My first visit to Sydney was the year the Opera House opened. I saw it when it was officially three weeks old and I wil never forget my first sight of this stunning building with its glorious sail like curves etched against a blue sky. This October it celebrates its 40th year which gives me pause for thought. Just where have all those years gone? I have been to concerts and operas at the House, viewed it from outside, taken countless pictures of it from all angles and in all weathers, but have never taken one of the tours, until today. Had two days baking on the beach and was quite relieved to find that it was a grey cooler day with hint of rain in the air. Walked down to the station where I knew I coud pick up the free Shuttle bus into town and down to Circular Quay and half an hour later was at the Opera House and signed up for one of the tours.
Delighted to find that they give concessions even to overseas visitors and on production of my passport received a $8 take off from the cost. The guide to our party, about twenty of us, was Alan and it was clear from the start that he simply loves his job and loves the Opera House (though really it is an Arts Centre - nobody calls it that) and even if he had done his spiel a hundred times he made it sound fresh and interesting.
I had read quite a lot about its construction, its over run on both time and budget, but did not realise just had badly the Powers that Be had treated the architect, Utzon. Panicking when costs rose astronomically and eager to find somebody to blame, the Government of the day decided to bring in a firm of Australian architects to finish the project and to keep an eye on Utzon. Imagine the Pope bringing in a cleric or two to keep an eye on Michealangelo and you get the drift. Utzon resigned and went back to Sweden. He never set foot in Australia again. When the project finished and the Opera House opened in 1973 and Her Maj came across to do it, he was not even invited. This discourtesy and display of arrogance really takes the biscuit and one can only imagine how hurt and upset Utzon must have been. Bloody politicians and their panicking and then their grabbing of the glory and their moment in the sun when the Queen arrived....but I had better not turn this into one of my rants.
A totally fascinating tour and, as Alan told us, it had a happier ending. There have been recent updates to the House, a concrete side has been opened to the harbour with a new entrance and windows etc and this, apparently, was something that Utzon had envisaged many years ago. He has been consulted on this and other aspects of making sure the Opera House remains up to date and a working building for the current age. Utzon was invited to attend the opening of this new project but he was too old and frail to make the journey. Instead he sent his son, also an architect, and the room was dedicated the Utzon Room. At last amends had been made and apologies for disgraceful behaviour tendered. All was forgiven and Utzon said it was an honour and a privilege having his name, at last, permanently attached to the Opera House.
Australia has reason to be grateful to him, after seeing a montage of the other designs submitted his was the one with a soaring imagination, who could see that this building, poised like a ship in full sail, placed on Bennalong Point and reaching out into the harbour, would fit perfectly into its surroundings and landscape. It is an iconic building, recognised all over the world and forty years later still draws in millions of visitors who marvel at its daring and imaginative design. In a hundred years it will still be doing the same. Stunning and awesome this was a tour I should have taken years ago but though I came late to the party, I arrived and it was good.