The eye in the sky

One of our iconic landmarks, Sydney Tower, opened to the public 39 years ago this month. Since then, it’s seen numerous changes but is still the pinnacle of the city, writes Rita Bratovich.

Ever since it opened its elevator doors to the public in 1981, Sydney Tower has been a ‘must do’ on every good tourist itinerary. Standing at 309 metres above the city, the unique, lollipop-shaped tower is the tallest structure in Sydney and has become an instantly recognisable landmark. 

A member of the World Federation of Towers, it is ranked as one of the safest structures in the world and acknowledged as an engineering feat. 

While officially known as Sydney Tower, it has been known by various monikers over time, including Centrepoint, AMP Tower and Westfield Centrepoint Tower.

In the years immediately prior to and following the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the turret of Sydney Tower was adorned with three metal-frame statues: a gymnast, a runner, and a wheelchair basketballer (these were all later relocated to Olympic Park). 

If you’re wondering – and you no doubt are – how on earth they got statues and signs way up there, it was with the powerful, twin- engine rotors of ‘Elvis’, the heavy-lifting helicopter that later became a bushfire water-bombing hero. 

It currently brandishes a giant, neon Westfield logo around its peak.

A 45 second (at top speed) elevator ride takes you from the street level Westfield Sydney shopping complex through the supporting shaft to the turret where you’ll find restaurants, a bar, and Sydney Tower Eye. 

A 1980s TV commercial for Sydney Tower. Video: GrubcoTV3/YouTube.
An double-page advertisement in the Daily Telegraph, promoting the tower’s September 25, 1981 opening. Photo: Fab Sydney Flashbacks/Daily Telegraph.

Sydney Tower Eye comprises the indoor Observation Deck and the outdoor attraction, SKYWALK – a breathtaking 60 minute guided walk along a purpose-built platform around the outside of the turret. 

Freeman Fung is the marketing manager at Sydney Tower Eye, which is owned by Merlin Entertainments – a company which owns the Legoland theme parks overseas, manages the Madame Tussaud’s celebrity wax attractions worldwide, and owns the Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Wildlife World and numerous tourist attractions across the globe.

He looks after the marketing campaigns, branding activities and external communications of the Sydney Tower Eye. 

“Or in simpler terms – I bring Sydney’s ultimate views to you!” says Fung. 

He has been with Merlin Entertainments for five years, and joined Sydney Tower Eye in December 2019, so he’s seen his fair share of tourists.

Apart from sheer awe, Fung says people are keen to ask questions and share comments. 

“All guests would ask ‘How tall are we at now?’ and we always proudly share with them that they’re at 250m above street level if they’re in the Observation Deck, or 268m if they’re outdoor at SKYWALK.

“They always say they can see the Sydney Tower Eye standing tallest in the Sydney city, but have never imagined the views are so breathtaking when being here in person.”

“Whether it’s bright sunshine, overcast, windy, night or even foggy, there’s always something to see up here at the highest point in Sydney.”

– Freeman Fung, Marketing Manager, Sydney Tower Eye

And the best time to visit?

“It’s a question we’re often asked,” says Fung, “and the truth is that whether it’s bright sunshine, overcast, windy, night or even foggy, there’s always something to see up here at the highest point in Sydney.

“Sunset is our busiest time of day, so if you want to catch the spectacular sky-scapes from our unrivalled vantage point, be sure to arrive at least 45 minutes before sunset.” 

Sydney Tower has been built to withstand very high winds and earthquakes, so it doesn’t pose any threat to safety or comfort during extreme weather conditions. In fact, it can be quite a thrill to get up close to nature at its fiercest. 

“Honestly, the Observation Deck is probably one of the best spots to watch the change of weather over our city,” says Fung. 

If your view is completely spoiled by conditions, Sydney Tower Eye offers an assurance. 

“[For] extreme bad weather such as heavy smoke & pollution, we also offer ‘Weather Promise’ to our guests (including our SKYWALK tours) where they can come back and visit us again within seven days. It’s our pledge to ensure their experience is everything they hoped for and expected.”

Sydney Tower stands tall in the very heart of Sydney. Photo: Sydney Tower Eye/Facebook.

Along with fellow icons, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House, Sydney Tower has taken a central role in the city’s spectacular New Year’s Eve fireworks display. It’s hard to imagine a better vantage point than the Sydney Tower Eye Observation Deck; Fung can attest to that. 

“Yes, I was there and it was literally the best spot in the city to celebrate along with the fireworks! I’m a photographer myself, so I have also brought along my camera and captured some incredible countdown moments with 15 other guests, including couples, families and friends. Once in a lifetime memorable experience!”

It’s a terrible job, but somebody has to do it. 

Fung clearly loves his work. One of his favourite things is seeing Sydney’s ultimate views every single day and being able to share this experience with visitors. 

“It always makes my day even more special when we get to celebrate some special occasions with our guests too, such as a birthday, secret proposal or anniversary celebration,” he adds. 

Of course, 2020 has been a year like no other, presenting unforeseen challenges and unique circumstances. 

“It’s the first time we don’t have international tourists in our city since the construction of the Tower” says Fung, offering this invitation to Sydneysiders: “Let’s play tourists this year and see Sydney again together!”