The Opera House Project

Text About the Project


This project arose out of an idea to document Sydney Opera House in an innovative digital environment, enabling a worldwide audience to experience the story of one of the greatest buildings of the twentieth century.

No small task, as the story of this building is also one of the most extraordinary of the twentieth century, both in terms of Australian identity and the failed quest for perfection that consumed its creators.

The overall narrative is crafted from a balance between newly written material and the archival narratives that reveal aspects of the story in the words of those who were there.

Forty years have now passed since the inauguration of the Opera House and the beginning of an incredible legacy of performances and events which are explored herein.

The ABC played an integral part in the story of Opera House. During the 1950s it was Sir Eugene Goossens, Conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, who lobbied hardest for an opera house to be built in Australia, and it was Sir Charles Moses, then head of ABC who introduced Goossens to Premier Joseph Cahill, a meeting that crystallised the idea and brought about all that ensued.

The ABC also contributed significantly to the events that would lead to Utzon's withdrawal from the project. And as the national broadcaster, across different radio and television programs, documented events over the years.

Alongside significant contributions from other content partners, the surfacing of ABC archival material reveals a fascinating and nuanced history over half a century in the making.

There are significant archival contributions from other content partners, detailed below.

A small group of digital program makers and developers at the ABC, working alongside Sydney Opera House Trust, researched this material and created new content, including the narrative documentary presented here, contemporary interviews, immersive graphics and interactivity, which explain some of the very complex ideas and principles behind the design, construction and engineering of the building.

Hours of content are available to view in your own time, and the project can be usefully thought of as a digital book, with themed chapters, and further information, all of which can be approached at your leisure.


Generous materials support and permissions were given to the Project by its Principal Content Partners:

State Library NSW

The State Library holds massive collections of photographs and original documents about Sydney Opera House and also manages Max Dupain's Studio Collection.

The majority of the archival photographic record presented here is courtesy of the State Library Collections.

The collections include:

  • PXA 590 (across 14 volumes) "Jørn Utzon Sydney Opera House Collection, 1956 – 1967"
  • Max Dupain Collection
  • PXA 1107 PXD 492 Materials of the Australian Photographic Agency
    These include all pictures by Max Dupain, Jørn Utzon, Ken Redshaw, and others.

The Project could not have reflected the visual history of Sydney Opera House without the invaluable partnership of the State Library of New South Wales.

For more, visit

State Records, NSW

The public record documentation of the building of Sydney Opera House resides with State Records. The Books (Brown, Gold, Red, Yellow) as well as many other documents, memos, letters and press clippings.

For more, vist


For permission to use the documentary Job1112, and for sharing documents and valuable consultation.

National Film Sound Archives

For more, visit

David Moore Photography

For more, visit

Kingscroft Productions for History on the Harbour

Thought Equity Motion


The Opera House Project, the story of an Australian icon

An ABC Innovation and Sydney Opera House Trust Production

Writer and Director, Sam Doust

Performance and Events Written and Produced by Tim Bosanquet

Produced for ABC Innovation by Sam Doust, Tim Bosanquet

Executive Producers, Gabrielle Shaw and Sam Doust

Parts One and Two Narrated by Lucy Bell

Lead User Experience designer, Amy Nelson

Gallery Engine designed and developed by Sam Doust, Amy Nelson and Philip Andrews

Unity 3d development and modelling, Charlie Szasz

3D Art, Modelling and Camera, Reuben Hill

Art direction, photography, graphic design and AV production, Sam Doust

AngularJS & HTML development, Philip Andrews, Daniel Thomson, Tristan Gross

Associate Producers, Victoria Doidge, Christopher Wynton, Rebecca Wyles, Lyndsey Long, Alina Hunter, Kya Blondin and Felicity Abbott

Script Editors, Peter M Walsh and Ruth Fogarty

Timeline Compilation, Amy Nelson and Astrid Scott

Logo design and additional compositing, Dale Smart

Additional early graphic design, Georgie Ibarra

Video Editors, Darrin Baker, Mark Taylor, Dominique Fusy, Danielle Akayan

Cinematographers, Delphine Dumas, Bruce Inglis, Simon Smith

Associate Project Managers, Amy Nelson, Lisa Zhang, Simon Lee, David Noney

Usability Testing & QA Lead, Amy Nelson

Licensing and Rights Management, Ali Edwards

SOH Archives, Diane Veness

ABC Archives Researchers, Guy Tranter, Sarah Watson, Catherine Clare

Composer, Lucy Egger
"Foundation - Classical" (main theme used in Performance and Events)
"Dummy Bidder On My Heart" (Jazz)
"Wake Up" (Rock/Pop Chapter 1)

