Tim the Yowie Man: Welcome signs for Canberra

For many years there’s been energetic discussion that our city is in need of an eye-catching gateway. Other cities, like Melbourne, where a series of funky large-scale colourful art installations beside its main highways clearly signals to visitors that they’ve arrived in a vibrant metropolis, have one, so why not us?

Currently at our busiest entry on the Federal Highway at Eagle Hawk Hill, about 25,000 motorists are greeted daily with a plain, colourless concrete sign to indicate you’ve arrived in the ACT, hastily followed by a series of in-your-face speed limit warnings. Is this really the way we want visitors to view our fair city? It’s dull and boring – everything our city is not. Our ‘so-called’ welcome offers about as much ‘wow factor’ as taking a packet of milk arrowroot biscuits to a dessert party. It’s seriously underwhelming.

One oft-spoke way of sprucing up our interstate gateway is to erect our very own ‘Big Thing’. It works for many other places around Australia, so why not us? While the big merino was an obvious choice for our sheep-loving Goulburn friends and the the Big Trout a perfect fit for fish-mad Adaminaby, what is Canberra best-known for? Not surprisingly, discussion rarely gets past the Big Politician, or Big Roundabout (oh, and a Big Cracker before fireworks were banned).

Finally, one enterprising Canberran thinks she has the perfect ‘big thing’ to both instil some much needed wow factor as well as civic pride. Alicia Doherty’s idea is for a big sign. And by big, she means gigantic — in the same proportions as the famous locational sign which towers over Hollywood.

The idea first came to Doherty during regular drives between Canberra and Sydney to visit her husband’s family in the late 1990s. “Every time I saw the old quarry at Eagle Hawk Hill, I felt it was just screaming out for a CANBERRA sign,” says the US-born Doherty, who lived for several years as a child not far from the giant HOLLYWOOD sign.

“The Eagle Hawk Hill site could so easily be transformed from a cut rock face into a welcoming landmark for everyone arriving into Canberra from the north,” explains Doherty, whose proposed sign, with each letter 15 metres in height, would leave even the most short-sighted of motorists with no doubts that they’d arrived in the national capital. “You’d get your first glimpse of the sign about 10 kilometres up the highway and then the best view about 400 metres from the ACT border,” explains Doherty, who adds, “you’d even be able to see it from some flights.”

Although Doherty hasn’t previously publicised her idea, she has been beavering away on the concept for several years  and has support-in-principal from a long list of movers and shakers in Canberra including the chief minister and Robyn Archer (who was keen to try and make it happen during Canberra’s Centenary last year). However, as the quarry is located on private land (and metres across the border in NSW), her most critical collaborator is owner of the site, long-time Canberra businessman Lorenzo ‘Laurie’ Pastrello.

When Doherty first made contact with Pastrello, (who also owns the adjoining pub, café, petrol station and holiday park) in early 2011, he told her, “I’ve always wanted a sign so if you can make it happen, you can use my land; it would be a wonderful legacy gift from and for my family.”

During the week, I caught up with the affable Pastrello who reaffirmed his support for Doherty’s daring design and who also drove me to the dizzy heights (literally, given the circular nature of roads in a quarry) of the second highest rock ledge at Eagle Hawk Hill - the proposed location of the sign. “This is the gateway to one of the world’s greatest capital cities, our city - we should be proud of it; Doherty’s proposed sign makes a statement to everyone that they’ve arrived and what we are about,” exclaims Pastrello.

Although buouyed by the support she has so far received from business, community and government, Doherty is also aware that due to it’s similarity with the Hollywood sign that some people may see it as an example of the ‘Americanisation’ of our culture. “It’s all about improving Canberra and people’s perception of us as a city,” explains Doherty who is keen to make the sign as Canberra-centric as possible.

“Ideally the sign would support ‘Brand Canberra’, [our city’s official branding released late last year] by being constructed in the distinctly Canberra font [also released last year] and the surrounding area could be planted with local flora making it a beautiful, everchanging living landscape showcasing our distinctly native plants,” explains Doherty, who pertinently adds, “wasn’t Canberra designed by an American anyway?!”

