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The house Joan Sutherland grew up in has stood empty and derelict since the 1950s. The sprawling 803sqm property at 115 Queen Street, in the now-affluent suburb of Woollahra, is to be sold as prime residential real estate. But will it be restored to its former glory, and will this piece of Australian opera history at last be treated with respect?
The heritage building known as "Vine Cottage" was the Sydney home of Joan Sutherland during her formative years from 1932 to 1951. The house belonged to her aunt and uncle, who took in six-year-old Joan, her mother and sister after the death of Joan's father.
The original house was a single-storey sandstone cottage built between 1856 and 1863, with a second storey added around 1891 by Richard Alston, Joan's grandfather. The family sold the house after her departure: in 1951 the young soprano set out for studies at the Opera School of London's Royal College of Music. She made her Covent Garden debut the following year.
In its current state of disrepair the structure is not liveable, but Woollahra Council has approved an application to conserve and reconstruct the cottage under the supervision of a heritage consultant, ensuring the future of the building.
Fiona Janes, general manager of the Joan Sutherland and Richard Bonynge Opera Foundation, says there are endless possibilities for sensitive development. "I personally would dearly love to see a sympathetic extension and a museum dedicated to Dame Joan's remarkable career and her impact on Australia's cultural growth throughout the 20th century," she said.
"Other options might be a performing arts museum or perhaps a performance space for recitals with a small museum attached.
"Just as we have preserved the homes of Sir Donald Bradman, Dame Nellie Melba and Brett Whiteley, this house must be preserved for future generations.
"I hope someone has the vision to see this restoration come to fruition so that we as a nation never forget just how magnificent our La Stupenda was."