Memories of 20 October 1973


WARNING: This article may contain names, images or voices of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

A day to remember

One million people turned out to watch Queen Elizabeth II open Jørn Utzon's Sydney Opera House on 20 October 1973 and many more watched from their lounge rooms.

There had been a massive build-up, with dramas and controversy behind the scenes. The public had watched the House take shape over the 14 years since the ground was first broken at Bennelong Point.

Our new curated collection commemorates the opening 45 years ago, as well as exploring the construction and controversy surrounding the building, today recognised as one of the architectural masterpieces of the 20th century. Here we share a few different viewpoints of the historic ceremony.

Rare footage of the opening

This excerpt from Queen at the Opera House 1973 shows Queen Elizabeth II, a helicopter fly-past, marching bands and a procession of military personnel and people in national costume.

Aboriginal actor Ben Blakeney OAM (1937–2003), one of Bennelong's descendents, welcomes people to the site from the top of the building's tallest sail. Here a narrator recounts his oration: '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.'

Can you see yourself?

The Commonwealth Film Unit (later called Film Australia) chronicled the site's metamorphosis from 1959 to 1973 in its Colour Diary films (number 28 and 41) and The Fifth Facade (1973).

This gallery of photographs showing ordinary people enjoying the day is a selection from the NFSA's Film Australia Collection.

To view: Scroll through the photos using the arrow symbols below. You can select a photograph to see the full image.

A home movie perspective

As well as broadcast and film material of events, the NFSA also collects home movies.

This silent home movie was filmed by amateur cinematographer George Browne.

Learn more

Explore the new Sydney Opera House curated collection to discover memorable performances and watch some of the building's famous friends pay a visit, including Oprah Winfrey, Jackie Chan and Pope John Paul II.