ACT News

Skywhale's creator disappointed by Canberra Balloon Spectacular festival rejection

Skywhale creator Patricia Piccinini says she is disappointed the ACT government turned her famous creation away from this week's Balloon Spectacular, days after Chief Minister Andrew Barr mistakenly said the balloon had flown its last flight.

Ms Piccinini said Skywhale had hundreds of hours of flying time left before retirement and her attempts to bring the Canberra centenary artwork home had been met with silence from the government. 

Patricia Piccinini with the Skywhale, which has hundreds of hours of flying time left.
Patricia Piccinini with the Skywhale, which has hundreds of hours of flying time left. 

Eager to discuss plans to offer children in territory hospitals the chance to join Skywhale flights, Ms Piccinini said she was "shocked and disappointed" at Mr Barr's mistaken comments – which caught the city's attention on Friday.

"I had this idea for bringing Skywhale back to Canberra and I have been trying to connect with people in local government about it but I haven't been getting very far.

"And then to have all this misinformation come out when I have been trying to connect with them was disappointing."

Mr Barr eventually backtracked on social media, saying instead the Skywhale still had years left in the air but on Monday he was still yet to return Ms Piccinini's calls.  

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Events ACT confirmed that the Skywhale had been excluded from the Balloon Spectacular festival this week, but a spokeswoman said the balloon's owners, Global Ballooning, applied to the festival in early February, which was too late to be considered.

"Unfortunately at this time the selection process was complete and the budget was already allocated," a spokeswoman said.

Ms Piccinini said on Monday that Global Ballooning's funding request had been reasonable and it was "unfortunate" it was not taken up. The company will provide 20 discounted flights in Canberra. 

"Some devoted Skywhale lovers emailed me and asked me, 'Is this true?', but I said it's not true at all, she had 400 hours of life and she's only flown for about 60 so that equates to 10 years more.

"I've brought her to Tokyo and Akita and she is going to go to Galway in Ireland. She is travelling the world but really I believe she belongs in Canberra, where she was born," Ms Piccinini said. 

"That is where she belongs, above Lake Burley Griffin. That is where she was commissioned, she was born there, that is where she belongs."

After questions about cost and appearance, the internationally renowned artist said the tide had changed on the Skywhale.

"She has got her place in people's hearts now. People have now really warmed to her and do understand what she is about, they are not fearful." 

A spokeswoman for Mr Barr said that the owner of Skywhale approached the ACT Government early this year with an offer to bring the balloon to this year's Balloon Spectacular, but the Events ACT team had already allocated funding for Yoda and Angry Birds. 

"The reaction to the Yoda and Angry Bird balloons over the first few days has been very positive, and I'm sure this will continue for the duration of the event," she said. 

"Officials from the government are in regular communication with Ms Piccinini about appearances and referrals for Skywhale. Any future appearance of Skywhale in the capital will have to be considered in the context of the significant operational costs associated with the balloon."