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Sydney May 21, 1988 - Sydney Opera House highlights activities

By Bob Van Leer

OperaHouseBridge  (SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, May 21, 1988) - The standout today was attending a performance at the famed Sydney Opera House. The Sydney Philharmonic Choir and the Elizabethan Philharmonic Orchestra performed Dvorak's Requiem Op. 89. There were about 160 in the choir and 70 in the orchestra.

  The opera house itself is worth a visit. It was originally estimated to cost $7 million but 17 years after construction began it was completed in 1973 at a cost of $102 million. It was paid for by a lottery so the taxpayers didn't suffer for the construction. However, the state (New South Wales) government pays 40 percent of the operating cost.

  For the money the state got what is, in effect, the symbol of Australia, so maybe it is a bargain after all. Hardly any story about Australia is complete without a picture of the opera House with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background.

  In the morning we took a boat tour of Sydney Harbor, which our guide says is the largest natural harbor in the world. The harbor is busy; the major seaport for the east coast of Australia and a naval base as well. Yet the harbor is attractive, unlike some other ports we have seen. There is a great deal of open space around the harbor including right downtown. The opera house itself is on a point jutting into the harbor just a couple of blocks from downtown.

  Sydney is about the same distance from the equator as Los Angeles and has a similar climate, without the smog. The city has 3.5 million population, more than the state of Oregon, and was founded Jan. 26, 1788. Captain James Cook first sighted the east coast of Australia in 1770 and in 1787 a fleet sailed from England to Australia with 1030 men and women aboard; 736 of them convicts. These people were the start of white settlement in Australia.

  Australia is celebrating its bicentennial and 200 years is long enough for the stigma to have gone away, so it is now a bragging point to be descended from one of the original convicts in the First Fleet. England had shipped its convicts to what is now the United States, but after the American Revolution needed a new prison colony.

  From the harbor the amount of new construction is more apparent. Sydney is in the midst of a tremendous building boom. Downtown is full of holes cut into the sandstone that the city is built on and shortly these homes will be new high rise buildings. But a lot of the older buildings are being saved and renovated also.

  This is not a trip on which to lose weight. We are being fed well, probably too well. Our hotel, the Sydney Regent, serves a breakfast buffet that starts with a selection of juices and champagne. Then there is a table of various pastries and breads. New to us is that toast is no longer served but you make your own. There is a heated tunnel with a conveyor in it. You select the kind of bread you prefer, toss it on the conveyor and your toast comes out the other end.

  Another table contains a variety of fruits, including tropical fruits. Eggs are available, scrambled, scrambled with salmon and chives and eggs benedict. Meat courses include lamp chops, sausages, bacon and ham.

  Tomorrow our schedule calls for a bus tour of the Hawkesbury River, billed as the most beautiful river in Australia.

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