Australia's next BIG thing

In the grand tradition of BIG tourist attractions, Nyngan, in New South Wales, plans to build a 12-foot statue of ‘The Big Bogan’, but just how happy are the locals?

Australians have a long-running affection for BIG tourist attractions. Nambour has the Big Pineapple. Coffs Harbour has the Big Banana. Ballina has the Big Prawn and Goulburn the Big Merino. They are novel, kitschy, fun and designed to lure passing tourists into ‘out of the way’ rest stops, but not all Australians see the funny side of Big things.

The Big Dunny

In 2002, the NSW town of Dunedoo also planned to capitalise on its name. In Australia, a ‘dunny’ is slang for a toilet. The Dunedoo District Development Group (DDDG) proposed the erection of a 3 story high ‘Big Dunny’ in the town.

The national television broadcaster, the ABC, followed the two year battle. They reported in their documentary ‘A Loo with a View’, that Dunedoo, like many small regional towns in the state, has a dwindling population, and that The Big Dunny was a desperate bid to keep the town on the map, but the ABC asked ‘Can a giant toilet save a dying country town?’

For those that supported the proposal, like Sue Stoddart, then President of the DDDG, ‘You’ve got to agree it is tacky, but if it attracts attention and we don’t have to go out and advertise, we’ll use it!’ there were just as many opposing it. Like Frank Gaden, local farmer and then Councillor, who asked ‘Why are we thinking of promoting this lovely little town as a dunny, a country outhouse?’

Ultimately, The Big Dunny bid failed. The Council conducted a feasibility study and concluded that it would not attract enough visitors to make it financially viable, but the debate got townsfolk thinking about their local identity. Who are we? How do we want others to see us?

The Big Bogan

The NSW town of Nyngan lies in the Bogan Shire. The Council plans to erect a 3.6 metre high statue “cut out of steel plate with a natural rusted surface” of a man with thongs, an esky and a fishing rod. The statue will be called the Big Bogan.

Emily Carter, whose family runs a caravan park near the proposed statute, threw her support behind the plans. “I think it’s a great idea for the town. Everyone’s very interested in the bogan idea and they all find it very entertaining.” She added: “Obviously, everyone who lives here knows it’s not full of bogans.”

The bogan bogey

According to Oxford Dictionaries online a bogan is “an uncouth or unsophisticated person, regarded as being of low social status”, but the label represents much more than that.

The word 'bogan' originated as a derogatory term for the flannelette-shirt-wearing, mullet-sporting, lower socio-economic types in the 1980s. It's now used in a much broader context.

David Nichols, who blogs at The Conversation, discusses the ‘bogan bogey’; how ‘people kept using that word – bogan – over and over, in different ways – all of them thinking they knew, but none of them actually knowing, what it meant’.

He proffers some suggestions.

“Isn’t the bogan supposed to be a racist, overspending Liberal-voting television-gobbling tramp-stamped happily undereducated stop-the-boats buck-toothed yokel? Or wait, isn’t he meant to be a hard-rockin’ throwback white trash rapist…. Oh, wait! Maybe you’re talking about that bogan who lives in small country towns, loves nothing more than that pub crawl that involves walking round the block and back into his local every two hours, has five kids with five different mothers….”

You get the picture.

The Bogan angler?

Is the Bogan Shire accurately representing the bogan subculture? Do Bogans even go fishing? David Nichols is not so sure. That is until Greg Adcock, waded in on the discussion. Greg has come across many a fishing bogan.

‘Sorry but here in Canberra we know about the fishing (and hunting) Bogan. They've ruined the free (FREE!) National Park camping on the coast. Once the serene playground of proper campers who loved the bush, the lure of free (FREE!) camping plus a pit toilet has attracted the bogans like flies to a err... pit toilet. They fill their utes (1 bogan or bogan couple/ute) with crates of beer, diesel generators, motor bikes (to carry their stuff to the most virgin camp sites), amplifiers, chainsaws and massive ripstop constructions and congregate in large groups denuding the undergrowth adjoining the marked camp sites. They burn anything they can get and go spear and line fishing in the marine protected areas. They then party all night and leave their litter.’

All jokes aside, his next comments went to the core of the issue.

‘It seems to me that the label "bogan" is a convenient way to describe others whose social behaviour and activities we don't share or like. It sets them apart and demotes them to a lower moral status’.


Let’s embrace our inner bogan

All Australians claim a certain level of sophistication but just how true is this?

Let's look at Australia Day celebrations. The national day has become for many a drunken celebration of jingoistic nationalism. Likewise with Anzac Day celebrations. It was the behaviour of a 'minority' of young drunken revellers that upset veteran groups, left ANZAC Cove littered with rubbish, and led to a total ban on alcohol. Likewise with any major sporting event. Home team support usually consists of alcohol-fueled chants of 'Aussie, Aussie, Aussie....Oi, Oi, Oi!'

This rowdy behaviour is tolerated, condoned and at times celebrated.

Perhaps the uncomfortable truth is that we all have a bit of bogan in us. Particularly after we've had a drink or two. It may even be an integral part of our national identity. Like Cath and Kim. In the past we might have called such people 'larrikins', now they are more likely to be called bogans.

So yes there will always be someone, somewhere that doesn’t like our behaviour or share our interests. People who believe that they are better than us; that they are more because we are less, and that may be well and good for the rest of us, but for the townsfolk of Nyngan, the Big Bogan proposal may just sit a little too close to home.