The Big Things of Australia continue to make headlines both locally and internationally for their aesthetic appeal and rich history. Some of these iconic sculptures have since become the symbols of the towns they represent. There is always a story behind almost every Big Thing in Australia, one that tells the history of the town, the local people, their economic activities, and so much more. If you are obsessed with these Big Things or you’ve just started discovering more about them, this article introduces you to the Big Potato, popularly known locally as the Big Spud.
What is the Big Potato?
The Big Potato is a giant potato-like sculpture located in the village of Robertson, New South Wales, Australia. This concrete structure is one of the most famous tourist attractions in this little village in Wingecarribee Shire.
A brief history of the Big Potato
To understand why the Big Potato was built at the first place, let’s take a closer look at the village of Robertson, and its economic activities. Prior to the construction of the Big Potato, the village of Robertson was not so popular across Australia.
As of 2016, the small village had a population of 1,865, mostly consisting of farmers. Speaking of farming, this village is well-known for its high annual rainfall and fertile soil.
Fondly referred to as “Robbo” by the locals, the town of Robertson was once famous for its cheese industry thanks to the availability of lush pasture for beef and dairy farming. Unfortunately, despite boasting lush pasture, the village was unsuccessful in producing fresh milk because it was located far away from the main markets in Sydney. As a result, the production of cheese and butter was the most viable venture at the time.
However, as a result of the rich soil and reliable rainfall, the villagers began to explore other agricultural opportunities. This led to the rise of potato farming in the region.
Even after the discovery potato farming, the local farmers faced yet another challenge; the village of Robertson was not so popular beyond its borders. It was necessary to come up with a creative way to showcase the potato-growing industry to the rest of Australia, and hopefully, the world. This very reason is what led to the construction of the Big Potato sculpture.
The brains behind the Big Potato
The Big Potato is one of the many attractions in Robertson, and arguably the most popular. It was built in 1977 by a local potato farmer named Jim Mauger.
How big is the Big Potato in NSW?
This gigantic potato monument is located off the Illawarra Highway. It measures approximately 10 metres in length and four meters in width.
The initial plan
When it was first built, the goal was to create a Potato Information Centre inside it, but the plans did not materialize due to lack of enough funds. The concrete structure has a hollow interior whose walls have been spray painted to depict an actual potato. The inside of the potato was initially planned to house the Potato Information Centre. However, when the plan to create the information centre was abandoned, the locals turned the surrounding land into a park to encourage visitors to enjoy the beauty of their town, and support their potato growing businesses.
When the Big Potato lost its ‘face’
In the spring of 2010, the Big Spud got a facelift, featuring eyes, a pink nose, a moustache, and a smiley mouth. The facelift gave the gigantic structure a more welcoming, charming look, and a sense of personality. Prior to the facelift, the Big Potato looked like an ordinary potato, but just bigger in size. It had no personality, expressions or even a face.
The new ‘face’ attracted the attention of both locals and visitors to the town, setting it up as a perfect background for beautiful photoshoots. But all the hype eventually faded when the facelift was removed to the surprise of many. This did not make the big potato less popular, however; it appeared to have gone back to its original state of being just a gigantic potato as it was initially intended.
Filming of “Babe”
One of the most interesting facts about the Big Potato is it rests in the same village where the 1995 movie Babe was filmed. The film, which had a budget of approximately 30 million AUD, made at least 254 million AUD after its release on August 4, 1995.
When the Big Potato was put up for sale
At the beginning of 2020, the Big Potato was put up for sale by new owners Heather and Neil Tait, who also doubled up as the owners of a supermarket adjacent to the famous potato sculpture. Measuring 2000 square miles, Heather and Neil Tait bought the land at which the Big Potato sits on for 450,000 AUD in 2014.
Their goal was to use the property to expand their supermarket business. They were also banking on the fact that the Big Potato had risen in popularity among both the locals and visitors, an opportunity that was once worth investing in.
However, because the owners were preparing for retirement, they decided to put up the land for sale for 920,000 AUD, including the Big Potato and their supermarket business. Potential buyers had the option to buy everything, the Big Potato and the land it sits on, or the supermarket and its site. Mr Tait also added that they had previously sold countless souvenirs of the Big Potato, describing the historic structure as a promising investment for potential buyers. Among the ideas he floated for prospective investors included the creation of a coffee shop inside the Big Potato, or the sale of potatoes.
Fun Things to do at the Big Potato in Robertson, NSW
Even though the Big Potato doesn’t come with a lot of things to do other than the excellent opportunity to take beautiful photos and witness its sheer size, there is so much to do in its surroundings. As mentioned earlier, the Big Potato sits at a park where visitors can enjoy outdoor activities such as picnics while being part of this historic landmark, which also happens to be the symbol of the village of Robertson. Also, there are several antique and pottery shops along Hoddle Street that offer an artistic appeal for art and crafts lovers.
The Illawarra Fly is yet another tourist attraction in Robertson, home of the Big Potato. This tree top walk comes with an outdoor observation tower showcasing stunning views of Wollongong. Opened on March 15, 2008, it attracts at least 60,000 visitors annually.
If you are a nature lover, the Macquarie Pass National Park should be top of your travel list after visiting the Big Potato. You will fall in love with the stunning views comprising of towering eucalypts and thick rainforest. This is the perfect place to go bushwalking and picnicking with lovers, friends, family, or even both.
The nearby Carrington Falls also comes with excellent views and a host of nature-inspired activities to do both as an individual or group. Speaking of groups, there are lots of barbecue facilities around this area to make your trip even more enjoyable and adventurous. You will enjoy beautiful views of the Kangaroo River as it connects with the falls, and afterwards relax at the Thomas Place picnic area.
To witness the thriving potato farming industry in this region, and just how hardworking the locals are, the annual Robertson Agricultural Show is a great event to attend. This event is usually held in March of every year and showcases some of the finest farm products from the region. Potatoes, of course, are top of the list at the event.
Given that Robertson is a small village inhabited by hardworking and friendly people, and also the fact that it is naturally beautiful, you will enjoy your visit as you learn even more about the locals. Also, the local markets are usually held on the second Sunday of each month at the old Robertson school of arts in Hoddle Street, the name of the Illawarra Highway as it sneaks its way into town.
If you are a fan of old and historical buildings, the Ranelagh House is a must-visit. Built in 1924, this is probably the town’s most gracious and distinctive building. Sitting on 13.5 acres of landscaped gardens with statues, fountains, a swimming pool and a weir, this depiction of an English Manor House is a rare yet precious attraction. Due to its age, it comes with its own share of history; it was used as a WRAAF deport during World War II and later transformed into St. Anthony’s College in 1947. Three decades later, in 1972, it was renovated into a private hotel, which currently serves as the perfect retreat from Sydney.
There is no doubt that the Big Potato opened the town of Robertson to visitors from Sydney and the entire nation. While it may appear simply as a huge potato sitting on a beautiful piece of land, it is history and contribution to the local economy is worth celebrating.
If you enjoyed this article about The Big Potato we think you would love our article about The Big Bogan!
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.