On a stormy night in 1996, the Church of Scientology made its mark on the George Street entertainment strip in the form of Sydney’s most bizarre advertising initiative. The site, on the east side of George Street, was formerly the Roma Complex; a row of shops including the Roma cinema torn down in the early 1990s to make way for the current setup. Now comprised of a variety of smaller shops, the address is most notable for including the Metro Theatre, a popular music venue, and as the former home of Galaxy World, a video arcade.
Someone in the Church of Scientology saw an opportunity to educate the people of George Street in the ways of Xenu et. al., and in mid-1996 a giant illuminated volcano facade was erected above Galaxy World, with a giant video screen at the peak. The screen played commercials for Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s 1950 book Dianetics over and over and over as smoke burst from the volcano, while testing centre was established nearby so that anyone interested in the ad could have their situation evaluated by the experts. What had been originally intended was that the screen would be directly used by the Church of Scientology to advertise the religion/cult, but after that proposal was denied by the Sydney City Council, a compromise was reached in the form of the Dianetics ads. Celebrity Scientologists Kate Ceberano and Nancy Cartwright appeared at the unveiling, which was forced inside due to the thunderstorm.
After just a few months, the brightly coloured volcano had faded, and so had the public’s compulsion to humour the Church of Scientology. Then-Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor offered to pull the volcano down as early as November 1996. At some time in 2000, long after the advertisements had stopped erupting, the facade caught fire, and remained in its burnt state for nearly a year afterward. When the volcano screen was first erected, it was agreed that it would only be up for six years, but here we are in 2012 and although the volcano is gone, the screen and an ugly facade remain. It’s a surprise it’s still there, given Sydney City Council’s tendency to overhaul all things George Street every couple of years.
Speaking of erections and eruptions, a few enterprising young scallywags took the obvious opportunity to broadcast porn through the screen for a prank at some point in the late 1990s, and given that’s the least creepy thing the setup was ever used for, that’s a good place to end this article.
PS. Oh, the 24hr Bar Ace advertised alongside the volcano isn’t there anymore either. It’s two Japanese restaurants now.
Amalgamated Wireless Australasia Ltd. started life at our old friend Homebush West in 1909, and over the next few years became the Federation-era’s answer to Sony. In 1918, AWA received the first radio broadcast from the UK to Australia – an address to troops by then-Prime Minister Billy Hughes. AWA then transmitted the first newsreel pictures from Sydney to London in 1930.
Not content to just broadcast and receive the radio signals, AWA entered the consumer radio market after the Second World War. AWA became the leading manufacturer of consumer radios in Australia, and subsequently branched out into other areas. Fans of commercial radio (I know you’re out there) may care to thank AWA for owning and operating 2GB sister station 2CH for many years.
Of course, an Australian company couldn’t do this well without at some point having their own building, and in 1939, that dream was realised in York Street, Wynyard. The AWA Building was the tallest building in Australia until 1958, and remained AWA’s head office until the late 1990s, when AWA backed out of the broadcasting race because it’s kinda hard to get a decent signal amongst all those skyscrapers in Wynyard. Today, the tower is E. G. Collections, “specialising in Ladies Suits”, with office suites above, and doubtlessly the friends of all of the building’s employees are sick of hearing about how you can see the office in that one bit in The Matrix.
Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall for the kind of olde-tyme radio business they were so deeply involved in, 1991 saw AWA acquire Smorgon Technologies. Although it sounds like a Captain Planet villain, it was a world leader in totalisator systems, and this purchase led to AWA’s own acquisition by Tabcorp in the 2000s. Wow.
AWA regained its independence from Tabcorp’s clutches in 2004, and these days focuses on IT and commutation services, which is a newfangled way of saying it’s doing what it always did, but NEW. Strangely, AWA has licenced its brand name to Woolworths, Big W and Dick Smith Electronics for use in generic consumer electronic devices. You know, just in case anyone out there is 150 years old and remembers how good the sound was from their AWA car radio.
If you’ve ever had a birthday, chances are you’ve received a card from John Sands. Although John (1818-1873) has been indisposed for a fair period of time now, he never forgets a birthday, a funeral, an unexpected pregnancy, or any other occasion requiring a “social expression”. These days, John Sands is owned by the fittingly named faceless corporation American Greetings, but back before he sold out, Sands ran his operations from locations (dunes?) in Druitt Street, the flagshop in George Street, and here, in Clarence Street.
As you can see, John and the other Sands made a living sinking dies, engraving plates and printing all manner of stationery. Someone was canny enough to have engraved the business name all over this building too, because now it’s heritage listed. Despite the listing, it’s currently for lease, despite plans in recent years to convert it into an Italian restaurant and a Nando’s chicken shop, among other things. To survive a Nando’s incursion…that’s staying power. I guess you might say [Terrible sand erosion pun removed for everybody’s sake – Ed].
The Bank of Australasia first moved into this address in 1879, establishing their ‘Southern Sydney’ branch in a rented building. The current building was erected in 1886, but remained under the ownership of the Estate of a James Powell until 1902, when the BOA suddenly remembered it was a bank and could take any property it wanted. It bought out the site, which remained a bank until 1998. The Bank of Australasia became a part of the ANZ in 1951, and rebranded this site as an ANZ bank in 1970.
Although the interiors have been refurbished, the exterior of the building is in remarkably good condition considering what the site is now – the 3 Wise Monkeys pub. Established in 2000, the 3 Wise Monkeys has a reputation as a live music venue and as a place where wisdom is not on tap. Of all the places in Sydney to not want to be seeing, hearing or speaking evil, George Street is probably at the top of the list.
Just in time for Anzac Day (whoops), here we have Mosman’s Anzac Memorial Hall. Built in 1922, it appears to have existed as the memorial hall until 1934, when it became the Kings Theatre (NOT the New Kings Theatre, which opened in 1937). Strangely, to make room for the cinema, the Mosman RSL vacated this building and moved into…a different cinema, the Mosman Kinematheatre, which was further along Military Road.
These days, this memorial hall is now a Country Road fashion outlet, allowing shoppers the opportunity to observe a minute’s silence as well as the latest winter looks.