Artist John Kelly’s monumental sculpture of a man lifting a cow now holds court in Sunshine’s CBD.

The artist, who grew up in Sunshine North, officially unveiled the 4.5-metre sculpture on Tuesday morning in front of more than 100 onlookers.

Brimbank council commissioned Mr Kelly to create a sculpture that would “act as a beacon signifying Sunshine’s re-emergence as one of Australia’s great centres”.

Chief administrator John Watson said the “Man lifting cow” sculpture gives Sunshine an international profile.

“John Kelly is a prolific artist and his wonderful sculptures have been exhibited all over the world, including Paris, Monte Carlo and now Sunshine,” he said.

“It’s a key part of Sunshine’s revitalisation and it creates a conversation about the arts.”

Mr Kelly said the sculpture was inspired by one of Australia’s best-known artists William Dobell. While researching in RMIT University’s library in the early 1990s, Mr Kelly found a story about a group of Australian artists, including Dobell, who were put to work camouflaging military bases by painting market gardens on runways and creating animal sculptures to sit alongside them.

His research led him to the story about Dobell’s cows; giant paper mache figures designed to deceive Japanese pilots flying overhead.

The veracity of the story has never been proven. But whether or not it’s true, Kelly has been fixated on recreating the bovine figures ever since.

Mr Kelly said the sculpture would act as a marker for his family’s presence in the area.

“This work is the third in a trilogy of monumental sculptures,” he said. “This [is part of a] great odyssey that took me across the world and also back to Sunshine, where I’m very proud to be from.”

Brimbank contributed $100,000 towards the $600,000 sculpture. The remainder came from commercial in confidence cash and in-kind donations.