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Hopes Big Orange revival could bear fruit for Australia's other 'big things'

ABC News logo ABC News 12/05/2016 Isabel Dayman
The 15-metre-high fruit was once a destination of choice for tourists. © ABC News/Isabel Dayman The 15-metre-high fruit was once a destination of choice for tourists.

"Big things" were once an integral part of Australian road-trip holidays, but the decline of the Riverland's Big Orange is being mirrored at once-loved landmarks across the country, an academic and former travel writer says.

The 15-metre-high Big Orange opened near Berri in South Australia in 1980 and was a destination of choice for travellers visiting the region.

But profits eventually started to fall and the decade-long drought drove tourists away.

Today, the giant fruit cuts a forlorn figure on its otherwise vacant patch of dirt, and is one of dozens of "big things" around Australia that have seen better days.

"When there weren't the bypasses and freeways, you would stop off and it would be part of your trip to go and look at the Big Orange, the Big Merino, the Big Pineapple," University of South Australia lecturer Dr Ben Stubbs said.

Even the sign for Berri's Big Orange has seen better days. © ABC News/Isabel Dayman Even the sign for Berri's Big Orange has seen better days.

He said it was unsurprising that some of the country's "big" attractions had lost part of their charm. 

"[When] people could jump in a car and go on a freeway and bypass those little towns, the nature of travel as a result changed as well," he said.

Tourism today is more about being "immersed" in experiences, Dr Stubbs said, with many travellers no longer feeling the need to visit out-of-the-way "big things".

"It's not necessarily good enough to take that photo in front [of a landmark], and for that to justify taking the detour," he said.

"It's about immersing in an experience rather than just kind of skating along the surface."

Drought led to Big Orange downturn

As mayor of the Berri Barmera Council, Peter Hunt understands the challenges the Big Orange faces more than most, as he drives along the highway and sees the run-down site every day.

"It was just a fantastic spot and had tourist buses calling in and just tourists all over, and not only tourists but locals used to go out there and have their coffee," he said.

"Unfortunately, due to the way the area was during the drought, the [then owner] just couldn't go ahead with the [redevelopment] project so it went into liquidation."

The renowned citrus has changed hands several times over the years, and was last on the market in 2008.

"Just a few years ago, the current owner had some great ideas for developing that whole area," Mr Hunt said.

"He didn't get the funding and consequently that hasn't gone ahead."

But there is hope a recovering local economy will bring about fresh ideas for the Riverland's aging icon, as well as other struggling "big things" around Australia.

"Hopefully the new owner, when he sees that things are going better within our region, might just take that extra step again," Cr Hunt said.

"It's been a great icon for our region, and hopefully it can be the same again one of these days."

Dr Stubbs agrees, suggesting that 'big things' that are somehow able to stay in touch with the times can still prosper.

"Those big icons that maintain relevancy are the ones that adapt... that become a different experience," he said.

Despite the decline, Mr Hunt is confident the Big Orange can be restored to its former glory as a nationally recognised, must-see site.

"When I go past the Big Orange now, there's always people standing there on the outside of it — and big trucks, buses and cars — just taking photos of it," he said.

"I think it can certainly be brought back to where it was years ago.

"It will take a lot of money but ... if council can help in any way with grant funding, we will to bring the complex back into fruition."

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