Australian culture reached a remarkable milestone on 20 October 1973: the completion of one of the greatest building projects of the 20th century, the birth of an icon, and the beginning of an incredible performance history.
The Sydney Opera House was officially opened on 20 October, 1973. “The Sydney Opera House has captured the imagination of the world, though I understand that its construction has not been totally without problems,” Queen Elizabeth II observed, opening Jørn Utzon’s masterpiece on a blustery Spring day. Then again, as the Queen went on to say: “The human spirit must sometimes take wings or sails, and create something that is not just utilitarian or commonplace.”
Those words, like the season, could not have been more appropriate to the occasion. It was a day that brought to a conclusion the saga of the building’s conception, design and construction, a saga in which controversies and politics upended what had seemed for many years as idealistic a quest for architectural perfection as had been seen in the post-war world.
Some had feared that the Sydney Opera House might never be finished. To others, its perfection was forever compromised by the manner of its completion.
But on 20 October a building conceived with vast ambitions - nothing less than to “help mould a better and more enlightened community”, in the words of then New South Wales Premier Joseph Cahill - a building that some would say had already begun to do that work during the travails and controversies of its construction - began to assume its destiny.
On that day, the most recognisable symbol of modern Australia became the extraordinary home to culture that it still is today, a World Heritage-listed masterpiece synonymous with inspiration and creativity.
One of the many Australians who saw the fireworks that night from Circular Quay was Marc Newson, who was celebrating his tenth birthday - a birthday shared with the Opera House - that night. Newson, who would go on to become Australia’s most famous designer, would always remember the opening of a building that, as he said 40 years later, became the shape of Australia to the world.
This exhibit captures an intimate portrait of that day, a moment between the story of the building itself and the emergence of the unique secular cathedral that celebrates community, storytelling, and the vitality and strength of the creative spirit.
Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team
Sydney Opera House Wolanski Archive Collection
State Library of New South Wales