In this first episode of Biographers in Conversation, Peter FitzSimons chats with Gabriella about the choices he made while writing The Opera House, the gripping biography of Sydney Opera House, one of the world’s most iconic buildings.

Peter FitzSimons describes how he learned about complex architectural and engineering concepts then translated this dense technical information into an enthralling narrative. He also outlines the novelistic devices he employed to create propulsive narrative and why he wrote the book in present rather than past tense.· Peter explains why the narrative includes so much dialogue and so many excerpts from parliamentary debates, minutes of meetings, correspondence and media coverage and why he makes ironic comments throughout the story. He also reveals why he ended The Opera House with an epilogue that describes what happened to the major characters after Sydney Opera House opened.

On a sacred site on the land of the Gadigal people, Tubowgule, a place of gathering and storytelling for over 60,000 years, now sits the Sydney Opera House. It is a breathtaking building recognised around the world as a symbol of modern Australia. Along with the Taj Mahal and other World Heritage sites, it is celebrated for its architectural grandeur and the daring and innovation of its design.

But this stunning house on what is now called Bennelong Point also holds many sorrows, secrets and scandals. In this fascinating and impeccably researched biography, Peter FitzSimons exposes these secrets, marvels at how this magnificent building came to be, details its enthralling history and reveals the dramatic stories about the people whose lives were affected, both negatively and positively, by its presence. Ambition, dispossession, betrayal, professional rivalry, sexual intrigue, murder, bullying and breakdowns are woven into the creation of this masterpiece of human ingenuity.

The Opera House shares the extraordinary stories connected to this building that are as mesmerising as the light catching on its white sails.


Jørn Utzon
Portrait by Ole Haupt
National Portrait Gallery:

Source: The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50 Museum of Sydney Exhibition, 2024
Source: The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50
Museum of Sydney Exhibition, 2024
Source: <em>The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50</em><BR>
Museum of Sydney Exhibition, 2024
Source: The People’s House: Sydney Opera House at 50
Museum of Sydney Exhibition, 2024
Peter FitzSimons
Peter FitzSimons

Peter FitzSimons is a well-respected columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and Sun-Herald, speaks four languages, has played rugby for Australia, co-hosted radio shows with Mike Carlton and Doug Mulray, interviewed famous people around the globe from George Bush to Diego Maradona, is the Chair of the Australian Republican Movement and has written over 27 best-selling books.

He is the biographer not only of World Cup winning Wallaby captains, Nick Farr-Jones and John Eales, but also former Opposition Leader Kim Beazley, boxer Les Darcy, aviator Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, war heroine Nancy Wake and Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson. In 2001 he was Australia’s biggest selling non-fiction author, and duplicated that feat in 2004, with his book on Kokoda. He has been Australia’s best-selling non-fiction author in the last decade and in November 2013 released his best-seller on Ned Kelly.

In 2019, he published The Catalpa Rescue: The gripping story of the most dramatic and successful prison break in Australian history; in 2022, The Battle of Long Tan; and in 2023, The Last Charge of the Australian Light Horse: From the Australian bush to the Battle of Beersheba - an epic story of courage, resilience and derring-do.

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  1. wayne soini on April 6, 2024 at 2:09 pm

    brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, ***** five stars, Gabriella. Confession: despite serious stuff, I had to laugh out loud- for example, at about 2:45 when Manchester-by-the-sea was referred to emphatically as “the DULLEST place on EARTH.”

  2. Nancy Hurrell on April 7, 2024 at 12:31 am

    The launch and first episode of Biographers in Conversation proves that a biographer’s work is never dull! The behind the scenes discoveries tell another fascinating story, as colorfully relayed in this episode by Peter FitzSimons. Gabriella has a knack of getting her authors to share their passion for their subjects, making this a truly engaging podcast series.

  3. Gene Fax on April 7, 2024 at 6:34 pm

    Terrific podcast, Gabriella! FitzSimons was great as the opening guest — intelligent, articulate, and witty. And you’re not too bad yourself!

  4. Elizabeth Chappell on April 8, 2024 at 10:00 am

    So enjoyed your podcast with Peter FitzSimons. I work on the confluence of history and imagination so it was right on topic. Can’t wait for Jacqueline Kent

  5. Rob Clifton-Steele on April 13, 2024 at 8:39 am

    This is a brilliant broadcast, full of great ideas, prompts and inspiration for aspiring biographers. The legendary rambunctious FitzSimons provides his proven methodology for producing the eminently readable biographies that he has become known for. This description of the how, and particularly the why, of writing a biography of a building is fascinating. Congratulations Gabriella brilliantly curated interview and great idea for we desultory writers.

  6. Rob Clifton-Steele on April 13, 2024 at 8:50 am

    Brilliant interview with this rambunctious biographer Gabriella, full of great ideas, good writing advice (e.g. SSS) and encouragement for we desultory writers. His single-minded work program and the scope of his research and writing around the subject was fascinating, particularly given that his latest subject is a “biography” (buildography, oikography?) of the Opera House. I was drinking coffee when he told the Ned Kelly story. I nearly choked.

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