The People's House

Sydney Opera House

“This State cannot go on without proper facilities for the expression of talent and the staging of the highest forms of artistic entertainment which add grace and charm to living and which help to develop and mould a better, more enlightened community." These founding words from New South Wales Premier Joe Cahill from more than half a century ago ring true for the contemporary Sydney Opera House.

Today Sydney Opera House reflects such a diversity of performance and cultural activity that it is difficult to describe succinctly.

While this diversity is certainly not captured in the name Sydney Opera House, it is captured in the spirit of the place – and certainly through its programming.

Its ongoing role as the “People’s House” reflects the aspirations of its founder, then New South Wales Premier Joe Cahill who, in the 1950s, intended the building to act as a home to culture for Sydney's burgeoning migrant populations, where they could celebrate the stories and cultures they brought with them.

Australia changed dramatically in the years during which Sydney Opera House was first proposed then built.

The very idea of an Opera House was a response to a young nation in the process of transforming itself. Between the mid-1940s and the opening of the Opera House in 1973, Australia’s population nearly doubled to 13 million.

Sydney swelled with people from across the world, with many coming from Europe and bringing with them their cultures and stories.

With Australia changing before his eyes, New South Wales Premier Joe Cahill saw a new country emerging that required something novel to crystallise and embody its ambitions.

Cahill too had reached the stage at which he was keen to leave a meaningful legacy to the people of Sydney. He was convinced that with a world-class performing arts venue, Sydney would take its place among the great cities of the world.

“This State cannot go on without proper facilities for the expression of talent and the staging of the highest forms of artistic entertainment which add grace and charm to living and which help to develop and mould a better, more enlightened community ... We need only a continuance of this present mood to ensure that one day in the not too distant future a truly mighty and wonderful structure will stand on Bennelong Point to demonstrate to the world that we Australians have a pride in our cultural development equal to any.” – New South Wales Premier Joe Cahill, 1958.

New South Wales Premier Joe Cahill's words express the original aspirations for Sydney Opera House as a reflection of Sydney's and Australia's presence in the world, as well as its use by "every citizen".

Sydney Opera House was funded by public money, not just through government funds but also through appeals and a successful lottery program.

On 7 August 1957, the Opera House appeal was launched at a public meeting. Within the first hour, £230,000 had been donated by the 2,500 people in attendance.

NSW Premier Joe Cahill handed over £100,000 of public funds and £50 of his own. Fifty pounds would prove to be a popular figure.

At a fundraising party afterwards, soprano Joan Hammond (pictured) sold kisses for £50, while Utzon donated £50 to kiss the cheek of flautist Elaine Shaffer and another £50 to kiss the wife of the violinist Ruggiero Ricci. Mrs Ricci offered £10 to kiss the ABC's chairman, Charles Moses, who also donated £50 of his own. Kisses were sold for £50 at another fundraising party held two days later at a private house in Lindfield, in Sydney’s north.

In 1962, the annual Foundation Day celebrations at the University of New South Wales gave rise to this satirical ticket, poking fun at the increasing delays in completing Sydney Opera House along with rising costs. Both issues were well publicised in the press of the time.

The perception of an indulgent, superfluous public building project that consumed public money at the expense of housing and public amenities such as hospitals was never a remote theme from public debate.

Open Day is an opportunity for visitors to walk in the footsteps of their favourite performers, from backstage rehearsal spaces all the way to the Concert Hall stage.

Thousands of visitors can explore the many venues beneath the Opera House’s famous sails through free, self-guided, walk-through experiences.

Kids from YourTown come to the Opera House to see Jingle Bell Rock.
Back row, from left: YourTown chief executive Tracy Adams; Balnaves Foundation chairman Neil Balnaves AO; Sydney Opera House chief executive Louise Herron AM.
Front: Lovita Agyemang, Rosabel Gyan, Prince Godwin Gyan.

Credits: Story

Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team


Sydney Opera House Wolanski Archive Collection
Estate of David Moore

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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