For more than 40 years, it has been the most ‘ap-peeling’ of Australian landmarks. A great lump of a thing, looked to be created by a mash-up of other slightly smaller things, but attracting folk to the town of Robertson, in the Southern Highlands, like, well, a seagull to a chip.
Since 2014, the Big Potato has been in the (rather large) hands of the Tait family – “our kids were called Tait-ers at school,” mum Heather said of her tots – now adults, Melanie, David, Sarah and Alex. It occupies the block adjacent to the family’s convenience store where the best-selling item, again according to Heather, is the Big Potato stubby holder.
The family bought it in 2014 to stop a rival business setting up near their grocery store – and because it was feared the new owners would reduce the adjacent Big Potato, all 10 metres of it, to mash.
But now both 70, running the store and ensuring no unscrupulous types made a meal of the Big Potato, Heather and her husband Neil have sold up, signing the contracts with a Sydney businessman who has connections to nearby Burrawang.
“The new owner wants to put a bigger supermarket in there,” Heather said, “so he needs more land for that. We just hope that the Big Potato will stay where it is. We’d hate to see it go after all these years.”
“If it has to be moved, we hope it will just be moved across the road to the park.”
The couple will retire to their Bowral home – and if there are potatoes involved, they’ll be much smaller – and more edible.
Earlier this year, it was named Australia’s ‘Shittest Big Thing’ by that bastion of good taste website, Shit Towns of Australia.
But the Taits didn’t mind. After the story came out, busloads of visitors descended on them, wanting to see it for themselves – and buy lots of Big Potato stubby holders and T-shirts so they could take selfies in front of it.
But they will mind leaving the Big Potato. Made in 1977 from cement, with local soil added for colour, it had been the vision of local farmer Jim Mauger. The original plan was to build the Potato Information Centre, but that failed to rise above ground.
The giant lump, meanwhile, sat in the middle of the paddock for years, with non-fans its only obvious visitors. But it wasn’t until, sensibly, the International Year of the Potato in 2008, that the dream grew in size. Literally.
“[Local woman] Judy Hollis started planting hedging round it and they got government funding to put in some picnic tables and other improvements – that’s when it started to look really good,” Heather said. Prior to that, it had been only attractive to vandals.
“There is now a permanent garden around it,” Heather said. “And we’ve even had people wanting to get married there. There’s always busloads of people who pull up to get photos in front of it.”
Heather said she was looking forward to a quieter, post-Potato, life. “We actually never did eat a lot of them,” she said, “I was never a very good cook.
“But I have to say the Big Potato has been good to us, we’ll miss it.”