The best-loved building in Australia nearly didn’t get off the drawing board. When it did, the lives of everyone involved in its construction were utterly changed: some for the better, many for the worse. From idea to opening, it took nearly two decades, four premiers, over one million tiles and $102million to create the 20th century’s best known building.
Helen Pitt tells the stories of the people behind the magnificent white sails of the Sydney Opera House. From the famous conductor and state premier who conceived the project; to the two architects, Jorn Utzon and Peter Hall, whose lives were so tragically intertwined; to the workers and engineers; to the people of Sydney, who were alternately beguiled and horrified as the shells took shape on the harbour.
You may know it took more than 10,000 men from 90 different countries to build. But did you know it was women – one immigrant in particular – who gave the green light for the government to go ahead? You’ve probably heard of the Sydney Opera House lottery that paid for it, but what about the kissing party that was its flamboyant first fundraiser?
You may know Paul Robeson was the first performer to sing there in 1960. But did you hear about the first party where The Easybeats were joined by Kings Cross strippers?
Architect Harry Seidler was known for spearheading the move to keep Utzon in charge. But what about the Double Bay divorcee who paid to hire the Town Hall, and the ‘fasting poet’ who threatened to not eat until the Askin government brought him back?
“Like all great works, the Sydney Opera House arouses great passions,” says Pitt. “The story of Australia’s most recognisable building had a tumultuous beginning, and seems to have no end. The drama lingers still like the backwash from a Manly ferry as it ripples across Sydney Harbour.”
With access to diaries, newly uncovered letters, and classified records, as well as her own interviews with people involved in the project, Helen Pitt reveals the intimate back story of the building that turned Sydney into an international city. It is a tale worthy of Shakespeare himself.
Helen Pitt is a Sydney Morning Herald journalist who has worked as the opinion and letters editor at Australia’s oldest daily metropolitan newspaper where she began her career in 1986. She has worked as a writer for The Bulletin magazine, in California for New York Times Digital, and as a television reporter at Euronews in France.
In 1992, she was selected to take part in the Journalists in Europe program in Paris. Her feature writing has won the Austcare Media award and been highly commended in the UN Media Peace prize.
Image: The House by Helen Pitt – courtesy of Allen & Unwin