In 1964, at the young age of 19, Steve (Skevos) Tsoukalas arrived in Sydney, and passed by the foundations of the Opera.
He was the youngest boy in a family of 10; five of his older brothers had already migrated Down under and settled in Sydney.
“I remember I saw the Opera construction when I arrived on the ship. And I thought- this building is incredible and unique.”
Little did he know four years later he would be working on one of the most iconic buildings in the world. “In 1968 I got the Opera job when it was being built. That same year I met my angel, Marina, and we got married,” Steve remembers.
“I love both beautiful women. My love, Marina mou and the Opera House.”
Management liked Steve for his tireless work ethic and devotion to the building.
For 50 years, he was an essential part of maintenance at the Opera House.
“I love my job. The building, The Opera House, I love so much.”
Before the doors of the Sydney Opera House would open to visitors, Steve would ‘paint’ the shine on every decorative surface in the building. However, this wasn’t always easy.
As the man of knowledge and experience explains it, the dirt was ‘cancer’, and it was sometimes hard to clean off.
“I cried. I was hurt and I wanted to help because it was very sick. With the love that I had, I discovered how to kill the ‘cancer’. I did so much research and experiments on how to kill the ‘cancer’,” Steve said.
His unconventional methods which included baking soda (inspired by his grandmother), olive oil and a sponge, helped “the old majestic lady”, as he loves to call the Opera House.
“From the sick building, it got better. I was laughing and singing every day because I found the solution.”
Steve is an expert in restoration and his general knowledge of the building is impeccable.
All those years every morning, he would be at work at 5am and watch the sunrise before the tourists began to flock.
Steve Tsoukalas is a man with endless kindness and affection.
His relationship with the Opera will never end. “No matter where I am, she’s in my thoughts… Even when I saw the Opera House advertised on TV in Greece. I got teary, it was very emotional. She’s everywhere and she’s always on my mind,” he added.
In 2018, Steve made the life changing decision to retire from the “old majestic lady”, as he wanted to spend more time with his “angel” and grandchildren.
It was a huge, emotional decision.
On his final day, Louise Herron, the CEO of the Opera House at that time, asked him to sign the ‘Opera House Book’. The first page was signed by Queen Elizabeth II, the second page Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh)… and on the eighth page Steve Tsoukalas.
“It was a very big honour for me. To sign the history of the Opera House Book,” he explains.
“Even though I retired 2 years ago, the Opera House is still on mind. I care because it was the building I loved the same time I loved my wife. That building you can’t forget.”
Since retiring, Steve loves to go to the kafenio (Greek café) in the morning, meet different people (young and old) and hear the drama of the people that built up this country. And of course spending time with his grandchildren.
“My granddaughters love the Opera House and they call it “my pappou house.”
“I feel happy because I leave my history to my grandchildren.”
Even after retiring, Steve still goes down and checks in. There are always special jobs he can only do.
As Winston Churchill once said: “We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”
The Sydney Opera House
The Sydney Opera House is one of the 20th century’s most famous and distinctive buildings.
The building and its surrounds occupy the whole of Bennelong Point on Sydney Harbour and is close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
As one of the most popular visitor attractions in Australia, the site is visited by more than eight million people annually, and approximately 350,000 visitors take a guided tour of the building each year.
The Opera covers 1.8 hectares of land and is 183 meters long and 120 meters wide at its widest point. It is supported on 588 concrete piers that sink up to 25 meters below sea level. The roof is covered with 1,056 million glossy Swedish metallic white-tiled roof tiles.
The Sydney Opera House was formally opened by Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia on 20 October 1973.
On 28 June 2007, the Sydney Opera House became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.