Matilda settled after the games. In 1984, she sat at the entrance of the Wet ‘n’ Wild theme park, formerly known as Cade’s County Waterpark, in Oxenford, Gold Coast, Queensland. More than two decades later, she was forced to find a new home as the site was to be reconstructed. As the theme park was being redeveloped, Matilda had to sit in storage for a while. Then, months later, she found a new home at Matilda Fuel in Kybong.

The journey to Kybong involved a lot of planning and carefulness. Firstly, because of her size, he was dismantled into pieces and transported by truck. In 2011, she was officially opened to the public. However, prior to her second unveiling, she went through a series of transformation.

The refurbishment included automation technology, steelwork replacement and fiberglass repair, costing up to $100,000. One of the main reasons to refurbish Matilda the Kangaroo was to restore her legendary wink.

How big is Matilda the Kangaroo?

After the refurbishment, she measures 13 metres tall, and weighs at least six tonnes. She is still capable of turning her head, wriggling her ears, and of course, winking and blinking.

Some interesting facts about Matilda the Kangaroo

If you were born after the 1982 Commonwealth Games, you probably don’t understand just how legendary and famous Matilda the Kangaroo was. On the contrary, if you witnessed the games, you must have noticed Matilda, but possibly didn’t know anything else about her other than her huge size and trademark blinking. Here are some interesting things you need to know about the gigantic marsupial structure.

Matilda The Kangaroo
Matilda’s grand entrance in front of 62,000 spectators at the 1982 Commonwealth Games. Source: Creative Commons

Her massive pouch could accommodate several people

During the opening ceremony of the games, you may have witnessed Matilda’s pouch flying open, revealing children clad in kangaroo suits. The 20 kids, dressed as joeys, then dashed towards the field for a trampoline display.

Gold Coast attempted to keep her

Matilda’s stay at the Gold Coast would have been permanent, had it not been for her height. According to a report published on the Gold Coast Bulletin, Matilda Fuel Supplies sent an application to the Gold Coast City Council, requesting the world-famous structure to the placed outside its petrol station in Tugun. The application was denied due to a local regulation restricting advertising boards to only 10 metres high. In its ruling, the city council determined that Matilda was three meters taller than the legal limit. 

She sat on a special forklift

You are probably wondering how the legendary Matilda moved around the stadium during the opening ceremony, turning her head and winking graciously to acknowledge the thousands of fans who had thronged the QE II Stadium, currently known as the Queensland Sports and Athletics Center. Well, you’ll be surprised to find out that she actually sat on a special forklift, operated by a forklift mechanic underneath her.

She had two special effects operators

The blinking and winking, which was one of the most astonishing yet impressing things about Matilda, was controlled by two special effects operators. They also controlled her head-turning motions and wiggling of ears.

Matilda sparked some controversy

With all the class and style she came with, it was almost impossible for Matilda to avoid controversy of any sort. She was officially unveiled by the then chairman of the Commonwealth Games Foundation Sir Edward Williams at a Queensland Press Club in Brisbane on March 23, 1981. At the time, she was the talk of the entire nation and a beloved mascot for the upcoming games.

The following day, she became the centre of controversy after it emerged that more than 250,000 stuffed toys that were to be sold during the Commonwealth Games originated from Korea and Hong Kong. Given that the games, including Matilda, were a symbol of national pride in Australia, critics were not impressed by the decision to outsource the creation of the stuffed toys. The Canberra Times (via ABC News), for example, ran the following headline one day after the unveiling of Matilda the Kangaroo:

“Foreign’ Matilda toy ‘a disgrace”

 But her beautiful, ocean blue eyes and notorious wink were enough to silence her critics, especially during the opening ceremony when she stole the show.

She is a popular local attraction

At her new home, Matilda is quite popular with the locals and travelers from far and wide. According to the Gympie Times, she attracts more than 97,000 customers at the Puma Energy fuel outlet where she sits. As one of the biggest Big Things of Australia, visitors love taking pictures with Matilda, while enjoying the beautiful surroundings consisting of birds, trees, and grass.

She has a new logo

When she made her way into the Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre in 1982, Matilda proudly held the game’s logo, designed by Paulo Ferreira, in her arms. The logo derived from a bounding kangaroo.

It had three bands bearing the common colours of many Commonwealth countries, and stylishly formed three letter A’s to represent the hosts Australia. However, following Matilda’s transfer to her new home, the logo was changed to represent her new owners Matilda Fuel Supplies.

Ever since her unveiling, Matilda always had unique charm, personality and capabilities she possess to date.. The blinking and winking, for example, wasn’t something you’d expect from such a gigantic marsupial structure. If you love the Big Things of Australia and enjoyed reading about Matilda the Kangaroo, please subscribe to our newsletter for similar content.

If you enjoyed this article we recommend reading our article about The Big Prawn!

We also have a Big Things store featuring T-shirts on some of the most famous big things in Australia. These include The Big penguin, The Big Kangaroo, The Big Jumping Crocodile and The Giant Koala. They are available in baby sizes all the way up to adult sizes.

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