The idea to provide a purpose-built performing arts centre for Australia, to be located at Bennelong Point on Sydney Harbour, was first mooted in 1948 by Eugene Goossens, the conductor of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
The idea was championed in 1952 by the newly elected Labor Premier of NSW, J J Cahill. An architectural competition was held and in 1957, the winner for the Sydney Opera House was announced: Danish architect Joern Utzon.
Work began on construction of the new building soon after. Utzon moved to Australia with his young family to oversee its design and construction.
There were cost blowouts from the outset. Owing to its unusual design, building works for the Sydney Opera House ran apace of engineering and design solutions – particularly for the ‘sails’ which, in Utzon’s competition winning design, were purely schematic. But building an opera house was always going to be an expensive prospect.
Cahill struck upon a typically Australian solution to recover some of the costs associated with building the opera house: gambling.
Lotteries, as a form of government-sanctioned fund-raising, were introduced in the post-war era. The first opera house lottery was held in January 1958, but by all accounts was not very successful.
In June 1960, Basil and Freda Thorne of Bondi scooped the top prize, winning £100,000. One month later, on the morning of 7 July 1960, their only son Graeme was kidnapped on his way to school. It was reputedly the first child kidnapping – as distinct from an abduction – in Australia.
When Freda realised that Graeme was missing, she alerted the police. Later in the day, she received a call from someone with a ‘slight foreign accent’. With her husband out of town on business, she passed the phone to the Police Sergeant stationed at her house. The caller demanded a ransom of £25,000 or else he would feed Graeme to the sharks. He rang back a second time the same night, but abruptly hung up.
The day after Graeme Thorne was taken, his school bag was found by a 75-year old bottle collector in bushland at Frenches Forest. Up to 900 ‘police, soldiers and volunteers’ combed the scrub and surrounding area, but to no avail.
In August 1960, the body of little Graeme Thorne was found wrapped in a blanket under a rock ledge at Seaforth by some school boys.
Meanwhile, the police had been hard at work. They traced the ownership of an incandescent blue Customeline Ford Sedan, which had been seen at the scene of the crime, to one Stephen Leslie Bradley.
The Hungarian-born immigrant, originally known as Istvan Baranyay, changed his name in 1956 after he became a naturalised Australian. The police searched his home and found a tassel from the travel blanket used to wrap the boy’s body. Forensic work was carried out, which showed that dog hairs on the rug came from the Bradley family dog, Cherie.
In October 1960, Stephen Bradley was arrested in Colombo, Sri Lanka, en route to London. He confessed to police on the plane back to Sydney, where he faced a murder trial.
From July 1960 to March 1961, the Graeme Thorne kidnapping dominated newspaper headlines in Sydney. The trial attracted massive crowds, mainly of women. Stephen Bradley was sentenced to life in gaol. He died at Goulburn Gaol in October 1968, from a heart attack in the midst of a tennis match. Almost five years later, to the day, Sydney Opera House was opened by Queen Elizabeth II.