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Gearing up for a whale of a time with centenary balloon

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The Skywhale's first flight

In May this year, sculptor Patricia Piccinini took her art to the skies, constructing a hot air balloon in the shape of a whale to honour Canberra's centenary. Vision supplied by Blueboat.

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Canberra's centenary hot-air balloon, the Skywhale, proved provocative when it was unveiled on Thursday.

Designed by renowned sculptor and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini, the $170,000 balloon is part of the capital's centenary celebrations and measures more than 34 metres from nose to tail.

Piccinini, who grew up in Canberra and now lives in Melbourne, said it was challenging and exhilarating to create a piece of art that would be seen in such a public forum.

The Canberra Centenary balloon... a sky whale.

The Canberra Centenary balloon... a sky whale.

She said in designing the balloon she was inspired by Canberra's plan, which though man-made, sought to imitate a natural environment.

''That's what I wanted to do with the balloon, something that was obviously artificial, but seemingly natural, that's why I ended up with this beautiful sky whale,'' she said.

Locals might spot a huge, other-worldly creature floating above Lake Burley Griffin on Monday morning, and for those wanting a closer look, it will be tethered at the National Gallery on Saturday.

This balloon had locals wondering when it was spotted near Mt Arapiles, in Victoria, last month.

This balloon had locals wondering when it was spotted near Mt Arapiles, in Victoria, last month. Photo: Supplied

Ms Piccinini said she thought the Skywhale was awe-inspiring, nurturing and challenging, but she was interested in how other people responded to the work.

Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson slammed the balloon's design.

He said he did not like it, was concerned by the cost, and could see no link between the Skywhale and Canberra.

<em> Illustration: David Pope </em>

Illustration: David Pope

''I really don't know whether to laugh or cry … it's an embarrassing indulgence only a fourth term government would contemplate,'' he said.

But not everyone was disappointed with the Skywhale, with some fans taking to Twitter to defend the balloon.

''I, for one, love the #skywhale,''

This article appeared in the Wimmera Mail-Times last month.

This article appeared in the Wimmera Mail-Times last month.

Aram tweeted. ''How adorable is #skywhale! What a sweetheart #canberra100,'' Bernadette Brennan tweeted.

The Canberra Times art critic Kerry-Anne Cousins said she was glad the centenary organisers had not gone for a safer option. ''I think it's a mark of the sophistication of Canberra that we can have this kind of debate,'' she said.

Jeremy Lasek, executive director of culture for the Chief Minister's directorate, said the balloon design, construction and testing was about $170,000, but other educational materials and piloting would cost extra. The Skywhale is nearly 23 metres tall and took 1880 hours of work to make. It even has its own Twitter account.

By Thursday afternoon it had sent out nearly 40 tweets.

It used more than 3500 metres of fabric and weighs 500 kilograms with fuel, a pilot and two passengers on board.

56 comments

  • Best hot-air balloon ever! Leaves the Darth Vader balloon for dead!

    Commenter
    John Western
    Date and time
    May 09, 2013, 10:19AM
    • Yes...I'm looking forward to discussing this with my kids :-) It's going to be a lot of fun.

      Commenter
      Nick
      Date and time
      May 09, 2013, 11:33PM
  • Im suprised its not a GWS balloon as this Labor government has already thrown millions at them already.

    Commenter
    Muzza
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    May 09, 2013, 10:25AM
    • It's so dark and downright gross. Look at all the beautiful balloons flying around Canberra and they just have to make one that looks crap!

      Commenter
      Sharron
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 09, 2013, 10:32AM
      • I would have said looks (like) carp.

        Check these out!

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2320635/Up-away-Wonderful-success-story-British-balloon-factory-build-ALL-SORTS.html

        Commenter
        WotTha?????
        Date and time
        May 09, 2013, 11:44AM
      • Thanks WotTha, including "like" is much better.

        The balloons in the link you provided are fantastic!! I love the space shuttle balloon. Thank you for sharing the story : )

        Commenter
        Sharron
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        May 09, 2013, 1:10PM
      • That balloon might be able to defy gravity but its eight breasts didn't.

        Commenter
        dusty
        Date and time
        May 10, 2013, 9:53AM
    • It is a Jabba the Hut balloon. The 'Leia as slave girl' balloon will be displayed next to it.

      Commenter
      Acronym
      Date and time
      May 09, 2013, 11:21AM
      • Sorry, that should have read 'the $230,000 'Leia as slave girl' ballon will be displayed next to it.'

        Commenter
        Acronym
        Date and time
        May 09, 2013, 1:55PM
    • It looks like a whale with breasts! I dont mind the arts, but this thing flying in the sky is nothing far from grotesque. And how much did this cost? I have a feeling this is another disaterous attempt from creative director Robyn Archer, lady take your booby whale back to Adelaide.

      Commenter
      Nikki
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 09, 2013, 11:22AM

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