A road trip of Australia’s fiberglass monuments
The Big Miner
This stoic bloke is the second fiberglass human we’ve met so far, the first being Bathurst’s Big Gold Panner, eternally bent on one knee trying his luck outside the Gold Panner Motor Inn. The Big Miner, however, stands upright, an impressive eight metres tall, and lives in the historic Victorian city of Ballarat, greeting all visitors who arrive from the east.
As Ballarat boasts the greatest concentration of public statues of any Australian city, it was always inevitable that it’d end up with a Big Thing as well. Some of the statues date back to the heady gold rush days of the 19th century, but the Big Miner is a relative newcomer. He was officially unveiled in December 2006, on the anniversary of 1854’s infamous Eureka Stockade civil uprising.
In fact, the Big Miner was so mired in controversy he almost caused a civil uprising of his own. In 2004, businessman Wayne Johnson announced his plans to install a 12 metre high statue as the centrepiece of his mini golf and entertainment complex. The idea was instantly met with a passionate wave of local opposition. The hastily-formed Ballarat Citizens For Thoughtful Development described the proposal as a “throwback to a long discarded fad”, and that it belonged on the Gold Coast rather than in a “gracious Victorian city”. There were also grave concerns at the image a 12 metre high concrete and fiberglass miner would send when Ballarat hosted the coveted League of Historical Cities Conference in 2006. Oddly though, no-one ever thought to ask what gold mining actually had to do with mini golf.
As it turned out, the hullabaloo was in vain. The Big Miner was approved by Council in July 2004, in spite of five public submissions, a petition signed by hundreds of residents, and lots of column space in the local letters pages. However, the locals did have two small, but significant, victories.
The first was the Big Miner’s reduction in height from 12 metres to six (but with a two metre high concrete box to stand on). The second was the delay caused by the campaign, which meant the project wouldn’t be completed in time for the historic 150th anniversary of Eureka later that year.
The Big Miner was therefore officially unveiled two years later in December 2006, on the more boring 152nd anniversary of Eureka. And, as is so often the case with hysterical and misguided public scare campaigns, the controversy fell silent and was forgotten a very short time later. Life in Ballarat went gloriously back to normal.
As a prologue to the story, the Big Miner received a $3,000 change of image three years later when he was given a sandstone finish over his copper-coloured fiberglass body. According to owner Wayne Johnson, this would make him fit in with the other statues dotted throughout Ballarat so that he’d finally “look more like an icon of the region”. You could even say this was a third, but subtle, win for the people.