We were among the first to arrive at Dawes Point that Saturday morning to witness the opening of the Sydney Opera House.

Mum was prepared for the long haul. Thermos, rug, sandwiches, cakes. We were going to witness history and Colleen loved the Queen.

We settled on a prime spot on the grass near the water, looking eastwards across Sydney Cove to the glistening white new building on Bennelong Point. My brother Ken joined us later, after cricket.

All of Sydney, it seemed, was excited by the royal visit. Preparations were chronicled in the local newspapers. One article reported on concerns over the ‘gruelling’ schedule planned for Her Majesty.

Would Her Majesty be able to cope with the weather conditions? How on earth was the Queen (then only aged 47) going to deal with the many steps leading up to the royal viewing box? Which performers would play at the royal command performance?

It felt like there were countless televised royal command performances at the Opera House in the 1970s and 1980s. It seemed as though it was always the same performers: pianist Roger Woodward, Paul Hogan, Olivia Newton-John, Peter Allen, and a very dodgy bearded bloke with a wobble board.

Singer Helen Reddy, who had a huge hit with “I am woman” in 1973, appeared at one of these concerts. Royal decorum demanded that Ms Reddy change out of her slinky stage outfit into something more conservative as she lined up with the other celebrities to meet HM after the show.

Many things were happening in Sydney in 1973. Mum also took us to see a new “rock opera” called Jesus Christ Superstar featuring Marcia Hines at the Capitol Theatre at Haymarket. Mum loved musicals.

The scene on the harbour that October day was windy and chaotic. At the time, unlike today, there were no restrictions on pleasure craft entering Sydney Cove. Watercraft were going in all directions.

Boats bounced around and bumped into each other in choppy seas while dodging ferries blasting their horns. A catamaran boat capsized amid the tumult. At one point an amphibious car floated by. Pink streamers on the Opera House strained and fluttered in the wind.

There were military helicopters and the RAAF’s new F1-11 jets screamed across the sky. Fire boats sprayed jets of water. It was all very exciting for a young boy from the burbs.

In accordance with the times, there was little acknowledgement of First Nations peoples on the day. No Welcome to Country. A guy purporting to be the spirit of Bennelong played a didgeridoo on top of one of the Opera House sails.

Jørn Utzon, the Danish architect who designed the building, was not at the opening. Utzon, who won an international design competition for the opera house in 1957, quit the project in 1966 over a dispute with the state government. He vowed never to return to Australia and never did return. He died in 2008.

Utzon remains a revered figure throughout Scandinavia. Norwegian Air carries his image on the tails of their jets.

At a recent public forum at the Opera House, Helen Pitt, author of the authoritative history ‘The House’, said Sydneysiders also owe a huge debt of gratitude to another Scandinavian architect who was on the judging panel at the time.

Finish American Eero Saarinen, apparently unhappy with the choices of his fellow judges, plucked the Utzon design out of the reject pile of entrants, and declared: “Gentlemen, here is your opera house.”

And what an opera house. It is difficult to imagine the city without it. It still has its critics. The design has been derided by some over the years as looking like nuns in a rugby maul, or sea shells stuck in a typewriter. Paul Keating says it’s a work of art, not a work of architecture.

For me it retains its awe. It is a work of beauty, of engineering genius; a poignant symbol of the creativity and promise of an open international city.

Seeing a performance at the Opera House is an event in itself.

Each day any number of overseas visitors can be seen striding along the walkway along East Circular Quay to admire and photograph the building.

In 1973 you could still drive along the route. Her Majesty and the Duke travelled along this road to the Opera House in an open convertible on opening day. We caught momentary glimpses as they arrived to formally open the building.

The band played God Save the Queen. The pink streamers were cut. The Queen managed to climb the steps without injury. We eventually packed up and went home. The catamaran was still upside down.

Read related topics:Queen Elizabeth IISydney

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