Hundreds of protesters shone torches at Sydney Opera House in an effort to disrupt the controversial projection of a horse racing advert which was beamed onto the iconic building ahead of Australia’s Everest horse race.
The plans generated a furious backlash when they were announced, with many Australians saying the roof of the building should not be used as a billboard.
The debate was further fuelled by Australian radio broadcaster Alan Jones, who called for the Opera House’s chief executive Louise Herron to be fired if she refused to let the advert go ahead.
“Who do you think you are?” he asked her, as the pair debated the issue on television.
He later apologised on air, as a petition opposing use of the opera house amassed 235,000 signatures and was delivered to the New South Wales state parliament on Tuesday morning.
Last week, Mr Jones personally called Gladys Berejiklian, Premier of New South Wales, to make the case for using the opera house to promote the race.
But the petition’s organiser Mike Woodcock told Australia’s 9 News Network: “It would be great if she also accepted the views of 232,000 other people that are on the other side of this.”
Amid the public anger, the racing body decided to temporarily suspend betting on the race and cancel a live barrier draw – the process by which horses are allocated numbered starting gates.
The draw was instead done privately, in order to “circumvent any security risks”, Racing New South Wales said.
During the protests crowds chanted “not for sale”, and “whose house? our house.” When the advertisement was beamed across the sails of the roof, the crowd also reportedly booed and chanted: “The graphics are s***.”
Ahead of the protests, a comedy group also shone an illumination across the opera house which read: “Advertise here”, with advice to “call Alan”. It included Mr Jones’ personal phone number.
Mr Jones later said he was receiving anonymous calls on his phone “every minute”.
Australians have described the use of the space for the advert as an “assault” on the World Heritage listed building.
Protester Joshua Richardson, 19, told ABC he did not mind the Opera House being lit up in the “right context” but said this illumination was “horrible”.
He said: “It’s completely wrong to have one of our national landmarks used as a billboard. It’s nationally embarrassing.”
Sydney MP Alex Greenwich, said he plans to introduce an amendment that would stop state governments from being able to override the Sydney Opera House Trust.
“We have seen too often in NSW vested interests play a key part in making decisions,” Mr Greenwich said.
But Sports Minister Stuart Ayres described the protests about the promotion as “hysterical”.