Building the Opera House

Monday March 19, 2012 Written by wilfred

When World War II finished, the economy was down throughout Europe; so in 1955 five of my brothers came to Australia. After a while I started to get a jealous; I missed my brothers! I left Greece in March of 1964 and arrived on April 7 on a passenger boat with 1200 people. When our boat arrived I saw the Opera House under construction. I thought this was a building from outer space!

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In June of 1968 I got a job at the Opera House. My brothers asked how it was and I said, "fantastic!" so four of them came to work there with me. They worked as a concrete mixer operator, a time keeper, a foreman and on epoxy for the tiles. I supplied scaffolding for 140 scaffolders. I was the oldest at the time, 23! In Greece I had been a suit tailor, but I tried something different and it was good.

When the original architect, Jørn Utzon, left he took the ideas with him; everything was in his mind. We had so much confusion. We had to face 52 architects from one day to the other. The only things you could hear inside were jackhammers - to demolish, to build up and the next day, to demolish again. During construction we had quite a few strikes. We were proud that we won holidays, sick days and wet weather days, because we were working outside in the wintertime.

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Many things changed from the original plan. The foyers were supposed to be bigger. The opera theatre was supposed to be the concert hall, and the concert hall was supposed to be the opera theatre. Utzon's idea was for seats in the concert hall to go all the way to the wall and to have windows looking out at the water. The way it was finished, they put in an exterior hallway outside the seats. It meant that from some of the seats and balconies, you couldn't see the stage! No one would pay to see the opera if they couldn't see all of the stage. So they switched the opera theatre and the concert hall. With all the confusion we were thinking at the end this building would end up being a fish market! But when everything settled down, I was feeling very proud.

When it was finished in 1974, the engineer said, 'We need people like you to continue the routine maintenance because you know about the building, and we don't want to lose that.' I've continued to do maintenance here ever since. Ninety percent of the concrete units that form the Opera House arches are hollow. They have a round hatch where I can get in and climb up inside the ridge beam over the arch and come back on the other side. We go up if there are cracks on the epoxy. There are concrete bracing beams that you have to check because if they warp in time they create rust with the moisture and explode the concrete. Several years ago I took one engineer up inside. We found no damage but it was very hard for me because the engineer had claustrophobia. It took two and a half hours to take him there. He changed color! He became yellow.

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Everyone around the world knows the Opera House. I go back to Greece every two years. Last year one of the biggest Greek papers interviewed me on the island of Kalymnos about the Opera House. Nice! I'm very, very proud of the building. That's why I say I feel pain if I see somebody doing vandalism in the Opera House. I wear a short sleeve shirt to work every day, even in winter. That is because my lady – the Opera House – she keeps me warm. You love her and look after her and she will keep you warm.