Doherty also has an answer to expected criticisms that “the government shouldn’t spend its money on such frivolous things”. As the site is on private land, Doherty would welcome government support but it’s not pivotal to making her dream come true, and she wants the community to ‘own’ it – literally – by sponsoring letters. “For example, the Brumbies could sponsor the letter B and shine their colours on the sign at the start of the season,” suggests Doherty who also envisages a benefit for local charities. “Imagine it bathed in pink during Breast Cancer Awareness week or having a big red nose strapped to it for Red Nose Day.”

According to Brand Canberra, the way forward for our city is to be “bold, confident and ready”. Doherty’s proposed sign certainly fits that bill and the location is virtually custom-made – a natural ampitheatre perched right on the border.

What do you think of Doherty’s idea? I guess we could always leave the main gateway to our city as an ugly disused quarry.

Fact file

Canberra Sign: Alicia Doherty would love to hear from anyone (or businesses) interested in supporting the construction of the proposed sign which will include a security and a laser lighting system. Email: mycanberrasign@gmail.com or Twitter: @MyCanberraSign

Did You Know? The Hollywood sign in Los Angeles was initially built in 1923 to advertise a housing development called ‘Hollywoodland’ — it was only in 1949 that the letters ‘land’ were removed.


Fairway koala

This column’s recent expose on koala’s spotted within the ACT’s borders (Curious Critters, June 21 [for web team: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/travel/tim-the-yowie-man-australasian-bittern-in-canberra-20140620-zs8y0.html] ) prompted Ken Wood of Holt to report that while playing golf at Magpies Belconnen Course at Holt last year, his playing group “saw one climbing a tree beside the 17th tee”.  “Kangaroos can be a dime a dozen, but koalas a different story,” muses Wood.

Simulacra corner

A double-barreled edition of Simulacra Corner this week. Julie Lindner of Farrer snapped this “wave about to break” after a blizzard at Guthega. “It was a  very short lived simulacrum that melted soon after,” reports Lindner. Also, another view of the ‘old man’ rock on Cooleman Ridge in Chapman, which many readers of last week’s column reported they were unable to clearly make out his face as it spanned the crease (and staples, ouch!) across these two pages.

CONTACT TIM: Email: timtheyowieman@bigpond.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available at: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/travel/by/Tim-the-Yowie-Man

Where in the Snowies?

Cryptic clue: You’ve got Buckley’s chance of getting this one.

Degree of difficulty: Medium


Last week: Congratulations to Roz Barker of Oxley who was first to correctly identify last week’s photo (inset) as St John’s Church of England in Adaminaby. The photo of the Gothic-style granite church which features an octagonal tower with spire brought back fond memories Donella Proud of Torrens who was confirmed at the church. “My dad was an office bearer, my brother an altar boy and  my sister was the Sunday school teacher,” recalls Proud, who adds, “the church has a great history and worth a visit if you are passing through Adaminaby.”

Another reader who immediately recognised the historic church was Tricia Berman of Weetangera who sent in a photo of over 300 members of the Mackay family posing in front of the church during a 1990 family reunion. “My father Clem Mackay (now deceased) and my eldest brother Peter (also deceased) organised the reunion,” reports Berman, who explains the first Mackay’s in the area were, “two brothers who came out from Ireland in the 1880s, found gold in the snowies (Kiandra) and bought land in the area.”

The clue regarding the watermark referred to the fact the the church, initially built in 1906 in (Old) Adaminaby, was dismantled in 1956 stone by stone ahead of the flooding of man-made Lake Eucumbene and moved to its current home on higher ground in the new township. Remarkably, an apprentice who worked on the building in 1906 was the contractor employed to undertake the rebuilding 50 years later.  

How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to timtheyowieman@bigpond.com. The first email sent after 10am today (July 4) with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.

This article Tim the Yowie Man: Welcome signs for Canberra was originally published in Canberra Times.