Over 50 years the Sydney Opera House has hosted some of the world’s most famous musical acts, has been a stage for countless moments in history and become a canvas for political expression.
From playing host to Oprah Winfrey, Bob Dylan and One Direction, to being the backdrop of visits from royalty, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and a few US presidents.
The opera house has been part of Sydney’s story from its design in 1957 right through to today.
Here are five of its most memorable moments.
A royal opening
After construction began in 1959, involving more than 10,000 workers at a final cost of $7 million, the Opera House was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on October 20, 1973.
In gale force winds, the Queen stood on a makeshift stage on the forecourt facing the building, alongside Prince Phillip, then NSW premier Sir Robert Askin, and other dignitaries.
It was reported that stones were placed in the hem of her dress to prevent it from being lifted by the blustery conditions.
And that she had worn a wattle brooch made from hundreds of diamonds from around the world — a gift during her trip in 1954 from Sir Robert Menzies, who was the-then prime minister.
The celebrations were kicked off by a helicopter fly past and fireworks and were watched by an estimated million-strong crowd along the foreshore.
Festivities included the Lardil dancers, an Indigenous dance troupe from Mornington Island in Queensland, along with a marching band and a barrage of boat horns from thousands watching on flotillas and ferries.
After her speech, the Queen walked up the Opera House steps stopping to shake hands and greet well-wishers.
She has visited the iconic site four times since that day.
In 2006, Her Majesty was again called upon to open a new colonnade on the western side of the building, in what she jokingly said was: “My second opening ceremony”.
“When in October 1973 I opened this building, it was universally agreed that the opera house was something more than a performing arts centre, more than a great work of architecture,” she said at the time.
The freedom fighter
In October 1990 a newly freed Nelson Mandela chose the Sydney Opera House steps as the location of one of his first major speeches after his release from prison.
The anti-apartheid hero, who would go on to become South Africa’s first black president, spoke to a crowd of 40,000 people about forgiveness and thanked Australia for opposing apartheid.
Earlier he had become emotional while listening to a local choir’s stirring rendition of pan-African liberation song Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika (Lord Bless Africa), which would later become part of South Africa’s national anthem after the end of apartheid.
The famous farewell
It’s the stuff of legends.
On a Sunday evening in 1996, up to 150,000 people crammed into the opera house forecourt to say goodbye to Crowded House, one of Australia’s most beloved bands, while tens of thousands more lined the harbour foreshore to listen.
Mark Hart, Paul Hester, Neil Finn and Nick Seymour had decided to mark their break-up with one last show, which was also broadcast live across Australia.
A full moon hung over the harbour city as the band played its greatest hits, many of which became giant singalongs that echoed around the harbour.
The concert closed with the band’s signature song Don’t Dream It’s Over before fireworks lit up the sky.
A bold message
In March 2003, two peace activists protesting against the Iraq War scaled the building’s famous sails.
They then got out a roller and a tin of red paint and emblazoned the words “No War” in giant block letters on the building.
By coincidence, it happened at the same time as the-then US president George W Bush was addressing the American public about the war, and images of the protest were beamed around the world.
The two protesters — Dave Burgess and Will Saunders — were later convicted of malicious damage, sentenced to nine months of periodic detention, and ordered to pay the opera house’s $151,000 cleaning bill.
The Dunlop Volley sneakers the men were wearing when they climbed the building, along with the red paint and roller, were later displayed at the Australian War Museum as part of an exhibition about the Iraq War.
In 2010 the Opera House steps became a sea of flesh, as 5,200 naked members of the public transformed the landmark into a surreal scene for one of photographer Spencer Tunick’s most famous photographs.
Those taking part braved a breezy morning as they shed their clothes for a 90-minute photo shoot, which had been commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
The photographer, who is known for taking snaps of naked crowds in iconic locations around the world, said the project was about sending a positive message about acceptance and embracing freedom in an equal society.
So many more moments
Muggera, an Aboriginal dance troupe from Western Sydney won a $20,000 prize for an Indigenous dance competition held at the opera house in 2019. (Supplied: Jaimi Joy)
In 2016, the opera house forecourt became the spot of an epic showdown between good and evil. Domenic Pace, who has cystic fibrosis, wanted to be a superhero and with the help of Make-A-Wish the city was transformed for the day. (ABC News: Lucy Marks)
Fans waved Iron Boy as he defeated Ultron. (ABC News: Lucy Marks)
In 2014, Prince William and Catherine Duchess of Cambridge met with the then-NSW Governor Marie Bashir, with a throng of adoring fans close by. (ABC News: Lawrence Champness)
Speaking of royalty, The Wiggles have performed on the Opera House stage many times since they formed in 1991, including for an Australia Day concert in 2015. (AAP: Joel Carrett)
Members RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa from Wu-Tang Clan performed in 2018. (Supplied: Daniel Boud)
Oprah Winfrey filming her show at the Sydney Opera House in December 2010 with Terri Irwin, daughter Bindi and son Robert. (AAP: Tracey Nearmy)
Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti sing during a concert at Sydney Opera House Concert Hall in 1983. (Supplied: Don McMurdo performing arts collection, National Library of Australia)
Even when it was shrouded in the Black Summer bushfire smoke, the Opera House remained a focal point for the state. (AAP: Joel Carrett)
Thousands of people watched athletes cross the finish line in 30 degree heat for the Sydney marathon this year. (ABC News: Keana Naughton)
Workers install fireworks on the Sydney Opera House in 2013, ahead of the New Year’s Eve fireworks. It was the first time in a decade fireworks were put on the Opera House for the night. (ABC News: Nicole Chettle)
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