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Skywhale tale grows by at least $100,000

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Noel Towell and Larissa Nicholson

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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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ACT taxpayers are paying at least $100,000 more than the territory government had indicated for the  Skywhale hot-air balloon.

Official documents reveal the balloon is costing at least $334,000, not the $170,000 figure quoted by ACT government officials.

The official line on the cost to taxpayers of the balloon had been $170,000, with some extra costs for piloting and educational materials.

Internationally renowned artist and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini in front of the <em>Skywhale</em>.

Internationally renowned artist and former Canberran Patricia Piccinini in front of the Skywhale.

Jeremy Lasek, executive director of culture for the ACT Chief Minister’s directorate, gave Fairfax Media the figure on Thursday morning.

‘‘The balloon itself was in the vicinity of $170,000. We’ve also created a website, educational kits, piloting, a bunch of other things that were on top of it. So, I don’t have the total number, but the balloon design and construction and the testing was around $170,000,’’ he said.

But Chief Minister Katy Gallagher told an Assembly committee on Friday afternoon the cost to ACT taxpayers was $300,000, with one of her top officials saying the price would be capped at that level.

The Canberra Centenary balloon ... our <em>Skywhale</em>.

The Canberra Centenary balloon ... our Skywhale.

Philanthropic funding of $50,000, provided by the Aranday Foundation, would make up the rest of the cost.

On Friday afternoon, Mr Lasek confirmed the Skywhale, although paid for with ACT taxpayer funds, belonged to Melbourne company Global Ballooning.

The Skywhale would be good for about 100 flights, although there was no guaranteed minimum number of flights in the capital.

Patricia Piccinini's <i>Skywhale</i> on its test flight over Mt Arapiles in western Victoria. Click for more photos

The Centenary of Canberra Skywhale

The Centenary of Canberra Skywhale 

The giant artwork, which was revealed on Thursday morning, has divided opinion on its aesthetic qualities and reignited the sometimes acrimonious debate on taxpayer-funded government art.

Ms Gallagher said when she first saw diagrams of the balloon her eyes ‘‘nearly fell out of her head’’, but she had since become quite fond of it.

‘‘It shows us as a cosmopolitan city. Too often we are talked about as a boring place where nothinghappens ... it challenges those beliefs about Canberra,’’ she said.

Speaking on 2CC Friday morning, Centenary of Canberra creative director Robyn Archer also defended the cost of the hot-air balloon.

‘‘This is the cheapest piece of public art. Almost every piece of public art in Canberra cost more,’’ she said.’’

Aranday Foundation chairman Rupert Myer AM said he was excited by the work of Canberra-raised artist Patricia Piccinini.

‘‘In a glance, her works spirit us away to another type of universe where life exists differently. Without judgment,’’ Mr Myer said.

‘‘She makes us think deeply about how we respond to the unfamiliar and unknowable. And she does it with wit and candour.

‘‘It is a privilege to have supported the commission.’’

 Piccinini’s Skywhale is nearly 23 metres high and took 1880 hours of work to make.

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

The Skywhale will be revealed to the Canberra public on Saturday morning at 8.20am outside the National Gallery of Australia and will  shortly thereafter make its first flight, weather permitting, at 9.20am. The first official flight was originally scheduled for Monday morning, and a flight then will still go ahead if the weather remains favourable.

93 comments

  • Its ridiculous! WTF is a skywhale, and WTF does it have to do with canberra????

    Commenter
    Doc68
    Date and time
    May 10, 2013, 12:55PM
    • It was designed by Patricia Piccinini, an internationally-renowned artist who grew up in Canberra and went to school here.

      Her work is incredible - you should check it out!

      Commenter
      John Western
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 1:04PM
    • + 1

      Commenter
      Agreed
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 1:37PM
    • All well and good using an artist who has some limited connect to Canberra but at least make it relevant. It has nothing to do with the city or the territories history, people, culture or place in society.
      That being said it does represent how the centenary has been celebrated. It appeals to a small minority of people who love to waste taxpayers money and annoy the wider community.

      Commenter
      James
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 2:33PM
    • Agree totally doc68. John Western, I really don't care where she went to school or as you say grew up, (this does not represent a product of anyone who has grown up) and this suposed artwork is still ridiculous. Not that I am an expert, but just where in the hell does a whale hide its tits when swimming?

      Commenter
      derf
      Location
      Katherine N.T.
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 2:52PM
    • We've heard much in the lead up to Canberra's centenary about how it's a real city and it's time we stopped taking the p*ss. Fair point. And then you do this - now c'mon, fair suck of the sav, how can we possibly take this seriously?

      Commenter
      Dmnt
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 5:12PM
    • This why the left should never be in charge of a cheque book

      Commenter
      Karicoum
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 6:13PM
  • This is an abomination! How DARE they waste yet more of our money on such utter garbage? This has nothing to do with Canberra, or our 100 year celebrations! If the ACT Government had to pay for this out of their own pockets, it would never have happened - it's easy to spend other people's money isn't it?

    Commenter
    What were they thinking???
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    May 10, 2013, 12:58PM
    • CORRECT.

      Commenter
      OLD DOG
      Location
      ACT
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 1:33PM
    • I can think of a million other things to 'waste' money on then a whale with boobs.

      Commenter
      B
      Location
      Canberara=
      Date and time
      May 10, 2013, 3:18PM

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