SYDNEY, Australia — They are a collection of oversized, sometimes bizarre, objects that draw roadtrippers to country towns, known as Australia’s “Big Things” — the Big Banana, the Big Pineapple, the Big Lobster, to name a few.
Now, a resident of the New South Wales town of Woodenbong wants to add another: a big wooden bong.
“Hundreds and thousands of people share the same dream as soon as they hear the town’s name,” the resident, Paul Pearson, said on Tuesday, a day before he planned to pitch the idea at a meeting of a local tourism council.
He’s not sure how tall he wants the potential landmark to be, but he envisions it being “bigger than the ‘Big Merino,’” a 50-foot concrete merino ram located elsewhere in the state.
Others in Woodenbong, population 381, aren’t exactly thrilled by the concept.
“I haven’t spoken to one person that thinks it’s a good idea,” said Chris Reid, the president of the Progress Association, an influential local group that raises money for town projects. “We don’t want to promote drug use.”
The town had been brainstorming ways to encourage tourism, but “the giant wooden bong wasn’t on the list,” she said, noting that the topic had been the subject of office ridicule after the Australian Brodcasting Corporation aired an interview with Mr. Pearson on the subject last week.
Mr. Pearson, an artist who moved to the town about six years ago, said he had been making bong art his entire life. But it was only in December that he started making wooden bongs — the largest of which is 7 feet tall and still under construction.
“I want to inlay gemstones into all the caps and cracks,” he said of the project.
Mr. Pearson said a giant landmark bong could include an information center and history museum that would draw tourists to this small town — a prospect that he described as “trillions of dollars staring us in the face, because the marketing and products ideas are endless.”
But he has another reason, too: Others in the town have threatened him because he is different from them, he said, and “the bong thing is my way of retaliating.”
He isn’t the first to propose the idea of a big bong for the town. A similar suggestion was floated a few years ago, said Danielle Mulholland, the mayor of Kyogle Council, which includes Woodenbong. But it was not warmly received.
“It’s quite a conservative community,” she said, adding that the local population consists mainly of farmers who “wouldn’t be too impressed” with an icon linked to drug use.
“I think he needs to get the community behind him to progress with it,” the mayor suggested of Mr. Pearson, adding that any pitch would need to include an economic analysis of benefits and tourism numbers.
“You’ve got to build a bit of a business case around it,” she said.
The “Big Banana,” which includes a fun park, draws over one million people a year, according to the website of the New South Wales attraction, though it is unclear whether a bong would have the same appeal.
The idea of installing a big bong in Woodenbong has also offended some local Indigenous people, said Ms. Reid, the Progress Association leader.
The town’s name is a westernized version of an Aboriginal word believed to mean “duck on water,” she said. Gloria Williams, a Githabul elder, said she had been told that the town’s name, adapted from the word Ngandgung-bunj, meant “place of the platypus,” according to the ABC.
Either way, “the name Woodenbong has nothing to do with a bong,” Ms. Williams said.
If a giant bong were to be added to the town’s streetscape, Ms. Reid said, “I’m guessing somebody would flick a match.” But it’s unclear whether that sentiment will deter Mr. Pearson, who says the comedy factor speaks for itself.
If the town does not agree to pay for the project, he said, he is open to securing the money in other ways.
“It’s such a good town name — you couldn’t design a better one,” he said, adding, “We all need a good laugh.”
Follow Isabella Kwai on Twitter: @bellakwai
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