Such numbers did not deter the state government, which had several prominent figures supporting its decision. Among them was Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who described the iconic building as “the biggest billboard Sydney has”.
The PM’s crude description is, strictly speaking, correct. Despite its policy forbidding “logos, corporate identities or colours”, the Opera House sails have been regularly used for promotional purposes. Unofficially, it has also served as a canvas for various protest slogans. However, the Everest uproar was as much about commercial promotion as it was about the power of the city’s political elites.
Concern about commercialisation is an old one
Concerns about the commercialisation of city streets and landmarks are nothing new. In 1880, Brisbane’s Telegraph newspaper took aim at billboards “occupying two of the most prominent sites in the city”, labelling them “terrible eyesores”. Sydney’s lord mayor expressed similar sentiments in 1907 when he was reported as saying:
It was an outrage in a civilised community that every square inching of land abutting on the public streets should be made hideous by posters.
Significantly, one of the first items printed in Australia was a playbill from 1796 promoting a theatrical performance. Like government orders, the playbill and other commercial notices were posted in prominent locations in city streets. Retailers added their mark to city streets by employing signwriters to adorn their premises and promote their wares.
The significance and impact of such commercial signage was formally recognised in 1830, when the governor of New South Wales decreed that it was illegal to “keep up any Sign, Writing, Painting, or other Mark, on or near to his House or Premises” that falsely gave the impression a house was licensed.
As commerce duly grew, so too did the amount of advertising on city streets. By the early 20th century, commercial signs and advertisements were an entrenched and inescapable aspect of urban life. They permeated walls, hoardings and all parts of public transportation systems. Electricity and neon lighting extended outdoor advertising’s reach into the night-time hours.
In recent times, sports grounds have added another commercial layer by selling their naming rights. Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium has previously been known as Colonial Stadium, Telstra Dome and Etihad Stadium. More confusingly, Brisbane and Sydney have both been home to ANZ Stadium (formerly known as QE II and Stadium Australia/Telstra Stadium respectively).