Could the Big Orange be about to make a big comeback?

One of Australia’s iconic “big things” — that has sat dormant for almost 20 years — could be revived by an urban planner looking to create ...

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One of Australia’s iconic “big things” — that has sat dormant for almost 20 years — could be revived by an urban planner looking to create a brewery, distillery, bar and restaurant.

Key points:

  • There’s plans to build a brewery, distillery, restaurant and bar at the Big Orange in SA’s Riverland
  • A development application for the site has been submitted to Plan SA by Adelaide-based urban planner Mark Kwiatkowski
  • The former tourist attraction has been closed to the public for almost 20 years

Standing at 15 metres tall, the Big Orange was once a must-stop location when travelling through South Australia’s Riverland region.

Originally opened in 1980 as a nod to the region’s thriving citrus industry, it featured an artist’s studio, panoramic lookout and local produce display.

But after years of financial difficulties  — precipitated by drought and the construction of a bypass around the highway it sits on, among other challenges — the tourist attraction was abandoned.

Ownership of the site has changed hands several times over the years and in 2012, Berri businessman and former owner Frank Vallelonga applied for a grant to help turn it into a theme park, but was rejected.

“The project is finished, that’s it, it’s not going to open at all,” he told ABC at the time.

A fence with a padlock and a large orange sphere and blue sky in the background.

The Big Orange has sat dormant on the Old Sturt Highway near Berri for almost two decades.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

The Big Orange was brought back into the public spotlight in 2018 when Riverland resident Paul Nikolis started a cheeky petition on to turn it into a strip club.

Locals made another push to revive the site in 2019 by creating a “save Berri’s big orange” Facebook group. But it was ultimately unsuccessful in re-opening the once-beloved attraction.

A caravan and car driving on a road with scrub and a big orange sphere on the side.

Today, visitors drive straight past the Big Orange.(ABC Riverland: Sophie Landau)

Big orange, big plans

Now, a new development application has been submitted to Plan SA, the state’s online planning and development portal, outlining a proposal to construct a brewery, distillery, bar and restaurant at the Big Orange.

The application, submitted by Adelaide-based urban planner Mark Kwiatkowski, also seeks to construct a verandah for outdoor dining, a detached amenities building, storage shed, car park, stormwater infrastructure, fencing and signage.

Helen Aggeletos, the managing director of local citrus packing and processing company Venus Citrus, said she was excited about the potential redevelopment.

“I think it’s fantastic something is [being] done there, it’s been shut for so long,” she said.

“Anything that happens there will boost trade in the Riverland and bring employment and new people to the area.

“It promotes the Riverland and makes people more aware of what the area stands for and all the local produce.

“It’d be great if there was something citrus inspired on the menu … they do all different gins now, so maybe they could do a blood orange gin or something like that.”

A road, palm tree and sign surrounded by scrub and dirt tracks.

Riverland locals hope some of the Big Orange’s former features will be retained.(ABC Riverland: Stephanie Nitschke)

Former Berri Barmera Council mayor Peter Hunt said it was the best news he had heard for the district in a number of years.

“What it will do for the region is phenomenal … being where it is, it’s a fantastic venture that will bring lots of people in,” he said.

“People like to go out and dine and socialise, so I hope it’s a great success and think as a brewery and restaurant and everything to go with, it will be excellent.”

When contacted for comment, Mr Kwiatkowski referred the ABC to current owner Fred Vallelonga, who has not replied.

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