Sydney Opera House 45th Anniversary: National Film & Sound Archive Tribute

The National Film and Sound Archive of Australia (NFSA) is marking the 45thanniversary of the Sydney Opera House with a new online collection, featuring rare footage from its first ever performances and official opening, as well as documentaries and news stories chronicling the history of Australia’s most iconic building – from 1957 through to today.

This online collection is available permanently on the NFSA website,

The Sydney Opera House was officially opened on 20 October 1973, 14 years after construction began. It holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Australians and is an internationally recognised symbol for Australia.

Built on the land of the Gadigal clan of the Eora nation, Danish Architect Jørn Utzon designed the multi-venue performing arts centre after winning a competition in 1957. One of the 20th century’s most famous buildings, the Opera House became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

In a 1971 documentary (included in the collection) Utzon said that although he designed the plans without ever visiting Sydney he was inspired by Sydney’s stunning headlands: ‘One could not design a building for such an exposed position without paying attention to the roof. One could not have a flat roof filled with ventilation pipes. In fact one must have a fifth facade which is just as important as the other facades.’

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Highlights available in the collection include:

  • A 1957 newsreel about the architectural design ‘controversy’ and the public exhibition of the 217 entries at the National Art Gallery, and documentaries about the House made before its completion
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  • Opening day footage featuring Queen Elizabeth II and Aboriginal actor Ben Blakeney OAM, a descendant of Bennelong, welcoming people on top of one of the sails: ‘I am Bennelong. And my spirit, and the spirit of my people lives. And their dance, their music and their drama and their laughter also remains.’
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  • The first ever singer performing at the Opera House site: Paul Robeson singing for workers in 1960. This is a different version from the footage available on YouTube. Also included, the first female musician: Pianist WinifredAtwell playing Waltzing Matilda (wearing a hard hat) in 1964.
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  • A selection of photos featuring the enthusiastic (and very well-dressed!) crowds on opening day. Can you recognise these Sydneysiders? Are you one of them? Let us know!
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  • Some of the House’s countless famous visitors over the years from Pope John Paul II and Oprah Winfrey to Crowded House, Jackie Chan and Dame Joan Sutherland.

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