Audio Mixing for Parts One and Two, Sam Doust
Music used:
The Gymnop�dies, published in Paris starting in 1888, are three piano compositions written by French composer and pianist Erik Satiev
The Chopin nocturnes numbers one and two of 21 short pieces for solo piano written by Fr�d�ric Chopin between 1827 and 1846
The Trio No. 2 in E-flat major for piano, violin, and violoncello, D. 929, was one of the last compositions completed by Franz Schubert, dated November 1827
A Long Night by Shaun Frearson, an original composition in the style of French composer Erik Satie

Audio Mixing and Post Production for Performance and Events and Bennelong Point, Rhys Webb

Podcast Editing, Brianna Peterson, Pip Blackwood

Production Assistant, Hayley Olsson


Parts One and Two, 1954 - 2008

The Story of Sydney Opera House

Sources and Acknowledgements

In writing and compiling the documentary's narrative, I am indebted to the previous writing, meticulous research and fascinating correspondence of many people. Whilst not every aspect of the story of Sydney Opera House is told here, the many excellent sources below provide a deeper analysis of the building and its history.

I would especially like to thank Peter Murray, Jan Utzon, Philip Drew, Anne Watson, Jack Zunz, James Thomas, John Nutt, Philip Nobis, and John Weiley, Joe Srzynzki, Elizabeth Farrelly and Ken Woolley for their time, research and insight into the story of Sydney Opera House and the people who created it.

I would also especially like to thank Yuzo Mikami for his careful documentation of the project through photographs, drawings and descriptions of the time, which can be found in his book, Utzon's Sphere, Sydney Opera House - how it was designed and built as well as part of the collections held by State Library, NSW. Several of Mikami's photographs are reproduced herein.

Research Texts:

The Saga of the Opera House, by Peter Murray

Sydney Opera House as it happened, by Philip Drew

Utzon's Sphere, Sydney Opera House - how it was designed and built, by Yuzo Mikami

Building a Masterpiece, by Anne Watson et al

Ove Arup, by Peter Jones

J�rn Utzon, the Sydney Opera House, by Francoise Fromonot

Letters from Sydney, by Mogens Prip Buus

Reviewing the Performance, Ken Woolley

The Phantom of the Opera House, by Peter Weber

Thank you also to Ruth Thompson et al for recording the Sydney Opera House Oral Histories in the mid 1980s, an invaluable collection of recollections by those involved.

Thank you Ralph Bott, Elias Duek-Cohen, Bronwyn Hannah, John Cahill, Ronald Sharp, Joseph Bertoni, Steven Tsoulakis, Jake DeVries, Bruce Harris.

Sam Doust, November 2012

Part Three: Performance and Events

Thanks to:

ABC Archives
Sydney Opera House Archives and Diane Veness
Sydney Theatre Company
Judith Seef, STC Archives for her fantastic help; formidable knowledge and sheer enthusiasm.
Bangarra Dance Theatre
Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Opera Australia
The Australian Ballet
Bell Shakespeare Company
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
Australian Chamber Orchestra
Debbie Kruger - for giving us the story of Rocktober and being so generous with her time and research. For more on these 70s concerts visit:
Alberts and Son
James Waites for his superlative knowledge of theatre and opera in Sydney and for being such a generous mine of information.
Roy Andrews for supplying crucial Thin Lizzy concert footage
Tony Mott
Sydney Festival
Perth Festival
Sydney Dance Company
Graeme Murphy
Branco Gaica who's photographed so many major performances at the Opera House
Tracey Schramm who's taken so many wonderful photos of major arts performances
City Of Sydney Archives
NITV for generously filming Deborah Cheetham interview
Felicity Abbott - without whom this section may not have existed
All the artists and creators and industry professionals that graciously gave up their time to be interviewed

PHOTOGRAPHERS, Performance and Events

First Public Concerts
Sleeping Beauty photos courtesy of Australian Ballet archives

Official Opening
ABC Archives

Sydney Symphony
Stuart Challender photos courtesy Tracy Schramm
Various Ashkenazy and Sydney Symphony Orchestra photos courtesy Keith Saunders
Hazelwood family courtesy Greg Barrett
Sydney Olympic Arts Festival - Richard Weinstein
Main hero images of orchestra all Brendan Read

Opera Australia
All photos Emma Matthews in Lucia di Lammermoor courtesy Branco Gaica
All photos of Emma Matthews in Lulu Photographer - Jeff Busby
Anke Hoppner and Emma Matthews in Love Of The Nightingale - Photography Keith Saunders
HOSH'S La Traviata All photos by Lisa Tomasetti. except Death Scene With White Fireworks photo by Ben Symons
Magic Flute - all photos by Geoff Walsh
A Streetcar Named Desire - all photos by Branco Gaia
Don Giovanni - all photos by Branco Gaia
Bliss - all photos by Branco Gaia

