Home About

Big Red is Dead

Matt Nippert



Big Red, small town attraction, born circa 1990, died April 15 2004.
It isn’t often news in this part of the world travels abroad, yet the passing of the Big Red disseminated quickly across the globe. Beachcombers in Brisbane were allegedly shedding litres of tears into an already salty sea following the news in The Gold Coast Bulletin. Turnout for the South African elections sagged, perhaps owing to many spending voting week in mourning, attributed to a moving obituary in the South Africa Courier-Mail.
This international outpouring of grief, rivalling that expressed for the late Princess of Wales, was small solace to the residents of Shannon. Local bovine Big Red, an enormous bull star of Lord of the Rings and brightest flame of the local tourist circuit, died over the Easter break. His passing was unexpected and tragic and caused beef future prices to collapse then rise again, when it was revealed cremation, not mincing, was the method of disposal preferred in the living will.
Mr Red was more than an obese bovine. In 2000 I had the good fortune to be part of a fact-finding expedition for this very magazine; parting the flax and exploring the little-known townships of the central North Island. We travelled to Foxton (“the Fox Town!”), and Shannon (it now has a windmill). While impressed with the classy market day, where Ronald McDonald was the guest of honour and tied-back mullets were the mark of formal sophistication, the highlight was undoubtedly Mr Red. Described by his caregivers as “the world’s biggest cattle beast!”, it was, tragically, the bulk to which he owed his survival to that eventually killed him.
Shannon theme-park owner Ross Campbell rescued the bovine behemoth in 1996 from the meatworks, and signed him as star attraction. Weighing 2060kg, he surely lived up to promotional materials as the world’s biggest chunk of walking hamburger (excepting the Freisan-Durham cross listed in the Guinness Book of Records at 2267kg).
Like a journalistic Cassandra I wrote at the time: “Sadly this weight isn’t good for Mr. Red as his legs are slowly giving out, which unfortunately means he faces an early grave. Still, is it not better to burn brightly for a short while, than to flicker for an age?”
Big Red burnt out on the operating table following surgery – surgery to treat leg complaints caused by weight problems. But his flame will live on, in our memories, in our hearts and in other gargantuan civic monuments. From the orange obelisk monument of Ohakune, to the corrugated iron sheep and dog combo, outlandish structures remind us of the cargo-cult of tourism and a need to be noticed. (And let us not forget Paeroa and its giant brown bottle that become “world famous” through hyper patriotic advertising.)
Or, on a larger scale, the Bypass, the Eastern Corridor, and Iraq. Some political figures want to cement a place in history. And the one lesson Mr Red passed to me was? Really, in the chase to be the biggest and best, sometimes have to kill what you’re trying to mould. Destroying the city in order to save it. Levelling Falluja to bring it freedom.
There some solace for those for whom piling bouquets in cattle pasture or writing editorials is not enough to express true grief. NZPA reports that a memorial is planned, featuring “photographs …fridge magnets and videos”. We will never forget.