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.