The Gold Book

Sydney Opera House

Commemorating the breaking of ground on Bennelong Point at the outset the building project.

New South Wales Premier Joe Cahill's concerns that the beginning of construction of the Sydney Opera House was still in jeopardy in 1959 was only confirmed by the state election on 21 March. Labor was barely returned to power, reflecting swings toward the Liberal and Country Parties.

On a chilly Monday afternoon earlier in March, the "ceremony to commemorate the commencement of the building of Sydney Opera House" took place on Bennelong Point.

Sydney Opera House would in the words of Cahill, "Stand not merely as an outstanding example of modern architecture, or even as a world famous opera house, but as a shrine in which the great artists may display the flowering of Australian culture."

The formidable printed program for the ceremony, which became known as the Gold Book, includes comments by many of those who had in some part made the Sydney Opera House a reality. Even politician Davis Hughes, who would go on to become Minister for Public Works with the election of the Askin Liberal government in 1965, and be instrumental in Utzon’s withdrawal from the project in 1966, would have a prominent position – third after Cahill and before the leader of the state opposition.

The book endures as a symbol of an important moment in the story of the Sydney Opera House and its journey from idea to reality.

Ove Arup reflecting on events of 1958

The Sydney Opera House Executive Committee was headed by Stan Havilland (top right) until the Labor Government lost in NSW, in 1965.

Dean of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Sydney Harry Ashworth (bottom) was also an executive member of the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee and had been an early advocate for the Opera House Project, as well as one of the four judges of the international competition.

Bennelong Point is an extraordinary location for a cultural centre, with its long history as a meeting place reaching back thousands of years. Originally called Tubowgule, it was a tidal island surrounded by middens of discarded oyster shells. The Gadigal people danced and sang here for thousands of years.

A senior man of the Eora people, Woollarawarre Bennelong, 24 years old when the British arrived in 1788, and regarded by many Aboriginal people as a political prisoner, acted as a mediator between the Eora people and the newly arrived foreigners. For his service, the first Governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, ordered a hut built for him upon the promontory that would henceforth bear his name.

The four judges gather around Utzon's winning design, pipes in hand.

From left: Leslie Martin, Cobden Parkes, Eero Saarinen and Harry Ashworth.

The first model, brought to Sydney by Jørn Utzon on his first trip to the city in 1957, after having won the competition.

It was exhibited in Sydney Town Hall and was the first of many beautiful models made during the design and construction of the Sydney Opera House.

The logistics of building the podium involved drafting detailed working drawings of the structure and its interiors, level by level. The work was tendered to a building company under the supervision of engineers Ove Arup and Partners and the Sydney Opera House Executive Committee.

Utzon's office of architects produced these drawings in a document called the October Scheme, from which these schematics are extracted.

The contract to prepare the site and construction of the podium was awarded to Civil and Civic, who had submitted the lowest quote. This quote would in time prove to have been too low by half, and Civil and Civic would seek to recapture their expenditure from the New South Wales Government through arbitration.

Credits: Story

Created by Sam Doust and the
Sydney Opera House GCI Team


State Records NSW

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