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As a bitter feud flares over the Opera House, remember how the building brought Aussies together

As a bitter feud flares over the Opera House, remember how the building brought Aussies together

A bitter feud between politicians, Sydneysiders, shock-jock Alan Jones and the Opera House has raged over the weekend as the NSW government forces the heritage-listed building to agree to project an advertisement for a horse race onto its iconic sails.

The House agreed to project the colours of the jockeys in the race onto the building, but refused to go as far as projecting horses’ names and the logo of the event.

But the government has forced the Opera House to comply with the promoters of the race and project the full advertisement.

Punters from all corners of Australia have weighed in on the fracas. Alan Jones lambasted Opera House manager, Louise Herron, for her reluctance to let the full projection play out on the sails, and called for her sacking. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said controversially, ‘What not put [the advertisement] on the biggest billboard we have?'

Conversely, a change.org petition has gathered over 130,000 signatures from Australians dismayed at the idea. Protesters are planning to gather around the Opera House and shining torches onto the building in the hopes of cancelling out the projection.

As the country quarrels, author Kristina Olsson remembers the initial controversy of the Opera House – which was known as the building that would never be completed – and recalls how the construction of the house brought Sydneysiders of all stripes together.

‘The men working on the Opera House, especially the migrants, so many of them loved it from the very beginning,’ Kristina told Good Reading.

Last week Kristina launched Shell, her novel set in the mid-1960s around the construction of the House. The novel investigates the era of protest and our changing cultural identity. As politicians sought to foster fear and division as they sent conscripted young men to war in Vietnam, the Opera House was a uniting force for many ordinary Australians, says Kristina.

‘There was division being engineered between different groups of people. The Opera House represented the opposite of that. Because here are these people, of all different nationalities, who 20 years before had been shooting at each other, and here they were somehow forging not just work-day acquaintances, but friendships. They’d left that war behind and somehow been able to recreate themselves in this place.’

Her novel centres on the Opera House as a symbol of a changing Australia, and the construction of a building that put Sydney on the world map. 

‘Why would you come to Australia in the 60s? Kangaroos I suppose. But you wouldn’t ever say in the 60s that you came for a cultural experience. You’d come for drinking beer and lying on the beach. The Opera House changed all that.

‘Even if you don’t ever go inside and hear an opera or see a piece of theatre, it’s a cultural moment when you feel something around that building.’

Read our full cover story about Kristina Olsson's Shell.