This fish costume has significance in material culture due to its role in the opening ceremony of the 2000 Olympic Games, an important event in the social history of Sydney and NSW. It has the potential to communicate in exhibitions and publications about the Sydney Olympic Games and has historical significance in its design, making, use and in the cultural meanings ascribed to it.
Described by the NSW premier Bob Carr as 'the greatest spectacle Australia has produced', the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games took place at Stadium Australia, Homebush Bay on Friday 15 September 2000.
The opening ceremony was the subject of much public expectation. After years of controversy and insecurity around issues like Ric Birch's infamous kangaroos on bicycles (from the Atlanta closing ceremony) and the recruitment of American musicians in a proposed marching band for Sydney's opening ceremony, it was perceived as a test of Australia's cultural competence. Could Australia deliver a modern, sophisticated performance or were we to embarrass ourselves?
The overwhelmingly positive public response to the opening ceremony inspired a sense of relief among Sydneysiders. In the upsurge of goodwill and excitement (which began when the torch relay arrived in Sydney) the media dropped its negative attacks on the Games' organisers and embraced the extraordinary spirit that had gripped the city. The public had finally claimed ownership of the Games. Cynicism melted away for two weeks as locals revelled in the rare carnival atmosphere.
The opening ceremony had anthems, speeches, oaths, flags, a marching band, pop singers and a parade of the athletes from 199 competing nations. However the daring conceptual sequences ('Deep Sea Dreaming', 'Awakening', 'Nature', 'Tin Symphony', 'Arrivals' and 'Eternity') will be remembered as the ceremony's great imaginative works. Each segment commenced without interruption, following on from the last to form an overall narrative. The purpose was to project a national image to a worldwide audience, to form the world's vision of Australian culture. This image embraced tolerance, social progress, multiculturalism and reconciliation, as well as nature, history and creativity. Designed to stimulate emotional responses from the audience, these segments delivered a refreshing mixture of youth, naivety and larrikinism.
The creative team comprised 13,000 artists and performers, including designers, choreographers, circus artists, costume makers, set builders and painters, singers, composers, writers, arrangers, dancers, musicians. Even more than the high quality costume design, choreography and music, the props were talking points, with the Endeavour tricycle and the Ned Kelly horse attracting the most attention.
After the horses from the 'Welcome' segment left the arena, the first narrative sequence, 'Deep Sea Dreaming', began. The 'hero girl', played by the 13-year-old Nikki Webster, skipped onto the arena in a pink sundress. She applied sun cream to her nose, stretched, lay on her beach towel and dreamt of the ocean. Her dreams afforded the director of this segment, Meryl Tankard, the opportunity to transform the stadium into a deep ocean. 11 cables were used, strung 45 m above the arena across the 111 m space between the grandstands on either side. The hero girl soared high above the arena in a special lift harness, swimming and somersaulting through the ocean, among giant sea creatures. Translucent jellyfish drifted past her, and then various banner fish, sea-dragons, an eel, a mantaray, a ground-based worm, a nudibranch, a Spanish dancer, squid, lion fish, even a fearsome barracuda. Of the 800 people involved in this segment, 150 were schoolchildren taking the part of a giant school of fish. This object was worn by one of these children. The hero girl was sucked slowly downwards among a swirling mass of fish until white-ochre spirits took charge of her and carried her to the stage where the tribal dancer Djakapurra Munyarryun, the Songman guided her through the following segments of the ceremony.