The Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Opera House. The Giant Condom. If you visited Sydney during the warmer months over the past two years, you might have been struck by the discombobulating presence of an enormous neon-pink condom standing at a full salute over one of the city’s iconic landmarks, the Hyde Park Obelisk. Located at the corner of Elizabeth and Bathurst, the oversize prophylactic towered over the CBD during November 2014 and more recently during Mardi Gras 2016, and was a product of one of the most out-there HIV awareness campaigns seen in recent years.
The Giant Condom (or ‘GC’) was a main feature of ACON’s ‘I’M ON’ condom reinforcement campaign, which formed part of the organisation’s ongoing Ending HIV initiative. It had been inspired by past AIDS awareness campaigns in France and Argentina, which had seen similar mega-rubbers installed over historical obelisks in their respective capitals. For Australia’s contribution, GC would be rolled out — or on — to Sydney’s own 157 year-old pylon to coincide with World AIDS Day 2014. In addition to promoting the day, it would highlight the campaign’s objectives to end HIV in NSW by 2020, reiterate the importance of condoms as one of the most effective barriers against HIV.
Hyde Park Obelisk (unprotected)
And so one November night, the custom-built GC was — with the assistance of a crane — discreetly placed on the heritage-listed monument. The next day, locals and tourists alike were astonished and bemused to find the day-glo sheath, branded with the Ending HIV logo, towering over Elizabeth Street in all its (morning) glory.
Apart from vividly bringing HIV awareness into everyday discussion, national and international media outlets had a field day, digging out a variety of ‘Sydney’s spectacular new erection’ puns for the benefit of their readerships. Some were annoyed at the desecration of such a beautifully artistic work, until it was pointed out the obelisk was in fact a beautifully artistic defunct stenchpipe for Sydney’s old sewer system. Enterprising happy snappers and social media boffins also took advantage of the installation, adding an impressive new dimension to their selfies.
After a busy week generating much chat, argument, and the odd complaint, GC was removed and put into storage, returning the monument to its original unvibrant sandstone shade. When Mardi Gras 2016 exploded into life, the juggernaut johnny made its final appearance as a symbol of HIV prevention awareness during the annual LGBTI festival. Once again, GC was a centre of attention as tourists hit town and Parade participants milled around Elizabeth Street preparing to boogie up Oxford Street. “If Godzilla ever came to town,” said one punter as he regarded the looming franger, “he’d be equipped for a good night.”
“Come here often?”
As festivities finally drew to a close and the sequins were packed away for another year, the decision was finally made to retire GC for good despite the popularity with the public — and the fact that you should never reuse a condom notwithstanding.
Which begged the question; what do you do with an 18 metre-long pink condom?
The standard method of prophylactic disposal – wrapping in toilet paper and binning — didn’t seem to apply here. Suggestions flew thick and fast around the office. Convert it into a giant play tunnel for Fair Day? A feature for the next Parade float? Have one of the local drag queens re-imagine it for a seriously fierce Lady Gaga outfit? The possibilities seemed endless.
In the end, the GC found its calling to be repurposed as reusable strips of pink for future ACON events and programs. Though it was a little sad to see such a feat of condomological engineering be dismantled, it seemed fitting that something that had provided such a useful function should live on in other useful forms.
Another recycling suggestion, until some unknown singer beat us to it
The GC lives on in our memories and a multitude of what could only be described as dick pics, but its impact was phenomenal. Its appearances went viral across social and traditional media. It — quite literally — changed the landscape of the Sydney CBD. And surveys found that the response to the installation and its accompanying advertising was overwhelmingly positive, with respondents saying it acted as a useful reminder of the important role condoms still have in preventing HIV transmission.
At a time when Sydney is the epicentre of the LGBT world, the Mardi Gras season is an important time for safe sex messaging – reminding people that condoms remain one of the most effective ways to prevent HIV transmission.
Which brings us to another question — what should take the Giant Condom’s place?
We’d like to hear your thoughts. Leave us a comment below or on social media and let us know your suggestion!