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The Hon Peter Garrett AM MP
Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts

State memorial service for Jørn Utzon

Speech
Sydney Opera House
25 March 2009

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Your Excellency the Administrator of the Commonwealth of Australia, Professor Marie Bashir; Premier Nathan Rees; Mr Kim Williams (Chairman, Sydney Opera House Trust); Richard Evans (Chief Executive, Sydney Opera House); distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is my great pleasure to represent the Prime Minister in paying tribute to Jørn Utzon and his creative genius.

As we gather here at one of the world's most recognised and loved buildings - a building that would not have existed without his vision - I would particularly like to thank Jan and Lin Utzon for being with us today.

The Sydney Opera House is, indisputably, one of the most iconic places in Australia. In global terms it ranks alongside other places that are universally treasured such as the Taj Mahal, the ancient Pyramids of Egypt, and is listed on both Australia's National Heritage List and the World Heritage List; something I'll speak more about later.

In the 36 years it has presided over Sydney Harbour, more than 100 million visitors from all around the world have seen the Opera House's billowing white sails first hand.

Visitors marvel at its beauty and are struck by its unique design.

In January 1957, Jørn Utzon, a 38-year old architect from Denmark was declared the competition winner to design what was called at the time "The National Opera House".

Right from the start the project had a high international profile, and more than 220 final entries were received from 32 countries.

The competition jury showed remarkable foresight in their conviction that Jørn Utzon's design was '...capable of being one of the great buildings of the world'. How right they were.

The spectacular and dramatic design was far ahead of its time, with the floating, shell-like structures anchored by a massive podium with sweeping stairs.

We know that Jørn Utzon drew inspiration from the harbour setting, and he envisaged the shell-like entities as a sculpture that would be viewed from all angles - from water, land and air.

Since the opening of the Opera House in 1973 this magnificent building has deservedly won accolades and awards for its design and its creator, from all around the world.

And in 2005 the Sydney Opera House received our nation's highest heritage honour with its inclusion in Australia's National Heritage List.

It was listed for its significance in the course of Australia's cultural history; for its technical accomplishment unparalleled in Australia; and, as a cultural icon that has no counterpart in our nation.

And its reputation extends well beyond our shores. In 2007 it became Australia's 17th World Heritage site, joining iconic Australian places such as the Great Barrier Reef, Uluru and Kakadu.

The Sydney Opera House was listed under the World Heritage criterion for representing a masterpiece of human creative genius, an honour it truly deserves.

In addition to its physical beauty, the Sydney Opera House has also played a major role in the development of Australia's artistic and cultural identity.

It is home to some of our premier performing arts groups including the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, The Australian Ballet and Opera Australia. Indeed I'm proud to say that I too have had the unforgettable opportunity to perform here some years ago - I cherish the thrill of walking out first time onto the Opera House stage.

The simple fact is the Opera House has come to be recognised throughout the world as one of the defining symbols of Sydney and Australia.

As a nation today we pause to say thank you to Jørn Utzon for giving form to a shared vision for modern Australia.

To Jan and Lin Utzon I would like to extend the gratitude of the Australian nation and express our sympathy for the loss to your family and the world's architectural community, following Jørn Utzon's passing.

Australia will always honour the influence your great father has had on our culture, our history and the evolution of Sydney - and particularly his contribution in adding this remarkable jewel, this truly iconic building which our nation greatly values and holds dear.

Thank you.

Commonwealth of Australia