Sydney Opera House c1969

Almost 40 years ago I had my first tour of the Sydney Opera House. At that time it was still under construction: the gigantic 'sails' were up and the millions of tiles already gleamed in the sun. The interior, however, was still just an empty shell. Scaffolding, construction workers and all manner of equipment filled the echoing space... but in some ways, those empty shells were more exciting then than they are now with their 'design by committee' interior imposed by the philistine, cost-cutting NSW government of the time. Then, as now, it is the exterior which justifies the Opera House's reputation as arguably the greatest building of the 20th Century.

These photographs were taken using my beloved Rolleiflex camera which, because the format is 6x6cm (we used to say '2 1/4 square') negatives, prompted me to take square-ish pictures. The negatives were long-forgotten until recently when I saw some of the photographs taken by Max Dupain, also in 1969 and, inspired, I unearthed my negative, scanned them, and edited them in Adobe Photoshop to produce the present images. So these are digital photographs taken with a film camera!

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Sydney Opera House 2008

I have been on four guided tours of the Sydney Opera House, roughly once a decade, and was privileged to be present at the formal Opening Ceremony. Of course I have been back many times to attend concerts, some more memorable that others, including the 'running in' of the grand organ as well as the occasional opera. Recently, my partner Pedro and I went on what was my fourth tour. He had never been inside the building before so perhaps he was more impressed than I have been over the years with its rather pedestrian (I am inclined to say 'beige') interior... But the exterior still thrills.

On this latest tour, I tried to re-take photographs from similar positions as in 1969, but it proved mostly impossible: where we walked on concrete floors back then, these days there are stairs and purple carpets and huge glass windows preventing an exact replication. These are truly digital photographs, taken on this occasion with my 'travel camera', my Lumix, with its wonderful Leica lens. Although of course taken in full colour, I have shown them here in black and white, the better to compare with those of forty years ago.

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In Nanna's Garden

When my kids were little we lived next door to their great-grandparents, Mr and Mrs GA Duncan in Terrey Hills. In the early 1960s, Terrey Hills was very much an outer suburb of Sydney where most of the inhabitants lived on small farms and market gardens. The Duncans had moved there in the mid-1930s and in the interim, Nan (as we called Mrs Ruby Duncan) had transformed their 10 acres of land into a rambling, bush garden. There were palms and gigantic yuccas and (to my great delight) brilliant bromeliads, fruit trees and roses, as well as local natives, including acacias and banksias and 'Mountain Devils' (Lambertia spp) and of course, age-old eucalypts. Meandering through this romantic confusion were paths and by the time we lived there the occasional tumble-down shed the kids used as cubby houses.

It was not only our children who played there: often, especially on week-ends and during school holidays, kids we labelled collectively 'cousins' (they were mostly cousins once or twice removed) came there to play. Most loved to pose for my camera, all gists for the exhibition mill and camera club competitions. However, none of these photographs were ever shown: I found them when I found the old Opera House negatives and nostalgia got the better of me...

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Kupang kids '73

In 1973 I returned to Australia after a visit to Java and Bali via the island of Timor. I stayed for a while with a friend in Kupang, the capital of Indonesian (or now, West) Timor. One of the joys of Kupang was the fact I could talk with little kids. I only speak Bahasa Indonesia but in Java and Bali, children did not learn the National Language until they went to school. In Kupang, however, the regional language is the same lingua franca from which the National Language was derived. Just about everywhere I went I was surrounded by droves of chattering little ones, all wanting to pose for my cameras. Those kids of course most likely now have kids of their own and some, like me, might even be grandparents...

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Dili and Beyond: East Timor 1973

In 1973 I came home after a visit to Indonesia via what was then styled Portuguese Timor and which is now the independent nation of East Timor. I was only there for a few days, first in Dili, the capital, and later, in Bacau where I caught my plane to Darwin. I spoke no Portuguese in those days and could not understand the local indigenous language. Happily, one of the brothers who ran the small hotel in which I stayed in Dili spoke Indonesian and I also met a Portuguese national serviceman who spoke a little English - there were then over 6,000 national servicemen stationed in the colony, bored stupid with nothing to do except thank their lucky stars they had not been sent to Angola where a war of independence was then being fought. Dili was very quiet, the main street almost deserted most of the time. I marvelled at the memorial to Henry the Navigator and wandered up and down the beach front... there was not much else to do except on market day when the town came alive. After a bumpy ride in a rather old bus to Bacau, I spent the night in Mr Moh's small hotel which was very full, this being the night before the flight to Darwin. It was so full, I had to share my room with a Portuguese soldier who, as it happened, spoke French and so, before retiring, we shared a bottle of Mateus Rosé and an excellent dinner. Dinner was mostly a tasty stew made, Mr Moh gleefully told me, only at that time of year when the young billygoats were castrated!

Now, 35 years later, I fear that much of what I enjoyed in East Timor might not have survived, first the Indonesian occupation which took place not long after I left, and then the violence and bloody strife which accompanied independence?

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