Sydney battles hard for the vision thing

Not since the Japanese invaded its harbour in midget submarines during the Second World War has Sydney been so primed for battle. This time, though, the city is at war with itself. And the prize is the building that Australians have adopted as the modern symbol of their country - the Sydney Opera House.

The opera house is threatened with invasion not from the sea or the sky but from land. The foe is commercial, in the form of a high-rise hotel and apartment development taking shape a stone's throw from the opera house's roof sails. The new building will obliterate them from public view and swamp their visual impact.

With a passion that Sydneysiders usually reserve for horse races and cricket matches, thousands have taken to the streets to call for the new building's demolition, even before it is finished, their protests led by celebrities and buoyed by messages of support from around the world. "A philistine horror," declared the entertainer, Barry Humphries. "It's a sad day when a city sells its soul for the tourist buck," said Judy Davis, the actress. She drew cheers at a public rally when she added: "Our government has caved in and betrayed us with bad management and lack of vision."

The row highlights the hallowed place that the opera house holds in Sydney's psyche. The house sits on Sydney harbour at Bennelong Point, near the birthplace of European settlement in 1788.

After the opera house opened in 1973, many Sydney people hoped that the narrow approach to Bennelong Point along the harbour would be cleared of the ugly 1960s buildings that cluttered it. Hopes soared in the early Nineties after Colonial Mutual, one of Australia's biggest insurance companies, bought the land on the approach and demolished the Sixties' horrors. That left the opera house in glorious isolation, flanked only by the Royal Botanic Gardens on one side and the harbour on the other.

However, the recession of the early Nineties wiped about one-third from the value of Colonial Mutual's investment in the land. To recoup its loss, the company proposed a series of developments which would have towered over the opera house. All were howled down by public protest.

All three tiers of government, federal, state and local, entered the fray to find a "solution". The result has been a planning disaster. To lower the building's height, the state government sold the developer a public road for a peppercorn price. This has only made the building wider, blocking views of the opera house from central Sydney. And the developer made the cardinal error of starting work first on the section nearest the opera house, revealing to the public what an intrusion the final hulk will really be. One prominent Sydney architect has described the building as "a big ugly tooth".

The New South Wales state government has rejected the protesters' demands that it buy the site, compensate the developer and turn it into a park. Another proposed solution is to revive the public lottery that funded the building of the opera house 25 years ago, and buy the site that way.

Jack Mundey, a former militant trade union leader, now a local hero over the "green bans" that he introduced in the 1970s, saving swathes of Sydney's heritage sites from development, said: "It seems we're slow learners. We have to fight the same fight over and over again."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
businessUber, Snapchat and Facebook founders among those on the 2015 Forbes Billionaire List
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
News
Homer’s equation, in an episode in 1998, comes close to the truth, as revealed 14 years later
science
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003