24 April 2024

Big Chiko reignites decades-old feud with Bathurst over the legacy of an Aussie icon

| Chris Roe
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man with giant Chiko roll

Federal Member for the Riverina Michael McCormack has joined Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr in rejecting Bathurst’s claim to the Chiko Roll. Photo: Supplied.

As a journalist with more than 20 years experience, I’ve spent my career trying to remain as balanced and objective as possible, so it’s unusual to now find myself at the centre of a story of my own making that is generating heat between three feuding cities.

It seems that I have reignited the great Chiko Roll war between Bendigo, Bathurst and Wagga and the stakes couldn’t be lower!

Outside work, I am an insatiable tinkerer and aspiring artist and last week I opened my third solo art exhibition at the new Ambo Gallery on Johnson Street.

Almost as an afterthought, I decided to make a giant Chiko Roll as an eye-catching centrepiece of the collection of quirky pop-art pieces that I had put together.

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Aussies love big things, so I constructed a two-metre tribute that I believe is larger than any other Chiko Roll in existence and hopefully sets the bar for future, larger projects.

As I installed it under glowing lights on a plinth in the gallery, my 12-year-old-daughter declared that it “really needs to be behind a velvet rope”.

And she was correct; once a borrowed crimson barrier was installed, it was elevated to a new level of unearned cultural sophistication.

scene from The Simpsons

The Lisa Simpson meme captures the sophistication of a velvet rope. Photo: 20th Century Fox.

I love to poke fun at Australian icons and challenge our understanding of history, and one of Wagga’s defining stories is its deep and abiding connection to a pastry tube filled with cabbage, barley and beef tallow.

Like Vegemite and Golden Gaytimes, the Chiko Roll is a 20th-century Aussie original, and the saucy ads featuring blondes on bikes gripping a Chiko are iconic.

In 1951, Bendigo boilermaker Frank McEnroe super-sized a spring roll and launched his new fist-fitting creation at the Wagga Show. It is now manufactured by Simplot in Bathurst.

Some 73 years later, the debate over the Chiko’s legacy continues, with Bathurst challenging Wagga and Bendigo’s historic claims.

READ ALSO Winner of one of Australia’s biggest art prizes to launch exhibition at Wagga Art Gallery

As I prepared to roll out my Big Chiko for a laugh in Wagga, my brother Jono, a newspaper editor in the Central West, decided to casually put my ”World’s Biggest” claim to the Federal Member for Calare, Andrew Gee.

“I admire his commitment to this Australian icon — and, in particular, this Bathurst icon — but the giant Chiko Roll really needs to make the journey home,” said Mr Gee, who famously paid homage to the Chiko in his maiden speech to parliament.

“I think that the giant Chiko Roll really needs to make the pilgrimage to Bathurst and be based in Bathurst permanently.

“I think that would be a very fitting end to the journey of this artistic masterpiece.”

Shots fired!

While it is nice that my lightweight sculpture, made from an inflatable punching bag decked out with felt, liquid latex, paint and cotton, is being referred to as a ”masterpiece”, it was not initially made to travel.

“One and done,” I thought, “give people a laugh, bring them to my exhibition and maybe make the case for a more permanent ”BIG thing” for Wagga”, but it seems that I had struck a nerve.

“A courageous retelling of Australian stories,” declared Wagga’s Independent state member, Dr Joe McGirr.

“It is a genuine Wagga Wagga story and we need to keep up the fight for the home of the Chiko Roll.

“After all, we are the town that made it great!”

two men and a giant Chiko roll behind a velvet rope

”It is a genuine Wagga Wagga story,” declared Dr Joe McGirr with Chris Roe and the Big Chiko. Photo: S Bowker.

Federal Member for the Riverina Michael McCormack also weighed in, telling his Calare counterpart to “get back in his box”.

“Chris Roe has taken this debate to a new level,” he told Seven News on Monday.

“Sure – Frank McEnroe thought it up in Bendigo. Yes – it is now manufactured and processed at Bathurst, but its home is Wagga Wagga.

“It’s not about where you conceived – most people wouldn’t even know where they were conceived – and it’s not about where you end up, it’s about where you were born, that’s what’s on your birth certificate, and the Chiko Roll was born here.”

So here we are. Shots were fired and returned. While Bendigo is yet to enter the fray, I expect that they are already plotting their opening move in the latest round of the Chiko Wars.

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Geoffrey Ford8:58 pm 23 Apr 24

Wagga Wagga is most definitely the home of the Chiko Roll. Bathurst can go away. Council need to order a giant Chiko to attract visitors to Wagga Wagga. Maybe place it at Wollundry Lagoon. That would be different. Of course you would need directions from all the new town entry points.

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