Australian culture reached a remarkable milestone on 20 October 1973: the completion of one of the greatest buildings of the 20th century, the birth of an icon, and the beginning of an incredible performance history at Sydney’s new Opera House.
“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, officially opening Jørn Utzon’s masterpiece on a blustery spring day. But 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.”
“The human spirit must sometimes take wings or sails, and create something that is not just utilitarian or commonplace.”
Queen Elizabeth II with Prince Philip and NSW Premier Robert Askin. Image: Leo Davis Collection
To some the building's perfection was forever compromised by the manner of its completion.
Ben Blakeney, a direct descendant of Bennelong, appeared silhouetted at the apex of one of the high roof sails to welcome the public to the Opera House.
The Queen’s words 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.