EXCERPT FROM "UTZON: THE STORY"
The Askin government had
recently been elected to run NSW, and the new Minster in charge of the Opera House, David Hughes, was very conscious of the
great blow-out in costs. Utzon had been spending money, quite legitimately, for materials to do the job, but had not been
getting formal approval.
When Hughes came to office,
Utzon presented him with a bill for 100,000 dollars for these materials, and Hughes refused to pay because they had not been
approved. This situation was made worse because Utzon insisted on having a certain type of plywood for the concert theatre,
because it reflected sound in a favourable way. Again Hughes refused, saying the same effect could be achieved by less costly
Of course, this was just
what the public was told. There were probably other matters as well. In any case, Utzon resigned. For about ten days, Premier
Askin talked with the two men, trying to find a middle way. They ended up having another meeting. For a while it seemed that
the two above problems could be fixed, but Hughes insisted that Utzon surrender his one-man control of the project, and in
future be directed by a committee of architects and accountants. Utzon refused, not surprisingly, and so his resignation stood.
UTZON: THE PUBLIC REACTION
Let me say first up that
there was huge interest in what was going on. The nation’s newspapers were flooded with Letters, and radio and TV was
full of all sorts of stories, some of them true. The SMH on two days devoted two
entire Letters pages to the story, with liberal column space on a dozen other days.
The range of opinions was
vast. Some would have supported Utzon if had built an Ark. Other hated everything about him, including the manner of his selection
in the first place. In between, more rational writers regretted the cost blow-out, and some blamed his wild dreaming for this.
Others said that he was brilliant, and that given a unique edifice would grace Sydney for all time, cost should be no object. Then others said that surely it was the expert Utzon who should decide on technical
matters such as plywoods, and that Hughes should stick to politics.
In any case, let me pick
out just a few Letters to show their diversity.
The plans for the Taj Mahal were prepared by a council of architects from India, Persia, Central Asia and beyond, but that
did not prevent it from being a very fine and successful building.
So far as giving Mr Utzon carte blanche is concerned,
that would be ridiculous. In inquiring into costs and procedures for which he must ultimately take responsibility, the Minister
for Public Works, Mr Hughes, was only doing his duty.
Letters. Once again political power-juggling, professional jealousy and narrow-minded bureaucracy
are driving a man of genius from our midst. Thirty years ago it was Walter Burley Griffin and now it is Utzon.
We are trying to break the man, a creative architect
of world reputation, and to spoil his work, one of the great buildings of our time.
But no doubt in 20 years, when a lot of water will
have washed past the Opera House, and today’s politicians will have been forgotten, we will make amends and, as with
Griffin, honour Utzon on one of our postage stamps. For such is the size of our vision.
Letters. From the turning of the first sod of soil on two acres of Sydney’s fast disappearing
parklands, till the present, the whole scheme has been a colossal and disgraceful waste of public money and resources. The
method of raising the money, 100,000 Pound lotteries, is morally doubtful and already has been directly responsible for one
murder that we know of.
Surely now is the time to stop work on this monument
to irresponsible Government spending, and channel the money so saved into essential services. A few that come easily to mind,
more so lately as we’ve heard so much about the shortage of money for them, are the Eastern Suburbs railway, sewage
disposal, water supply (all over the State), country roads and teacher training.
It is obvious by now that to start this Benelong
Point project was a mistake. It is time for the Government to be honest with itself and admit it, and stop work on it before
any more hard cash is swallowed up.