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13 October 2008

Sydney Opera House

JOERN UTZON: It has become such a marvellous building for Australians. The start of it was the most daring and greatest thing. Sometimes in architecture it happens that a daring step into the unknown gives us great gifts for the future.

REPORTER: It's called the eighth wonder of the world, the 20th century's architectural masterpiece. The Sydney Opera House is the internationally recognised symbol of modern Australia. Yet its past is tainted. Its Danish creator Joern Utzon was driven from the building site, his position untenable. A newly elected State Government blamed him for cost blow-outs and long delays.

JOERN UTZON: I didn't leave because I had made errors or because it was too expensive. I left because of the new authority didn't want me.

NARRATOR: 200 years ago, trees and scrub wandered down to the water's edge. Now there's a city. Here close to where the first landing was made, Bennelong Point pushes out into Sydney Harbour. And on this historic thrust of rock is rising a new sort of building, a concept for a home of culture.

REPORTER: As the building took shape on Bennelong Point, it became not only a focal point for Sydney, but also a political target. In 1965, the Coalition defeated Labor and the new Public Works Minister Davis Hughes turned the screw.

DAVIS HUGHES: I doubt very much whether ever the building would've been finished if he'd stayed on.

COMMENTATOR: Well, Utzon didn't in a sense quit. He was forced to leave the site because he had no money left. They had pushed him to the point where the money was in arrears in excess of six months. He never intended for the situation to develop into him being politically sacrificed.

REPORTER 2: Nearly 2,000 people protested publicly in Sydney Town Hall to bring Utzon back. Their mood was a fighting one.

PROTESTOR: I hope it's a success and whoever carries... moves the resolution, that it's carried by a big majority to bring back the architect that designed the job and tell Hughes to go to hell and mind his own blasted business.

REPORTER 2: At the end of the lunchtime meeting, a tape recording was played of Utzon's voice.

JOERN UTZON: This is Joern Utzon. There is, in fact, nothing I would like more than to come back and finish the Opera House as it was conceived.

REPORTER: Protesters demanding the architect be brought back went unheeded. Other architects finished the job, taking seven years to do so and dramatically exceeding the budget. They ignored Utzon's plans for the interior. But the game has now swung Utzon's way, with his son Jan and with the support of his wife Liz, the master architect is back in play.

BOB CARR (NSW PREMIER): The day is really an act of reconciliation.

REPORTER: In May, the New South Wales Government reinforced the Sydney Opera House Trust's decision to reinstate Utzon. It committed around $70 million to updating the building. 45 years on, Joern Utzon is as excited now as he was in 1957 on the day a telephone call alerted him that his daring design had beaten off more than 200 others to win the international competition.

JOERN UTZON: I have the Opera House in my head like a composer has his symphony. He can any time go into the symphony and hear it.