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A career in sails

50 years at the Sydney Opera House

Kate Pendlebury

Peter Tucker has been working at the Sydney Opera House since before it was even complete. Now a part of the Building Operations team, he's worked in an assortment of roles and teams over the years. Along the way has met the Queen, the President and Jackie Chan – just to name a few. This year Peter celebrates 50 years on the job. 


What roles have you had here?

I started at the Opera House in 1971 as a young and cheeky 19 year old. I was a labourer working in the Drama Theatre team doing lots of jackhammering and earning $127 a week. Before starting here I was a welder and earning $35 a week. 

I will always remember my starting date: 22 March 1971. I woke up in the morning and my pregnant wife said “I think the baby is coming”. I had a driver pick her up and take her to the Paddington hospital because I didn’t want to be late on my first day at work! I went to the hospital after work, and discovered I had a son. 

Eventually, I was hired as a Fire Prevention officer, and moved up the ranks to Senior Fire Officer, Chief Fire Officer and then to an acting role as the first safety officer where I set up the safety committee and implemented the Working at Heights Safety Act.

I worked in security for 12 months then was hired as a project manager installing the fire detection and monitoring system. Over time I moved to Assistant Site Manager for the Vehicle Access and Pedestrian Safety project (VAPS) and in 2016 I was re-deployed to Building Operations where I have been for the past six years.


Peter’s Opera House IDs from over the years

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen over your time working at the Opera House?

The biggest and best change is the improved access to the building for wet weather and patrons with access needs. Before any lift installations, patrons had to go through the basement with directions from the Front of House officers; now they can go all the way independently to the Northern Foyers. When it rained patrons had no protection when they left the theatre. The opening of the Western Foyers and installing the Bennelong passage now means they can go all the way to Circular Quay via the Lower Concourse without getting wet.


Who are some of your favourite people you have met?

As part of my role as security manager I escorted lots of artists up to their dressing rooms. Back then rooms were accessed by key not swipe access and there weren’t any presenter services like we have now. I greeted them at Stage Door and on our way up I got to have really good conversations. By the end of the night they always said, “Cya Peter”.

A few memorable moments from my time at the House include being presented to the Queen in 1973, and escorting Jackie Chan to the top of the sails in 2016.

I also got to meet the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, in 1996. A car drove onto the forecourt and from the back seat the President popped out wanting to have a look inside the House on the down-low. I showed him around the House and told him a few stories about the building. A few weeks later, I got a pen sent to me with a card: “With thanks from the Presidential Office”.


Peter as a Fire Prevention Officer at Stage Door, 1990.

What is your favourite memory working at the Opera House?

Stayers Club was always fun. The Stayers Club was a gathering in the 80s for anyone who had worked longer than 10 years at the Opera House, and was a great opportunity to mix with your long-serving colleagues. The Green Room bar was another highlight – it opened at 10am and closed whenever the last person left (usually 5am). Someone would always be leaning against the bar, normally the stage crew or directors, but I was never allowed to stay long. If you ever see the bar you may spot some plaques dedicated to some staff who resided there often.


What has kept you here for 50 years?

I’ve been successful at other jobs but when it came down to it, I’ve always wanted to stay here. It’s a new day every day, you never know who is going to be here or what show is going to happen. You might come to the same job everyday but there’s always something new happening.


30 year anniversary cake with the NSW Premier Bob Carr and Jørn Utzon’s Son, Jan. Jan Utzon then invited Peter to have breakfast with the architects he was meeting afterwards.

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