the big prawn

The Incredible Story of the Big Prawn in Ballina, NSW

the big prawn
The Big Prawn in NSW. Source: Creative Commons

The Big Things of Australia continue to fascinate both the locals and visitors in various states across the country. The Big Prawn in Ballina, New South Wales, for example, is not only known locally but also internationally. Just like many other Big Things in Australia, the Big Prawn has a rich history, including ups and downs, and a happy ending. This article covers everything you need to know about this iconic monument.

What is The Big Prawn?

The Big Prawn is a 30-feet prawn monument located at 507 River Street, Ballina 2478, NSW, Australia. Sitting close to Bunnings Warehouse along River Street, this monument is considered a popular tourist attraction, and to some extent, the symbol of West Ballina.

Some interesting facts about the Big Prawn

This gigantic structure weighs approximately 40 tons. To put this weight into perspective, a full-grown African elephant weighs up to 6 tons and is often considered the heaviest land animal on earth. That said, the Big Prawn weighs as much as six adult elephants!

To further understand just how huge this sculpture is, here’s a brief background about its construction.

Constructed in 1989, this giant replica of a prawn was meant to honor the local prawning industry. Prawns were some of the most popular sea creatures captured by fishermen in this region, and a popular local delicacy. Prawns are so popular among the locals that every November, the town hosts the Ballina Prawn Festival.  

How the Big Prawn was built?

Back to the story of the Big Prawn, the initial idea behind it came from Hungarian brothers Atilla and Louis Mokany, who developed service stations around the NSW region. The main purpose of its construction was to attract the attention of travelers along the highway and divert traffic to their service station business. This decision was reached after it became apparent that local businesses were struggling to attract customers, especially those from outside the town.

The two brothers constructed statues as tributes to various towns in the region based on their most popular industrial activity. Goulburn, for example, had a statue of the Big Merino Ram as a mark of respect to their wool industry and Taree, on the other hand, had the Big Oyster.

However, for some reason, the sculptor who was working on the Big Oyster could not finish it. The two Hungarian brothers approached the arts school where James Martin, a local sculptor, was a student. He was selected to finish off the Big Oyster and the results were beyond what was initially expected.

As a result, Lewis and Attila asked Martin to also design the Big Prawn. According to his wife Denise, the late Martin designed the 27-metre prawn in a motel in Ballina. The plan was to make it 30,000 times bigger than an actual prawn, and he succeeded.

The construction cost approximately 500,000 AUD. When completed, it measured six metres by nine metres, and consisted of a fiberglass frame.

Originally, the Big Prawn was tailless but underwent some major renovations in 2013 to include a tail which cost approximately 400,000 AUD. To accommodate the new tail, this Big Thing was raised three meters above the ground by giant steel bars. It was built on West Ballina’s transit centre, along the main highway.

When it was first built, one of the most interesting things about the Big Prawn was visitors could actually walk inside it. It had a spiral staircase inside it, where visitors could climb and then walk inside its enormous head. While inside the head, visitors could actually view the surrounding through its eyes. In its glory days, this historic structure had a souvenir shop, a seafood market, and several restaurants. It was one of the most popular stopover destinations along the Pacific Highway, which now passes through the town.

Proposed demolition

In 2009, while at its former location, the iconic landmark was marked for demolition. A year later, the service station at which the Big Prawn was initially located closed its business.

However, a public protest, which included a Facebook petition that garnered over 10,000 signatures, halted the proposed demolition. Ballina’s Big Thing-loving people were not willing to let this iconic structure be demolished, especially after giving them so many great memories for over two decades. Back in the days, it was a popular weekend outing for families, especially kids, who loved climbing the stairs inside its body, and watching the world from the concave eyes of the monster crustacean.

the big prawn
The Big Prawn before being moved to its new location. Source: Creative Commons

Following the public outcry, international hardware chain Bunnings Warehouse tapped on the opportunity to give the beloved monument a new home. It was to be installed at a complex housing a new branch of the Bunnings Warehouse as a marketing strategy, which yielded positive results.

The prawn sculpture was then given a complete makeover, including a fresh coat of paint to restore its lost glory, before being transported to its current location next to Bunnings Warehouse. It is reported that the deal, which included the renovation, cost approximately 21.3 million AUD.

Following the addition of the tail, it was impossible for people to get into the prawn’s body like they used to back in the days. The tail design, and other practicalities, made it difficult to construct a staircase inside the body of the artificial prawn.

As a result, the new owners decided against letting people walk inside it. But that did not stop this iconic monument from being popular among the locals. The new makeover made it standout even more as a symbol of the town and a popular spot for photography.

the big prawn
The prawn at it’s current location. Source: Creative Commons

A world record holder

Due to its huge size, the Big Prawn holds the title of “The World’s Largest Artificial Prawn.” This explains why it is considered a popular attraction both locally and internationally.

Google censorship

In 2018, the Big Prawn made headlines when Google Street View blurred its face. The facial recognition software must have identified the prawn’s large eyes and confused it with an actual human face. 

There are books written about the Big Prawn

Tessa and the Big Prawn and The Tail of the Big Prawn are books written by local author Robin Osborne. These books tell the story of this historic structure from the planning, construction, proposed demolition, and journey to its new home.

While there are many other Big Things in Australia, not so many of them can brag about having a book written about them. This justifies just how important this iconic structure has been to the local community in Ballina and how celebrated it is beyond the state.

This Biggie has played a crucial role in the town’s economic growth. By the time of its construction, there were not so many things to do in the town. The service station at which the prawn was first installed was struggling to attract customers before the arrival of this colossal monument.

Decades later, the monument stands proudly at Bunnings Warehouse parking lot knowing how instrumental it has been in telling the story of this little town of less than 20,000 people.

The prawn has promoted the town’s fishing industry for decades, attracting thousands of visitors every year. Even though its current location comes with some restrictions, including the closure of the staircase leading to its face and large conspicuous eyes, there is no doubt that the locals are in love with this iconic structure and would rather have it in the community than anywhere else.

The Big Prawn is more of a ‘family’ to residents of Ballina. This was demonstrated during the planned demolition when the entire town rallied against the council’s proposal.

Fun things to do when visiting Big Prawn in Ballina

If you love the story of the Big Prawn and you’d wish to visit it someday, your journey should not end with a picture of this popular moment. There is so many other things to do and see in this town. Just as it was earlier intended, the prawn was meant to grab the attention of visitors and passersby, while introducing them to the many unseen and unexplored places within the town and its surroundings.

The town of Ballina has a rich history of fishing. So, if you are a seafood fan, this is one of the best towns to stop over on your road trip. The great food aside, you can also enjoy beautiful views of nature here.

The Lighthouse beach, for example, offers a unique bond with nature as you marvel at the beauty and hospitality of Ballina. You can take walks, go cycling, or even swim at this famous beach.

The Richmond river, one of the largest sources of seafood in the region, is also another natural wonder of the town. Visitors can watch for the passing of whales in the river, go fishing, and participate in other aquatic activities.

Here comes the fun part; you will enjoy lots of seafood when you visit Ballina. This town has many restaurants that offer a plethora of seafood to choose from; jewfish, mangrove jack, trevally, black fish, and whiting are just some few examples of what to expect at seafood restaurants in Ballina.

If you enjoyed this article about The Big Prawn, we reccomend you read our article about The Big Pineapple.

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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