THOUSANDS of outraged Sydneysiders have taken to the Sydney Opera House to protest over a six-minute light display that has divided the city.
Angry chants can be heard as the barrier numbers for the Everest Cup get drawn as live coverage crosses to racing heavyweights at a fancy dinner watching on.
Police have gathered and security has been beefed up to monitor the protest against the NSW government’s decision to promote a $13 million horse race on the iconic sails, with one critic calling it an “assault” on the cultural icon.
About 3000 people are chanting “shame on you” and booing as the numbers are called.
Attendees are armed with torches and their mobile phone lights to create their own light show.
Nine News declared the display was “threatening to spin out of control”.
People can also be heard chanting against Alan Jones, the shock jock who started the furore late last week.
The government overturned a decision by Opera House management which had earlier rejected the plan saying it breached its guidelines.
Betting on the lucrative Everest Cup has now been suspended as the row rages on. The barrier draw was conducted early due to concerns that security issues at the Opera House tonight could have prevented it going ahead as planned.
The result is being kept secret until this evening when the controversial imagery will be projected on to the sails.
The measures came amid threats and guerrilla protest plans that forced police to upgrade security around the event.
The decision came after Jones, 2GB radio host, conducted a fiery interview on Friday with Opera House chief executive Louise Herron in which he called for her to be sacked for opposing the plan.
This morning Jones apologised for publicly berating Ms Herron.
Tony Mohr, executive director of Alliance for Gambling Reform, said they would not be bullied by the likes of Alan Jones.
“We have an icon of australia that has been corporatised and sold off to an industry that will bully anyone who gets in their way,” he said.
“People like Alan Jones think they can bully us.
“Today is the second day of the NSW government’s gambling awareness week – this shows it is just a meaningless PR stunt.”
Irate Sydneysider Ellen Estelle said she remebered her parents taking her to the opening of the Opera House and she could not believe what was happening to it tonight
“We are seeing everything we own sold off for a quick buck from the post offices to Barangaroo and now this.
“We are here to tell Gladys Berejiklian to back off.”
A petition opposing the plan has garnered more than 230,000 signatures.
Protest organiser Rachel Evans says there’s “a lot of anger on the streets” about the plan which she’s described as an “assault on the Opera House”.
There are even fears a disgruntled staff could cut the power to the Opera House during the display.
Everest organiser Racing NSW claims staff had even received death threats.
WHAT IS ACTUALLY HAPPENING?
Despite a major war or words brewing over tonight’s brief advertisement, the exact details of how it will look and what it will consist of are unclear.
Only those behind the light display and those involved in approving it know exactly what it will look like, however Racing NSW CEO Peter V’landys said it would last just six minutes.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has urged Sydneysiders to “have a look on Tuesday before you judge it”, claiming the version of the projections taking place tonight is “much toned down from what the government was first presented with”.
“There’ll be no logos, no names, the only words on there are actually the words of the trophy itself and that is consistent with what has happened in the past,” she said.
Older Racing NSW artist impressions show each sail lit up with a mixture of the Everest logo, a video of the race and a list of horse names.
According to The Guardian Racing NSW even asked the NSW opposition leader, Labor’s Luke Foley, to consider introducing a public holiday — similar to the Melbourne Cup public holiday in Victoria — as a way of further promoting the horse race.
However, more recent artist impressions show a more simple display of colours and the numbers of the horses taking part flashing on the sails.
MAJOR POLICE OPERATION
About 3000 people on Facebook said they were attending the protest on Tuesday night where they would try and disrupt the Everest projection using torches and mobile phone lights.
The Change.org petition, which the website says is its “fastest growing petition” in recent memory, was to be delivered to NSW parliament on Tuesday morning.
It was started by Sydney father Mike Woodcock who said he was “offended” by the state government’s presumption Sydneysiders would be OK with the decision.
Police are monitoring a number of Facebook groups organising protesters armed with lights and torches to ruin the light show.
National Trust NSW conservation director Graham Quint says projecting commercial material onto the Opera House contravenes state laws.
The heritage expert added the Racing NSW promotion had been referred to the World Heritage body UNESCO.
The venue’s own conservation management plan states “the Sydney Opera House exterior, particularly the shells … should not be regarded as a giant billboard or commercial/advertising opportunity.”
Ms Berejiklian on Friday intervened to allow the advertising after Jones publicly berated Ms Herron who’d ruled against Everest words or branding being projected onto the venue because “it’s not a billboard”.
The premier on Monday stood by her decision saying she was “incredibly comfortable”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended the decision to project the details of the race.
“It’s not like they’re painting it on there, it’s lights flashing up there for a brief moment in time, and that goes all around the world,” Mr Morrison said on Jones’ 2GB show radio.
“They do it for other things, the Wallabies indeed and others.
“I just don’t understand why we tie ourselves up in knots about these things.”
Mr V’landys said he had been negotiating with the state government for more than a year and initially wanted to use the Sydney Harbour Bridge to promote the Everest race.
“The Opera House was the alternate venue put forward by the NSW Government, which wanted to support the promotion of the event internationally, as it had done for other sporting events,” he wrote in an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald.
“We are promoting a unique Sydney event, The Everest, not gambling.”