Penguins may be more closely associated with Antarctica than Australia, but a small town in northern Tasmanian is on a mission to change that. Named for the little penguin rookeries in the area, Penguin is home to nearly 4000 people as well as the birds. Most of them were indoors as we rolled into the town, thanks to the spectacularly Antarctic weather that greeted us – think high winds and raging seas. Nevertheless, the proliferation of penguin paintings and seabird-themed shop names assured us we were in the right place. From the Penguin Taxi Service, to the black and white sculpture waving from the roof of the general store, everything centred around the small aquatic flightless birds.
There was even a “Penguin Butcher,” which, we were glad to learn, does not condone the slaughter of sea birds. Instead, the whole town are wholeheartedly behind their namesake – so much so, that they even have a penguin mascot. The Big Penguin was erected by the shore in 1975, to celebrate the town’s centenary. At 3m tall, “Rebeakah,” as the statue is named, is proudly known as the “biggest penguin in the world.”
Rebeakah is also a top contender for the most stylish penguin in the world, and not because of her black and white colouring that resembles a tuxedo. She has been known to don a super-penguin outfit, complete with “S” on her chest, and masquerades as Santa Claus in the lead up the Christmas each year – the local schoolchildren measured the 3m bird and sewed a custom red suit for the purpose.
Once we’d ducked out of the storm and found some locals, they were quick to share such stories. Their favourite was the day in 2010 that wedding bells rung out. That’s right – in case you were eyeing up the shapely form of the Penguin penguin and thinking of asking her out for a plate of fish, it’s too late – Rebeakah is already married. The lucky groom is also a penguin sculpture, known as Fisher, and he lives across the street. Dudley Corbett, who oversaw the service between the two, spoke of “the rights of all beings to be happy… even inanimate objects.” There’s certainly more than a trace of a grin on the Big Penguin’s beak.
When we entered “Penguin” into the GPS, we were expecting feathers and fish – seabird nuptials, however, were much more than any of us had bargained for. That’s the thing with these small towns, dotted around the fringes of faraway places; you never quite know what you’re going to get until you actually brave the storms and turn up to have a look for yourself.