Is nothing secular anymore?
It’s toe-curling watching the manner in which our most famous building, The Sydney Opera House, has been pimped out to the racing industry these past few days.
It feels like something has been hollowed out of us as a nation, and that’s saying something given the cultural turmoil of the past decade. That some bean counters and some politicians and some racing identities thought this would pass the sniff test?
Sometimes it feels like we’re nothing more than a shell of Australia these days.
Our most sacred secular building has indeed been handed over to the sport of kings for a ten million dollar race next Saturday. Kings and gambling addicts.
The New South Wales Government has defended the use of the iconic sails of the Opera House to promote the Everest horse race.
You can read how the events unfolded here.
“There’s no way this is devaluing the Opera House.” said NSW Minister for Racing (no conflict of interest there) Paul Toole, in conclusive proof that there is every way that this is devaluing the Opera House.
But hey, take a look for yourself:
“And with a quarter mile to go it’s Cash-In-Brown-Paper-Bags half a length in front of Something-Stinks, with Naked-Self-Interest stuck to the rails for third.”
Pretty classy huh?
Now I admit some bias.
I am in the midst of a mid-life romance with the Sydney Opera House.
Having rarely been to Sydney up until a few years ago, my increasingly frequent visits have resulted in the opera house being a “have-to” every time.
The older I have gotten the more modern clean lines have been my thing. Perhaps that’s because I’m getting a little tattered around the edges myself.
But if the walk to any secular building can be described as sacred, surely it’s the pilgrimage up the concourse from Circular Quay to the steps, then up the steps to touch those beautiful sleek tiles.
In our world of committed non-transcendence there’s something about the Opera House that makes you yearn for something more, or at least question how such a thing of beauty could possible be the result of chaos.
This is the third story about the Opera House that I’ve read in the papers this weekend, and the most unfortunate. There are two wonderful sounding books just published, one nonfiction, The House, and one fiction, Shell, by Kristina Olsson, set during the building of this worldly wonder.
Here’s a quote from the latter about a Swedish designer called Axel and his experience:
Now, though he had been working at the site for a month, though he’d walked the same path to it every day, it still took him by surprise: the tremor of emotion as he rounded the quay and saw the sails arching out of the chaos. As if he’d come upon a rare and beautiful animal in a stark landscape. There was no Swedish word to describe this, no English word that he knew; it wasn’t as simple as “awe” or even “love”. It was the clutch at his heart as he lifted his eyes to its curves and lines. Its reach for beauty, a connection between the human and the sublime.
Some ancient nations, steeped in religious history, pimp out their religious icons for cash. This most secular of spaces, a tribute to modernism in a newly claimed nation, receives the same treatment from our most secular governments.
I wonder if former Premier of NSW, Mike Baird, a committed Christian, would have viewed it. He tried to take on the greyhound industry and ended up the knackers yard himself.
I doubt if you round the quay tonight whether your heart will be clutched in the way Axel’s was. The tremor you feel may be one of rage, or just deep disappointment, that in this world with so little transcendence, another secular sacred space has been brought crashing down to earth in this way, hollowed out by the great god of Mammon.