Big Things a Small Town Thing

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Let’s face it – anyone who claims ‘size doesn’t matter’ has never been on a tour of New Zealand’s small towns or taken the time to appreciate the presence that a 10m high fish can bestow on the gateway to a district. NZ has a penchant for oversize sculptures; there is even a Wikipedia page dedicated ever so eloquently to ‘New Zealand’s Big Things.’ This week’s unveiling of the new NZ Post stamp collection confirms this obsession, with said sculptures taking pride of place in the ‘Legendary Landmarks’ collection. Mid Canterbury has not been forgotten, as the Rakaia Salmon enjoys pride of place on an 80c stamp.

The salmon is indeed a well-known symbol of Rakaia – perhaps the most well known, even. Forget any other logistical claims to fame (longest bridge, anyone?) – the fish is photogenic, and in an age governed by the law of ‘pics or it didn’t happen,’ posing is paramount. As far as giant sculptures go, a jumping salmon is actually a pretty good choice of subject; it’s difficult to imbue a statue of a carrot or a gumboot with dynamic energy. A fish in motion, however, makes for hilarious holiday snapshots as everyone piles out of the car and tries to emulate the aquatic leap.

As well as advertising the local specialty or claim to fame, these sculptures announce that we are, without a doubt, in New Zealand. In fact, large sculptures in small towns are so ubiquitous here that I can actually trace my heritage by them: Mum and Dad met in the vicinity of the L&P bottle in Paeroa, and Grandad’s clan are from the vicinity of the Cromwell peach. They permeate the geography of my childhood too; there is Tirau, where the giant sheep and sheep dog combination (aka the information centre) was a favourite stop, while my sisters and I used to talk about the time we went to the town with the big kumara (more commonly referred to as Dargaville). Since moving down South, the trend has continued. Road trips have been punctuated with stops to admire giant horses, donuts, and of course the nemesis of the Rakaia Salmon, the Trout of Gore.

Salmon trumped trout this time around in the ‘iconic’ stakes, and NZ Post’s ‘Legendary Landmarks’ collection will see the symbol of Rakaia posted all over the globe. The stamps will act as “little postcards”, taking a big part of a small town out into the world at large – Auckland included. Sure, my hometown has tall towers and a sprawling scale, but when it comes to super-sized sculptures the city is sorely lacking. It seems that ‘big things’ are a small town thing, after all.

Originally Published in The Ashburton Guardian

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