The Giant Koala in Victoria is one of Australia’s biggest and most photographed Big Things. This monument is a popular roadside attraction, thanks to its near-perfect depiction of a real-life koala. If you have been following our blog about Big Things in Australia, it is a pleasure to introduce you to the Giant Koala. If this is your first time reading our blog, we hope you fall in love with all the Big Things we’ve discussed so far, and stick around for even more.
History of the Giant Koala
This enormous marsupial monument was created in 1989 by Dutch designer Ben Van Zetton. It stands 14 meters high, eight meters wide, and weighs 12 tonnes. Its body is made of bronze and supported by a steel frame.
It is currently located in the town of Dadswells Bridge in Victoria, Australia. According to a 2016 census, the town had a population of around 172 people.
While it is not clear exactly why the Giant Koala was built, some believe that it was a tribute to the dwindling number of koalas in the region. The decline started in the 1990s thanks to an outbreak of chlamydia, a disease that has attacked these helpless marsupials for decades. While the disease is treatable with antibiotics in humans, the results are quite different in koalas.
Antibiotics, when introduced into the body system of a koala, often lead into additional problems such as indigestion, infertility, blindness and even death. The outbreak of chlamydia, coupled with forest fires, were widely considered as the two major causes of the dwindling numbers of koalas not only in Dadswells, but also the entire nation of Australia.
The Big Koala, as it is sometimes referred to, has had several owners over the past few years. In 2013, it was advertised for sale on eBay by its owners Rob and Julie-Anne McPherson, with the starting bid set at $450,000. However, for more than eight months, it failed to attract a suitable buyer.
The McPhersons were reportedly selling the iconic koala monument to focus on their catering business. Nonetheless, this did not mean that they were not profiting from the gigantic structure; they reportedly made at least $300,000 a year from it.
Renaming of the Giant Koala
In 2009, the Giant Koala was renamed Sam in honor of a koala rescued from bush fires. Sam was a female koala that lived in the forests of Mirboo North, Australia. She became famous when videos and photographs of her being rescued by a firefighter went viral over the internet and TV stations, during the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires.
These infamous bushfires torched various parts of Victoria on and around Saturday February 7, 2009. They were among the worst bushfires in the history of Australia. A total of 173 lives were lost, the highest death toll from wildfires in Australia’s history. As a result, the 7th of February 2009 is referred to as Black Saturday in Australia, to date.
Sadly, Sam the koala was euthanized on August 6, 2009 following an exploratory surgery on her urinary bladder and uterus to remove cysts deriving from urogenital chlamydiosis. Doctors established that her condition was inoperable and the decision to euthanize her was made to relieve her from suffering. Her remains were taken to Melbourne Museum and preserved as a symbol of the bushfires. Consequently, the Giant Koala was also renamed to pay tribute to the brave Sam.
To further understand just how extinct koalas have become in this part of the world, the sighting of two marsupials in the Grampians in January 2020 made headlines across the region. The Grampians National Park, simply known as The Grampians, is a national park located in the Grampians region of Victoria, Australia. It is also the region where the town of Dadswells, the home of the Giant Koala, is located.
According to a member of the Project Platypus Upper Wimmera Landcare, who was identified as Ken, he spotted the two koalas while taking a walk around his property. There is an actual footage of the two animals playing together atop a tree on the day they were spotted.
The saddest part is, previous sightings in the area have only involved one koala, but rarely a pair. This was the first time in six years that the sighting of koalas in the region was documented, a true testimony of their rarity. It was also a sigh of relief for many locals, knowing that the rare marsupials were alive, healthy, and united despite being separated by death mostly caused by chlamydia and wildfires.
The illumination of the Giant Koala
In May 2018, the Giant Koala was illuminated to spread awareness of the impact of road trauma, and stop injuries and deaths caused by road accidents. The campaign, spearheaded by Road Trauma Support Services, aimed at creating discussions about the ‘shared responsibility for road safety on rural roads.’ It demonstrated how influential the Giant Koala was despite being an ambassador of the rare marsupials.
Things to do at the Giant Koala and Dadswell Bridge
Ever since its construction, the Giant Koala has been a popular tourist destination not only in Victoria, but also Australia. It sits on a souvenir shop which features a café, gift-shop, tourist information centre, a koala educational centre, and outdoor sitting.
There is also a display for native and farm animals, which charges $5 as entry fee for adults, but is free for children. The entrance fee includes a bag of animal feed.
At the display, you will find a variety of animals. It is such a perfect place for kids and families to hang out, share their love for these animals, and learn even more about them. Some of the animals to expect include chickens, goats, ducks, wallaby, cockatoos, sheep and of course, koala.
Outside the giant koala, the surrounding environment provides a brilliant opportunity to take photographs of this massive structure. Given its popularity all over the world, especially after it was renamed Sam in honor of the rescued koala, taking a photo next to this gargantuan icon is a must when you visit Dadswells Bridge.
Speaking of visiting Dadswells Bridge, there is so much to see and do in this town and its surroundings. It sits in the majestic Grampians mountain range and offers several accommodation options for visitors. Just next to the Giant Koala, there is a hotel, motel and restaurant serving delicious meals worth sampling. If you are a fan of hiking and anything to do with nature and outdoors, the Dadswells Bridge is the place to visit.
This region is always beautiful all year round. As you explore the nature trails, you may encounter water rats, tortoises, platypus, and so much more. Who knows, you may even be lucky enough to spot a koala! Of all the big things we have covered in our blog, the story of the Big Koala is one of the saddest yet inspiring. It is encouraging that it stands tall and proud representing thousands of koalas that have been wiped out by disease and natural disasters. Also, it represents a brave koala (Sam) that fought through the flames of the raging wildfires on Black Saturday, before resting in peace months later.
If you enjoyed this post about The Giant Koala, we recommend reading our article about The Big Penguin!
You can also purchase your very own Giant Koala T-Shirt , available in Men’s, women’s and children’s sizes here.