Sydney Theatre Company
A Cheery Soul 1979 all images Branco Gaia
A Cheery Soul 2000 all images H Lohr and Belvoir Theatre
The Sunny South 1980 all images Peter Holderness
Pig Iron People - all images B Boardman
Season At Sarsparilla - all images T. Kelley
The Sunshine Club - all images Tracey Schramm
Tartuffe - all images Tracy Schramm
The Perfectionist all images D Del Favero
Chinchilla - all images D Del Favero
Emerald City - all photos Branco Gaia
No Names No Pack Drill - all photos Branco Gaia

Australian Ballet
Artists of The Australian Ballet and Bangarra Dance Theatre Warumuk - in the dark night, photo by JEFF BUSBY 2368
Graeme Murphy's Swan Lake - photos by Jeff Busby
Christine Walsh and David Ashmole in Maina Gielgud's The Sleeping Beauty photograph Anthony Crickmay
Simone Goldsmith and Steven Heathcote Swan Lake 2002 Photo by Jim McFarlane
Artists of The Australian Ballet in The Nutracker 1994 photo Jim McFarlane
Ella Havelka and Jake Mangakahia, Warumuk - in the dark night, photo by JEFF BUSBY
Christine Walsh and David Ashmole in Maina Gielgud's The Sleeping Beauty photograph Anthony Crickmay
Lucinda Dunn in RITES Photo Jim McFarlane 2006
Luiette Aldous and Frank Croese in The Sleeping Beauty Act 1 photograph courtesy of The Australian Ballet archives
Merry Widow 1975 photo David Parker-1
Sian Stokes as Carabosse, The Sleeping Beauty, The Australian Ballet. Photography Athony Crickmay.
Sidney Saltner in RITES Photo Jim McFarlane 2006
Hero images: Ty King and Amy Harris photos Georges Antoni
Hero images: Amber Scott and Adam Bull photos Georges Antoni

Australian Chamber Orchestra
All hero images courtesy of Jon Frank
Richard Tognetti solo courtesy Helen White

Famous Visitors
Rogues Gallery photo - Jamie Williams

Dean Photographics - full choir hero shots Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
Chorus 2009 - photo by Jamie Williams
Oedipus Rex and Symphony of Palms 2009 - photo by Jamie Williams
Theme Media - individual chorister shots Sydney Philharmonia Choirs

Bangarra dance Theatre
Bangarra ID 035 courtesy Jeff Busby
Fire: A Retrospective Photo Jason Capobianco
Spirit 2011 - Sidney Saltner - Photo by Leo Bonne
Ceremony-Spirit. Kathy Marika-Photo-Leo Bonne

Bell Shakespeare
The Comedy Of Errors (2002) - All photos by Heidrun Lohr
Servant Of Two Masters (2004) - All photos by Heidrun Lohr
Venus and Adonis - Jeff Busby

Thin Lizzy photos Bob King
Thin Lizzy footage provided by Roy Andrews
Marcia Hines and Sherbert photos PJ Studios
Various crowd shots Sydney Festival 1978
Stevie Wright studio shots - Albert and Son
Easybeats live - Albert and Son
Hard Road b/w photograph by John Stewart and courtesy of Albert and Son

New Orleans photos by Prudence Upton
Sonny Rollins photos by Prudence Upton
All remaining jazz photos courtesy ABC archives, Sydney Opera House and Perth Festival

Crowded House
All photos courtesy of Tony Mott

Crowded House photos Tony Mott
You Am I photos Tony Mott
Custard photos Tony Mott
Marcia Hines and Sherbet photos PJ Studios
Divinyls photo Tony Mott
Paul McCartney photo Tony Mott
Bjork photos taken by Prudence Upton
Nick Cave photo taken by Trent O'Donnell

Indigenous Events
Olympic Arts Festival 1998 -04 Tim Cole
Corroboree 2000 - Tracey Schramm

Beyond Opera
Bjork audience photos taken by Prudence Upton
b/w 1970s festival crowd shots courtesy Sydney Festival

Talking Heads
FODI 2010_Lenore Skenazy_2_Credit Prudence Upton.
Robertson and Derschowitz FODI2010_Credit Prudence Upton_7
Stephen Fry on stage, close up. credit Andy Baker

Some Great Moments
SOH Triathlon photograph Jack Atley

Part Four: Bennelong Point
Thanks to contributors:
Cathy Craigie, Writer/ Journalist
Sally Riley, ABC Indigenous Unit

General thanks to contributors
ABC Archives Team especially Natasha Marfutenko, Sarah Watson, Guy Tranter and Catherine Clare
From State Library NSW, Maggie Patton and Scott Wajon
From ARUP, John Clay, Stuart Bull, Ben Richardson
From SOHT, Chris Linning, Anthony Pollock
Mark Scott, Louise Herron, Angela Clark, Christopher Smyth, Victoria Doidge, Abigail E Thomas, Georgie Ibarra, Dave Fernandes
ABC Radio National