Terra Nullius and Boxing Crocodiles: Colonialism in the Kitsch
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Early cartographers imagined Australia to be a mythological continent on the other side of the world full of strange creatures. Driving across the landscape today, one is still bound to run into something surreal; be it a giant lobster, an oversized banana, a huge ram, or an enormous boxing crocodile. These monuments, while most often seen as cliché, kitsch, or even ridiculous tourist traps designed to lure unsuspecting motorists out of some money and an afternoon, are both given context by their environment and project cultural values and attitudes onto the landscape. They can’t exist without the history of the land around them, and are developed by the perspectives of the communities. Ranging in size, shape, and material, at first glance they may not seem related at all, but the phenomenon of these serial monuments, colloquially called Big Things, is often marketed as a collection to visit or boxes to be checked off a list. In this paper, I argue that the creation of novelty architecture attractions (hereafter known as the Big Things) across Australia plays a role in the development of environmental attitudes and reflects colonial perspectives on the landscape while simultaneously memorializing and erasing selected histories. This paper endeavors to understand the stories Big Things tell, and how the landscape is influenced by and reflected in these statues through examination of literature and analysis of three Big Things – Captain Cook in Cairns, the Big Pineapple in Woombye, and the Giant Koala in Dadswell Bridge. Each of these examples highlights a different understanding of Big Things, as symbols of colonialism, attempts to fill an empty land, or as representations of environmental sentiment, and ultimately can inform arguments about how they intersect with the landscape. What stories get told and which get covered up is critical to understanding both our history and our future, and our connections to our environment.
Terra Nullius is in italics in the Title; Faculty advisor: Morgan Robertson Includes Figures, Maps, Tables, Photographs, Graphs, Appendices and Bibliography.