A fish called Arnold

WE AUSSIES are notoriously proud of our Big Things, but it sometimes feels like we have a particular fetish for Big Fishy Things.

There's two Big Trouts (Adaminby and Oberon), a couple of Big Barramundis (Daintree and Normanton) and up in Cairns you'll find the Big Marlin in all its splendour.

BIG FISH: The Giant Murray Cod has been putting Swan Hill on the map since 1991.

BIG FISH: The Giant Murray Cod has been putting Swan Hill on the map since 1991.

But most Swan Hill folk would agree that all other aquatic animals pale in comparison to our very own tourist attraction.

The Giant Murray Cod (note the title, he's bigger than big) has been greeting visitors to the region since 1991, a 14 metre long by 5 metres high replica of the critically endangered species of freshwater fish native to the Murray River.

The colossal cod was spawned on the silver screen, when in the early nineties a film co-produced by the ABC and directed by Ray Argall was shot in the Swan Hill region.

LIGHTS CAMERA COD: A production still from the movie depicting a balsa-wood model of what would become the Giant Murray Cod. Director Ray Argall kept the model as a memento of his time with Arnold.

LIGHTS CAMERA COD: A production still from the movie depicting a balsa-wood model of what would become the Giant Murray Cod. Director Ray Argall kept the model as a memento of his time with Arnold.

Eight Ball's plot revolved around two blokes involved in the design of an eccentric tourist attraction -- a humongous, luridly coloured model Murray cod named Arnold.

The cod was designed specifically for the movie, built in parts at the ABC construction workshops near Ripponlea then transported up north to be gradually pieced together over the course of filming.

Mr Argall, now President of the Australian Directors Guild, told the Guardian that a balsa wood model of his "dear old fish" remains proudly in his possession to this very day. 

When Eight Ball wrapped midway through 1991 Mr Argall and his production team found themselves in a pickle. 

VINTAGE COD: Ray Argall director of Eight Ball in front of a freshly painted Arnold in 1991.

VINTAGE COD: Ray Argall director of Eight Ball in front of a freshly painted Arnold in 1991.

Stuck with a $15,000 prop too special to be destroyed but too big to go anywhere, they turned to the Swan Hill community to adopt the orphaned cod as a shiny new tourist attraction. 

In preparation for a life outdoors the Lions, Rotary, Swan Hill Promotion and Development (now Swan Hill Inc) donated money to reinforce and fibreglass the fish.

The ABC paint department even travelled to Swan Hill to paint Arnold grey and green like his fellow Murray cod.

But Arnold's journey was far from over, as Swan Hill City Council and Vic Roads battled it out over the cod's location.

Council unanimously voted for Arnold to be sited adjacent to the McCallum Street-Curlewis Street intersection, a proposal rejected not once but twice, as Vic Roads citing the location as a safety risk.

"This is a tourist attraction and it must be visible." said Councillor Frank Faraci with much derision in November 1991.

"Tourists take photographs regularly from the centre of Campbell Street but I have never heard of one being hit by a car."

"Curlewis Street might be their road but we can't be dictated to."

Vic Roads approved the current site in December 1991 and Arnold was dusted off and installed in front of the train station.

In 1999 the Minister for Rural Development granted $12,000 for a paint job and the BBQ shelter and a few years later minor repairs were made after a big summer storm.

Arnold has endured it patiently; his mouth climbed in by countless kids, backdrop to thousands of photos, a staple of the great Aussie roadtrip.

For more stories, pick up a copy of Wednesday's Guardian (May 27).

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