Steve Tsoukalas, one of the original workers during the building of the Opera House / Pic: Robert Barker Source: The Daily Telegraph
Steve Tsoukalas, who has been working at the Sydney Opera House for 40 years. Source: The Daily Telegraph
THE Sydney Opera House turns 40 this year but Steve Tsoukalas’ love affair with it has gone on even longer.
It was 49 years ago when a then 19 year old sailed into Sydney and past the foundations of the Opera House.
Four years later he got a job in charge of a scaffold team working high on the sails.
Today he is the Opera House’s unofficial custodian – and the last person to help build the national icon who still works there.
Mr Tsoukalas, 68, maintains the Opera House brass and concrete interior.
He knows every nook and cranny of its labyrinthine passageways, reels off complex engineering details and even sought personal approval from architect Jorn Utzon’s son Jan before using his own recipe to clean hand prints off the concrete interior walls.
Every morning at 5.15am, long before the house fills with tour groups, Mr Tsoukalas watches the sunrise from the northern foyer before beginning his day fretting about wear and tear, corrosion and fungus invading the roof tiles.
“It’s so peaceful, you’ve got the time to think and remember,” he said with tears in his eyes. “I think about how it was and how it has become. How the city, Kirribilli, the Botanical Gardens were. It’s so different and you try to bring memories back and you pass your time, sometimes with tears. There are sad moments because time is running out. I don’t want to lose this job, this building.
“I saw the Opera House from the boat when I arrived here, I thought the building was something unbelievable.”
When he started as a scaffolder at 23, little did he know then that one of the most iconic buildings in the world would become his life’s work.
“It was a dangerous job because you worked so high,” he said. “I started here in 1968, the same year I married my darling, and for the past 45 years we’re been together.
“I don’t want to retire because, when you are in love, it’s deep in your heart. If you love the building, you have to think about the building.”
Mr Tsoukalas, who has been asked to train a new generation of Opera House caretakers, fears no one can feel the same way about the job.
“Today’s young people have tendency to do the work with one hand and have a phone in the other. They won’t love this building like I do,” he said.
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