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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 17491

Tribute for the late Dame Joan Sutherland OM AC DBE

Photo of Gillard, Julia

Gillard, Julia

Period of Service: 24/06/2010 to 27/06/2013

More information about Gillard, Julia on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 09/11/2010

Release Type: Honours, Commemorations & Condolences

Transcript ID: 17491

State Memorial Service, Sydney

Last month the great and generous life of Dame Joan Sutherland came to its end, and so we gather formally as a nation to express our gratitude and to mourn our loss.

But we are also conscious that the family and friends of Dame Joan have lost someone precious and dear and they have our deepest sympathy and support. Our thoughts are especially with Richard, for whom Joan's passing has not only broken a lifelong partnership but it also ended one of the most remarkable artistic collaborations in the history of modern music.

Richard can't be here, but I hope he can picture us here today as Joan's spirit inhabits this familiar venue one last time.

And, of course, it is fitting that we gather here in the Opera House.

Where better to say goodbye to the greatest singer of the 20th century than in the greatest building of the 20th century?

Friends, Joan Sutherland's was a fortunate life.

It began 84 years ago last Sunday, with an idyllic early childhood here on the shores of this great harbourside city.

She absorbed the sound of her mother's beautiful voice as easily as she breathed the air itself, giving her a sense of effortless achievement that later helped transform potential into legend.

Today we remember Dame Joan at her peak, as we should.

But the truth is she lived through the hard days of Depression and war, and had to seek employment to pay her way.

For over a decade, she cheerfully accepted the humblest roles as the price for future success, always believing that sheer optimism and relentless hard work would bring their own rewards.

Joan's first paid recital was here in the Sydney Town Hall in 1947, earning her the princely sum of £10.

And though she later sang in the greatest cities of the world, her first tour was to the communities of Leeton, Wagga, Cootamundra and Griffith in southern NSW.

In London the rigour continued.

She took on junior roles, substituted for performers who were sick and undertook arduous regional tours before the big breaks came.

But when those breaks did come, all the great stages of the world were hers: Covent Garden, Venice, Paris, La Scala, Vienna, the Met.

She conquered every one.

Not only that.

In partnership with Richard, she revived an entire tradition of opera and brought forth a whole new era of scholarship and research, changing the world of opera forever.

Perhaps most importantly for our nation, she brought her talent home to Australia, ushering in a golden age of opera during the 1970s and 1980s.

As Australians, it is this contribution we honour above all others today.

Dame Joan stood at the forefront of that extraordinary postwar cultural flourishing that forever transformed how we saw ourselves as a nation and?as a people.

In all of this, Dame Joan's voice shone effortless and clear.

I never heard that voice live but those who did will carry the memory to?their graves.

And the recordings will remain a treasure house for decades to come.

But no voice, regardless how fine, can sustain a career across 43 demanding years.

Joan's voice might have brought her to greatness but it was stamina and?will-power that kept her there.

In her first season at Covent Garden alone she sang 60 performances.

And the list of performances in her autobiography runs to 40 closely-typed pages.

Through four punishing decades, Dame Joan remained alert, professional and robust, her career an essay in character and resolve.

As Joan herself said: "success is one thing; sustaining it is something else."

Amid the fame and the accolades, Dame Joan remained cheerfully unaffected.

On stage, she had the grace and grandeur of a prima donna. But off stage she was just as likely to be seen doing needlework before the curtain went up or having a joke with a stagehand.

Joan's earthy good humour and firm sense of practicality were distinctively Australian.

And while it is true she spent many years abroad, her identity as an Australian remained firm.

It was here on this soil that her career began.

And it was here that her career ended 20 years ago last month.

Critic Peter Conrad wrote of that final night here at the Opera Theatre when Joan's last notes had been sung and her best had been given:

"She walked slowly into the wings through the parting sea of her colleagues, and despite our baying and stamping and screaming she didn't reappear. We won't look upon her like again."

That is true.

We will not look upon her like again.

A figure of this stature comes along once in a century, and in Joan Sutherland, Australia has been richly blessed.

So today across our nation, flags stand at half-mast and our people unite in gratitude for this final farewell.

And in this moment of leave-taking we say one last time:

- Thank you.

- Goodbye.

- You will never be forgotten.

Transcript 17491