Opera House & Environs | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Opera House & Environs

Item details

Name of item: Opera House & Environs
Other name/s: Sydney Opera House
Primary address: Bennelong Point, Sydney , NSW 2000
Local govt. area: Sydney
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Bennelong PointSydney Sydney  Primary Address

Statement of significance:

The Sydney Opera House is an icon of twentieth century architecture recognised internationally by its World Heritage Listing in 2007. It is a daring and visionary experiment that had an enduring influence on the architecture. The place has exceptional aesthetic significance for its quality as a monumental sculpture that assumes ever changing qualities through the passage of day, night and seasons and from any one view point to the next, above and around. Its majestic shells, each converging to a singular point and glazed white so that they appear to float above a vast earth coloured platform represents an extraordinary interpretation of its harbour promontory setting, profoundly appropriate in their juxtaposition against the great arch of the harbour bridge and sweeping harbour coves to either side. This sculptural landmark transformed Sydney. The significance of Utzon’s concept is realised in the progression of spatial experience, from the promenade approaches, to ascending the podium tiers, the arrival beneath the majestic soaring shells, enhanced by vistas to the harbour and the city, and the culmination of the cocoon like performance spaces, the whole of which serves to remove the visitor from the mundane to the sublime. The clarity and genius of Jørn Utzon's original design concept and his unique integrated design approach gave impetus to a collective creativity of architects, engineers and builders, maintained throughout an extraordinary 16 years, and posed challenges that forged exceptional achievements in structural engineering and innovative building technology. Although it was Utzon who resolved upon the spherical geometric logic of the shells, Ove Arup's engineering innovations in computer generated modelling and structural analysis, and physical wind tunnel analysis, were pivotal in making Utzon's vision a reality. The sheer scale and the complexity of the design forged innovations in construction technology particularly in component prefabrication and assembly, most notably the precast of the concrete ribs of the shells. The place has significance for its extensive associations with many famous people and important themes in Australian history. Abutting the site of the first European settlement in Australia, it stands on Bennelong Point, Aboriginal land named after a Wangal Aboriginal man and which is of significance in the history of the entanglements and interactions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cultures. Other historic themes include scientific investigation, defence, planning, marine and urban transport and most recently, cultural showcasing. Since its official opening by the Queen in 1973, it has provided an outstanding visual, cultural and tourist focal point for Sydney and Australia, and continues to be the scene of many notable achievements in the performing arts and has acquired associations with many nationally and internationally renowned artistic performers, and the inspiration of leading visual artists and architectural theorists. The foyers are significant for the incorporation of works by Australian artists, John Olsen and Michael Nelson Jamara. (Desgrand and Higham AIA National listing)
Important historical site for contact and initial relations between Governor Phillip and the Bennelong, and later visiting scientific expeditions.
'This significance is intensified by the extensive associations of the site and its structures, including: Aboriginal and European contact (Bennelong and his house), scientific investigation (Flinders and Baudin), defence (Phillips 1788 redoubt to Greenways Fort Macquarie 1817-1901), pictureasque planning (Macquarie to Utzon), Marine & Urban Transport (overseas shipping and local ferry wharves, tram terminal and depot), popular recreation, and finally the nations most famous icon (the Opera House) and its legions of national and international performers.' Kerr 1993, pp28.
For full statement of cultural significance see Kerr 1993 and world heritage listing proposal and report Joan Domicejl.
Date significance updated: 31 May 11
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Physical description: This site contains several above and below ground items. This includes the Man 'o War steps (REP 23 Schedule 5).
The listing covers items such as the sea walls, Bennelong sewer and possible remnants of Fort Macquarie, and former jetties (intertidal zone).
The site has been subject to several archaeological and historical studies including 2 monitoring programs. In 1991 sections of the Bennelong drain were recorded (see inventory no 18), and in between 1986 and 1987 the excavations for the remodelling of the Opera House forecourt were monitored by an archaeologist. This monitoring recorded the fill layers exposed and removed during the demolition of 165 metres of sandstone sea walls (dating between 1879 and 1884) for the construction of the low level walkway and shops. Several artifacts relating to the areas use as a wharf and tram shed were uncovered. These included mooring rings and chains, timber decking from the sea wall.

Further information: Regional Theme: Securing the walls: harbour defence & military establishments. The port of Sydney: trade and industry in the harbour (including shipbuilding). Category:AG_Remnant Category:BG_ArchSite Category:MAR_ArchSite Rating:PartialDisturubance Rating:MinimalDisturubance Rating:SignificantDisturubance ImpactText:for Opera House InSituText:Bennelong sewer ZoningPlan:Yes Assessment:Yes Impact:Yes Monitoring:Yes Partial_X:Yes In_Situ:Yes

