Sydney Opera House

Twenty-eight years of volunteering


Lorraine Kloppman and Lottie Prior, both 88 years old, have been volunteering for Opera Australia for 28 years. Pat Gormley, 79, has been volunteering for 20 years. These women’s contribution to the Company, and to opera in general, has been immeasurable. This month in Allerta! we pay tribute to them…
Allerta!: Tell us a little about how you came to volunteer for the Opera.
Lorraine Kloppman: When I returned from London in the early 1980s, the first thing I did was look around for an opera company. It was exciting to be involved in helping The Australian Opera grow from strength to strength. In those early years the whole company operated out of one small room with not enough chairs – we sat on the floor when we did the mailing. Today we have chairs, tables and our own room.

Lottie Prior: I was a subscriber before I joined as a volunteer. The turning point was Joan’s 1982 Opera in the Domain performance in La traviata. By then my children had grown up, so when the ABC printed a commemorative program and asked for volunteers to mail it out, I signed up. Joan came in and had her photograph taken with a pile of programs. That made it all worthwhile for me. I’ve been coming on Tuesdays ever since.

Pat Gormley: I began to think of volunteering during Joan and Richard’s 1965 tour, when I met one of the OA volunteers while waiting in the queue to buy tickets. I met a lot of like-minded people in various opera queues, sometimes at 4am! It was a magical era. But I was only able to start volunteering when I retired from work in 1991. I was going to be a tour guide, but the tour guides come in for a few hours, then go home. I wanted to come into the office for the whole day.

Allerta!:  What were some of the most interesting tasks that you performed in your time with the Opera?

Lorraine Kloppman: It was exciting to be involved when they first started the Patrons and Friends Programs, and I enjoyed helping with functions to draw in more people.

Lottie Prior: When they started doing tours, someone suggested that we do lunch. We’d have sandwiches and fruit and slices and home-made biscuits and wine and orange juice. It was really nice and for a while our fame went before us – people sometimes came not for the tours but for the lunch! One of our ladies was Canadian, and had friends at the Canadian Embassy, and for three years we catered for the Embassy when they had their annual fashion parade. We didn’t charge them; they made a donation to the Opera. In the early days we did Board luncheons too. We had a very big band of volunteers at the time. But in the end there were only about six of us left, and it became too difficult to cater for functions. We still help with OperaEd lunches but we no longer make the food ourselves. We do biscuits and cheese for the Patrons.

Allerta!: Why have volunteer numbers shrunk?

Pat Gormley: People don’t have the time now.  Women work and when they retire, they look after their grandchildren. I couldn’t have volunteered while I was working full time.

Allerta!: What has been the highlight of your time as a volunteer with the Opera? 

Lorraine Kloppman: The contact with the artists. You see them here in the flesh, without their stage make-up, and sometimes you have a chance to talk to them. You get to know them a little as human beings. You see a lot of the behind the scenes goings-on.

Pat Gormley: I was in here one day, and I went to reception to get something, and there was Bryn Terfel! I said hello and he said hello back. Cillario used to come to the volunteers’ room and ask to borrow the typewriter.

Lottie Prior: The highlight of my time here was the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people. And the night Joan sang for Opera in the Domain. We got up at 4am to stake out our claim. That night it rained but Joan sang anyway – by the end of the evening her dress was wet up to the waist. She said, if they can stand there in the rain, I can stand here and sing. The last aria was just magical. The clouds cleared, the moon came out and the bats started flying… 

Allerta!: You seem nostalgic about the past. Is that because today there are fewer volunteers around?

Lorraine Kloppman: Things have changed over the years – that’s only natural. In the early days, the Company was like a friendly family. Everybody knew one another. We knew many of the subscribers because we worked with the information all the time. We even knew the entire chorus. Now there’s more of a distance. The Company is in there and we’re out here. The Company has grown big and professional and compartmentalised.  Since the work went on to the computer, there has been less and less for us to do. We used to have groups coming in from Monday to Thursday. Now volunteers only really come on Tuesdays.

Allerta: How much longer do you think you’ll be volunteering for the Opera?

Pat Gormley: As long as the hill up from the station doesn’t get any higher!

Lorraine Kloppman: I live in the country. I get off at Central and walk up. I’ll volunteer for as long as I can do that. 

Lottie Prior: If I win Lotto, I’m going to have a travelator installed form Central to this room!