Claiming to be the first and most famous of Australia’s “Big Things” (although it was actually pipped by the Big Scotsman in Adelaide), the Big Banana was commissioned by John Landi to attract people to his roadside banana stall at Coffs Harbour, NSW. Over the years, the attraction has had mixed fortunes but is now the centrepiece of an amusement park.
The Big Banana itself is made out of concrete. It was designed by engineer Alan Chapman and built by Alan Harvey, opening on 22 December 1964. There have been several changes of ownership over the years and the attraction continued to expand. By 1973, in addition to walks through the plantation, it was advertising a gift shop, art shop, fruit shop, gear shop, plant nursery and a milk bar.
There was also a restaurant, originally known just as The Big Banana Restaurant. It boasted international cuisine, with noted chef Pancho (nationality unknown) at the helm. While his name suggested Mexican origins, Pancho’s speciality seemed to be schnitzels. In 1975, the restaurant became licensed to sell liquor and was thenceforth known as Pancho’s Big Banana. It offered a cosy cocktail bar, live entertainment on Wednesday nights and a menu that apparently hadn’t changed in years. Still schnitzels, presumably.
Pancho may now be gone, the restaurant replaced by a cafe doing a nice line in banana pancakes. But the surrounding fun park now boasts Australia’s first 3-storey high inflatable water slide (claimed to be the biggest in the world), a Laser Tag Arena, Ice Skating Rink, Toboggan Ride, “The World of Bananas” multimedia theatre experience, plantation and packing shed tour, cafe and souvenir shop.
The Big Banana was one of five big things celebrated in a series of postage stamps issued by Australia Post in 2007. The others were the Golden Guitar at Tamworth, the Big Lobster at Kingston in South Australia, the Big Merino at Goulburn and the Big Pineapple at Nambour in Queensland. Other food-related big things in Australia include the Big Prawn (Ballina), the Big Apple (Stanthorpe), the Big Mandarin (Munduberra), the Big Oyster (Taree) and the incredibly attractive Big Potato at Robertson NSW (affectionately referred to by locals as the Big Turd).
In early 2020, the Big Banana was the site of a publicity stunt by Allen’s Sweets to launch their new mini chocolate banana lollies. Police rushed to the scene as locals reported attempted vandalism, but found an apron-clad man pouring chocolate syrup over the landmark.
Although the Big Banana was originally designed to promote the local banana industry, banana growing is in decline around Coffs Harbour as the climatic conditions make it difficult to compete with the Queensland growers. Many growers are replacing their banana plantations with blueberries.