Heritage Inventory sheets are often not comprehensive, and should be regarded as a general guide only. Inventory sheets are based on information available, and often do not include the social history of sites and buildings. Inventory sheets are constantly updated by the City as further information becomes available. An inventory sheet with little information may simply indicate that there has been no building work done to the item recently: it does not mean that items are not significant. Further research is always recommended as part of preparation of development proposals for heritage items, and is necessary in preparation of Heritage Impact Assessments and Conservation Management Plans, so that the significance of heritage items can be fully assessed prior to submitting development applications.
Current use: Aboriginal Residential Commercial Government Utilities Military Recreation Scientific (Astronomy)


Historical notes: The "Eora people" was the name given to the coastal Aborigines around Sydney. Central Sydney is therefore often referred to as "Eora Country". Within the City of Sydney local government area, the traditional owners are the Cadigal and Wangal bands of the Eora. There is no written record of the name of the language spoken and currently there are debates as whether the coastal peoples spoke a separate language "Eora" or whether this was actually a dialect of the Dharug language. Remnant bushland in places like Blackwattle Bay retain elements of traditional plant, bird and animal life, including fish and rock oysters.

With the invasion of the Sydney region, the Cadigal and Wangal people were decimated but there are descendants still living in Sydney today. All cities include many immigrants in their population. Aboriginal people from across the state have been attracted to suburbs such as Pyrmont, Balmain, Rozelle, Glebe and Redfern since the 1930s. Changes in government legislation in the 1960s provided freedom of movement enabling more Aboriginal people to choose to live in Sydney.

(Information sourced from Anita Heiss, "Aboriginal People and Place", Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City http://www.cityofsydney.nsw.gov.au/barani )

Bennelong Point has been occupied since the first months of European settlement in Australia; Site of Bennelongs hut 1790-1795. During 1793 the hut was used by the visiting Spanish expedition of Don Alexandro Malsapina, for storing their astronomical instruments. A redoubt was constructed at the point during 1788 under the command of William Dawes. The site was used to take atronomical and other scientific measurements and observations by the Malsapina, and later Nicholas Baudin expedition (1802). The Baudin expedition also camped on the point. A castillated Gothik tower was constructed for Billy Blue in 1812. It functioned as his house.1817-1821 Fort Macquarie was constructed as part of the harbour defense works (architect F Greenway). It was demolished in 1901 and replaced stone tram sheds. These were demolished in 1958 in preparation for the construction of the Opers House. Several wharves and buildings associated with the wharves were also located in the area. Between 1876 and 1884 sandstone sea walls were constructed along the point.
Bibliography continued: J S Kerr Sydney Opera House - Conservation Plan. December 1993. For the Sydney Opera House Trust.
W Thorp. Archaeological assessment Colonial Mutual Site Bennelong Point, Planning Workshop. 1989.
W Thorp. Archaeological report Bennelong Parking Station. Rankine Hill P/L. 1990.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
2. Peopling-Peopling the continent Aboriginal cultures and interactions with other cultures-Activities associated with maintaining, developing, experiencing and remembering Aboriginal cultural identities and practices, past and present. (none)-
8. Culture-Developing cultural institutions and ways of life Creative endeavour-Activities associated with the production and performance of literary, artistic, architectural and other imaginative, interpretive or inventive works; and/or associated with the production and expression of cultural phenomena; and/or environments that have inspired such creative activities. (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The sewer possess scientific significance as an example of mid 19th sewage and drainage technology. It demonstrates contemporary attitudes to health and hygeine (untreated outfall into the harbour) and waste disposal. The sandstone sea walls, Man o' war steps etc and other archaeological items possess high archaeological research and interpretive potential.
SHR Criteria f)
Assessed as rare historicaly Assessed as aesthetically rare. Assessed as socially rare. Assessed as scientifically rare. Assessed as rare by the AHC. Assessed as rare (other).
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Recommended management:

Bibliography (cont). J Kerr, P Spearitt & H Proudfoot. Historical background to Bennelong Point. For Colonial Mutual P/L. ND. W Thorp. Archaeological report Bennelong Point parking station. Rankine and Hill P/L 1990. M Hoekstra. Bennelong Point 1788-1988, a study of a changing landscape, for Micheal Dysart & Partners. 1989. The building should be retained and conserved. A Heritage Assessment and Heritage Impact Statement, or a Conservation Management Plan, should be prepared for the building prior to any major works being undertaken. There shall be no vertical additions to the building and no alterations to the façade of the building other than to reinstate original features. The principal room layout and planning configuration as well as significant internal original features including ceilings, cornices, joinery, flooring and fireplaces should be retained and conserved. Any additions and alterations should be confined to the rear in areas of less significance, should not be visibly prominent and shall be in accordance with the relevant planning controls.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Local Environmental Plan     
Archaeological zoning plan     
Heritage study     

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  E Higginbotham & Associates. Archaeological watching brief during the remodelling of the Opers House forecourt, Sydney NSW. December 1987, for the Department of Public Works NSW. Wendy Thorp. Report on Archaeological monitoring the Bennelong Drain, Sydne
WrittenAnita Heiss Aboriginal People and Place, Barani: Indigenous History of Sydney City

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Local Government
Database number: 2425819

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