26 September 2023

The Opera House: The extraordinary story of the building that symbolises Australia the people, the secrets, the scandals and the sheer genius

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Peter FitzSimons, Hachette Australia, $39.99.

Australia’s most iconic building – The Opera House in Sydney – is recognised around the world for its architectural grandeur, along with the daring and innovation of its design.

Entranced by the idea of doing the biography of a building, the wonder of this iconic masterpiece was always in the mind of Peter FitzSimons. It’s “so fresh, so sparkling, so different, so … extraordinary!”

Located on the banks of Sydney Harbour on what is now called Bennelong Point, this exemplary house also holds many sorrows, secrets and scandals. In this captivating and immaculately researched 560-page biography, FitzSimons not only exposes these enigmas, but marvels at how this magnificent building came to be, details its enthralling history and reveals the dramatic stories about the people whose lives were affected by its presence, both negatively and positively.

Ambition, dispossession, betrayal, professional rivalry, sexual intrigue, murder, bullying and breakdowns are woven into the creation of this masterpiece of human ingenuity. The Opera House shares the extraordinary stories connected to this

building that are as spellbinding as the light catching on its white sails.

Designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon, but completed by an Australian architectural team headed by Peter Hall, the Sydney Opera House was officially opened in October 1973. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site on 28 June 2007.

Even though this is a history, FitzSimons wants it to read like a novel so that you – the reader – “will feel like you are in the story, not merely reading about it.” To do that, he put “the whole thing” in the present tense, and uses dialogue that is backed up by 1,700 footnotes as the pinpoint pillars on which the story rests.

While the historian tells you what happened, the novelist tells you what it felt like, but only you can judge whether the journalist, columnist and one of Australia’s best-selling non-fiction writers managed to pull it off.

When was the Opera House in Sydney declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site? If the answer is correct, you could be one of two winners to get a copy of The Opera House. Entries should be sent to [email protected] by Monday, 18 April 2022. Names of the winners will be announced in Frank Cassidy’s PS-sssst…! column on 19 April 2022.

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