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Thursday, March 04, 2004
Big stuff

Bill Bryson, in his amusing and occasionally accurate description of one of his extended visits to Australia, sounds bemused by the proliferation of large items to be seen around the country. All are prefixed by the word ‘big’ or ‘giant’. I myself puzzled over the matter for several days but I think I may have found a solution.

Bryson lists things like the Gippsland giant worm and the Coffs Harbour giant banana, both of which I somehow managed to miss. I have seen the giant orange (Meerbein, I think) and the giant koala (Dadswell Bridge, ’twixt Ararat and Stawell. Bryson lists the giant koala as being at Moyston; perhps it’s moved but I suspect his informant was wrong, p. 138), both of which are on his list. However, I have also seen the giant rocking horse (Gumeracha, near Adelaide) which does not appear in Down Under.

Why should the Australians be preoccupied with large versions of things that normally come much smaller? Is there some sort of pattern? Well, I think there is: America, Bryson’s home country, claims to have the biggest and best of everything. A further distinguishing feature of the earnest people across the Atlantic opposite Europe, with the sole exception of the writers and readers of ‘The Onion’ (here but someone's trying to squat on the link so click on the 'redirect' option when the first screen comes up), is that they neither understand nor practise irony. Aussies, on the other hand, appreciate and use irony with great aplomb. Oscar Wilde would have approved.

It would seem, then, that all these giant objects have great significance: they cock a snook at Americans. ‘How dare you claim to be biggest and best! We are not intimidated by your braggadocio. Where’s your giant koala, etc.? If you don’t have the biggest and best of everything, perhaps you’re not so great after all’.

Doesn’t that seem a delightful explanation? And the fact that Bryson, despite his Anglophilia, was so puzzled, really emphasises the point, doesn’t it?

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