The Outside Story is a dance through the
fraught and contested history of the Sydney Opera House, that prestige icon
sometimes called the building of the century.
Two women – one a naïve middle-aged student, one a questing
unconfident academic – share in the detective work. Around them is a group
of weather-beaten, battling romantic realists, their lives deeply marked by
the old crisis on the building site.
They remember the architect Jørn Utzon’s
thwarted desire for an ‘honest building, a truthful building’ made for a
long future in a hopeful country. They
remember how ambition was betrayed when the architect and his team sere forced
from the site. There was a protest march, the media outcry, the huge meetings.
Arguments were long and bitter; friends became enemies, and among
architects, it was 'brother against brother...".
The story keeps its grip; old men
remember as though it all happened yesterday. Some go on fighting their
rearguard actions to the death. History knocks and demands to be answered; the
rupture in the national icon goes deep. But
this is a comedy; truth, however smothered and abused, in time comes limping
out. For the scholars the puzzles are tangled with everyday chaos of living
family, work and love lives, the limits of control.
We follow them at close quarters as they deal with the memory and
forgetting, secrets and lies, the confusions of the archive – and always,
In The Outside Story, Sylvia Lawson
brilliantly recreates a moment when wider conflicts found a focus in one
symbolic place. This is a powerful and witty intellectual mystery that tracks
the ambitions, politics and passions of a city. It is also a consummate
meditation of a city’s and a country’s becoming.
1. Sea Snake
and others celebrate the building’s 20th anniversary in 1993. The
occasion is disrupted by unseemly reminders of the building-that- should-have-
The Witness Is Part of the Evidence
1987, the student begins research on the building’s history for an
undergraduate thesis. The
memories of living witnesses, who include here father and aunt, are unruly,
all too much alive.
An Expensive Seventies Project
attends to the
exhibition in the building, part of the 1988 national bicentenary program.
Items in the exhibition excite her own memories of the 1960s. She finishes her
The Trouble With Heroes
narrator steps into the foreground, and gets involved in more ways than one.
Work begins on the student’s second thesis; further discoveries are made
about architecture, politics and media. The tow women share teaching on the
subject, and gather their students’ responses.
The Cordelia Factor
important witnesses leave the scene. The
PhD proceeds, and a Cambodian student lights up the Opera House.
The Edge of the Possible
important witness leaves the scene; others continue to ensure that nothing
will be easily forgotten.
About the Author
Sylvia Lawson has published widely on film,
media and cultural politics. She has also written short stories and a film
script and has worked in print and broadcast journalism, in universities and
in the film industry. Her work includes the award-winning The Archibald
Paradox and the recent group of stories and essays How Simone de
Beauvoir Died in Australia. She
is currently an honorary research fellow at the University of Technology,
The Archibald Paradox won a NSW
Premier's award for non-fiction, The FAW Wilkie awards and the ASAL Walter
McCrae Russel award and was described by Edmund Campion in the Bulletin as a
"complex, elegant, passionate work...a distinguished history, a fine
biography and a notable piece of literature."
How Simone de Beauvoir Died in Australia
won the 2003 Gleebooks Award for Literary and Cultural Criticism, as part of
the NSW government's annual suite of literary awards. Mark Davis in The Age's
Best Books of 2002 said: "Sylvia Lawson isn't our Sontag, as someone once
said, so much as Sontag is their Sylvia Lawson". And Professor Ross
Chambers, University of Michigan, has written "As witty as they are
wise, as engaging as they are engaged, these stories and essays are a
tough-minded delight. They strategically assemble the resources of memoir,
scholarship and fiction, into a practice of witness that amounts to an
informal cultural history of Australia over the past half
Yarra, Victoria 3141, Australia
74066 071 4
Opera House: an annotated list of sources