Hidden Treasures: John Olsen's Sydney Opera House Mural

Hidden Treasures: John Olsen's Sydney Opera House Mural
Film Australia
Access fees

The visual diary of John Olsen (1928–2023), preserved in the National Library of Australia, documents his progress on the biggest commission of his career, the Sydney Opera House mural Salute to Five Bells (1973).

Spanning 10 years from 1972, Olsen’s diary follows the evolution of his famous mural, which was inspired by Kenneth Slessor’s epic poem Five Bells (1939), a tribute to a friend who drowned in Sydney Harbour. Slessor’s own 1937 notebook sits alongside Olsen’s diary, detailing the gradual process of constructing an epic poem.

Olsen guides Betty Churcher through the creation of his mural, and the marine world of Sydney Harbour, to reveal another treasure – a hidden corner of the painting rarely seen by the public.

This is an episode of the series Hidden Treasures – Inside the National Library of Australia (2008). In Hidden Treasures, Betty Churcher presents an insider’s guide to some of the little known and rarely displayed art treasures held by the National Library.

A Film Australia National Interest Program in association with Early Works. Produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. With special thanks to the National Library of Australia.