Seaside territory in Australia proposes statue that will out-size ‘World’s Largest Pelican’ 

By Louis Hoglund

Will Pelican Pete lose his top billing as the “World’s Largest Pelican?” A proposal is on the table in faraway Australia. PHOTO BY “JORDY” JORDAHL

The claim to the “world’s largest pelican” may move to the far side of the planet. 

Pelican Rapids and “Pelican Pete”  have owned the bragging rights since 1957. 

But now, a proposal in an Australian seaside township could forever alter history by a few feet; or a meter or so–if you speak Australian.

The tall and short of the issue is a plan being considered by the Central Coast council in New South Wales. Known as a feeding area for the “Australian Pelican,” the site has been a tourism attraction for birdwatchers.  According to newspaper accounts, there is a small pelican statue there now, but Councilor Bruce McLachlan has proposed a larger figure, that would “out-rank” Pelican Rapids Pete. The Australian sculpture would be good for tourism.  But McLachlan has also suggested that the Pelican statue could be used to promote environmental education and call attention to ocean pollution. 

Recognizing that a friendly competition between Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, and the Central Coast of Australia could be a fun rivalry, the Pelican Rapids Press got the call from Australia radio station ABC Central Coast.  Broadcaster Scott Levi put me on the air at about 7:30 am in Australia, which was about 4 p.m. Minnesota time. 

The Australian pelican’s range spans the large lakes, reservoirs, rivers and “billabongs” of Australia, New Guinea, Fiji, Indonesia, and New Zealand.

I offered a bit of historic background on Pelican river, rapids and lake; the Pelican Pete statue; Minnesota history; and the many roadside attractions like Paul Bunyan in Bemidji, and the world’s largest prairie chicken down the road in Rothsay. 

Meanwhile, Scott Levi offered up some history of the Australian pelican–which is larger than our Minnesota white pelican.  In fact, the “Down Under” version of the big-beaked fowl is recorded as having the longest bill of any living bird.  

So–in a real sense–Australia may already have the claim to the largest pelican. 

Then, Levi launched into a terrifying story of an Australian pelican attacking a family pet. 

“A bird supposedly grabbed a lady’s chihuahua and tried to digest it,” said Levi during the interview.  He said the report wasn’t entirely confirmed, but widely reported.  

To this, I had to explain the notion of “Minnesota Nice” for the Australian listeners. Minnesota pelicans, like Minnesotans in general, are far too polite.  Never would one of our birds try to consume a pet dog. 

The Australian plan, at this stage, is calling for an “artistic,” more aesthetically sophisticated sculpture. 

There’s nothing “artsy-fartsy” about Pelican Pete.  He was created in a shed, by a couple of local blacksmith-types: Anton and Ted Resset. Another local craftsman, Alvin Anderson, did the plaster work over the metal frame.  “Pelican Pete” is a nuts-and-bolts, meat-and-potatoes creation–just like the Scandinavians who settled the area.

The story of the New South Wales plans to construct the largest pelican has gained global notoriety.  

The internationally-acclaimed “Guardian” newspaper carried a story on the subject, which included a couple interview quotes from Jody Bowers, Pelican Rapids, who said “good for them, if they want to build it, I say go for it,” said Bowers to the Guardian. “I don’t think it would affect us too badly.”

Had there been more air time, I would have explained that Pelican Rapids actually has about three dozen “Pelican Petes.”  In addition to our 15.5 foot statue, there are 30-some “Friends” of Pelican Pete scattered around town.  This managerie of four-foot tall pelican figures were created in honor of the 50th anniversary of Pelican Pete, in 2007. 

Further, I would have noted that the Pelican school yearbook, and one of the largest basketball tournaments in the upper midwest, are named for the roughly translated Native American word for pelican: Shada. 

If I really wanted to be a smart-alec, I  might have mentioned  that Minnesotans–and upper midwesterners in general–have a “normal” speaking accent.  What’s the deal with the way you Aussies talk???

And, I could have gone on with a multitude of reasons why Pelican Pete won’t easily surrender his throne in the intercontinental court.

But, in the meantime, I agree with “Down Under” broadcaster Scott Levi. 

“It could be a wonderful rivalry; don’t you think, Mate?”