BY ALEC SMART
A skywriter message bearing the words Vote No appeared in the sky in several locations above Sydney on Sunday 17 September.
Photos of the skywriting letters, declaring opposition to the national plebiscite on same-sex marriage reform, were immediately shared via social media before prevailing winds blew them away. While Vote No campaigners were ecstatic, Vote Yes campaigners expressed outrage at the publicity stunt, which was initially blamed on South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi of the Australian Conservatives.
Bernardi spoke at the launch of a No campaign in Sydney’s International Convention Centre the night before, attended by over 1000 people, many wearing T-shirts with the slogan ‘It’s Okay to say No’.
“We’re under assault because we’re on the right side of legal and moral history,” Bernardi declared at the event.
“Many of you know that I am a champion of freedom,” Senator Bernardi said. “If the state redefines marriage it also redefines how you can speak, think, advocate and believe about marriage… It is a sign of what is to come unless we are vigilant and can defeat this vote in the weeks ahead.”
When City Hub contacted Bernardi, his office denied funding the aerial publicity stunt, replying, “I suggest you contact the Coalition for Marriage as they are best-placed to answer your questions.”
The Coalition for Marriage also denied involvement, declaring, “The Coalition for Marriage did not organise nor fund the skywriting in Sydney yesterday. It seems to be grass roots action. People are speaking out.”
The registration number on the wing of the plane involved was posted on social media – VH-SQZ – and when City Hub investigated FlightRadar24.com for details of light aircraft activity over Sydney on Sunday morning, the culprit was identified – a Cessna 182G Skylane four-seat, single-engine light aircraft, owned by Skywriting Australia.
Flight tracking information revealed the plane took off from Camden Airfield and looped in four locations over Sydney metropolitan area that were consistent with reports of the skywriting.
Skywriting Australia declined to comment when contacted by City Hub and they suspended their Facebook page.
A description of their activity on their company webpage states, ‘Skywriting Australia caters for mainly business advertising, however we also are available for private messages and have sky-written many marrage [sic] proposals, also sky-written for birthdays, funerals, and weddings etc.
“Our new high-level skywriting covers a viewing area of 3,000 square kilometres for a single message. It can be seen by people in cars, buses & trains, people jogging, riding bikes and children going to school. Pretty much anyone outside!”
After the flight, it was revealed in the national media that Skywriting Australia was besieged with hate mail amidst urges to boycott them, and owner Rob Vance’s mobile number was posted on social media, encouraging Vote Yes campaigners to call or text him with their displeasure.
Further investigations revealed a GoFundMe campaign page financed the skywriting. The organisers solicited funds with the message, “It’s time for traditional Australians to take a stand! We have been bullied into silence, condemned for our views and ignored and vilified by the media.
“It’s time we all sent a clear message that we will not put up with our way of life being deconstructed any further!
“If you feel like us that it’s time finally for our voice to be heard, join us as we shout our message “Vote No” into the sky for all to see. This is your chance to help ensure our voice is ignored no longer, and take joy in knowing that our message will be painted in the bright sky for all to see!”
After the stunt, the anonymous group overseeing it posted a statement, “The GoFundMe site has decided to freeze our funds, until we give our names and locations.
“We are obviously keen to stay fairly anonymous due to the sheer amount of hate and threats we have received on this campaign by those who mask their hate with ‘Equality’.”
The crowd-funding page then revealed a Kat Klayton of Canberra, whose Facebook account includes a church-front photo saying, ‘God designed marriage between a man and a woman’, was managing it.
The GoFundMe page is still active, having raising over $5000 of its $4000 target towards the skywriter plane hire, which starts at $3990, and reveals plans to target other Australian cities.
“If the whole $12,000 is reached Brisbane, Sydney & Melbourne will have our message in the sky!”
The Australian Electoral Commission received numerous complaints that the skywriting action violated democratic principles regarding the same-sex marriage plebiscite, launched last week with forms posted to 16 million voters across Australia.
However, an AEC spokesman told Australian Associated Press this week that laws passed by parliament to safeguard democracy did not apply to this type of communication.
“It is only material that is capable of containing authorisation details that is regulated by the Act,” the spokesperson said. “As the website [GoFundMe] is now compliant, the AEC does not propose to take any action.”
The origins of skywriting are disputed, but it is believed one of its first practitioners was a former British Royal Air Force pilot, Major Jack Savage, who ran a fleet of small planes that expelled smoke during flight. Savage, who also operated in the USA after success in Britain, experimented with coloured smoke and most of his clients were businesses seeking promotion of their company name or advertising slogans.
A rival plan to skywrite ‘Vote Yes’ in the sky via a GoFundMe account was redirected to hire a giant rainbow banner trailing behind a helicopter instead. Explaining the change of plan, the organiser announced, “I found out today that there is only one company in Sydney that do Sky Writing and the people that run the business are active members of the Australian Christian Lobby. So prettly [sic] unlikely that they’ll write an alternate message…
“However, GOOD NEWS contact has been made with Sydney’s premier ariel [sic] banner advertising firm – Remarkable Media. They are very much in the Yes camp and they’re going to help us achieve a HUGE banner towed behind helicopter. Please donate anything you can…“
The sky, it seems, is not the limit.