THE HUSBAND AND WIFE TEAM WHO HAVE GONE THE DISTANCE OF SYDNEY’S OLYMPIC STADIUM
- ANZ Stadium – Sydney’s Olympic Stadium – turns 20 years old in March, having opened for business on 6 March 1999;
- The Stadium has hosted 20 years of State of Origin events, and will host its 20th NRL Grand Final this year;
- 18 fulltime employees and 46 casual employees have been with the Stadium since its inception.
When George and Rita Bright signed up for a hospitality course in the lead-up to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, they were hoping it would lead to some work at the Olympic Stadium during the frenetic fortnight of the Games.
Fast forward 20 years, and the south-western Sydney couple have seen it all at ANZ Stadium, joining a select group of workers who have been with Sydney’s Olympic Stadium since it opened its doors for business in March 1999.
“We were employed as casual kitchen staff in November 1998 and we had to wear hard hats and safety vests as the finishing touches were put on the Olympic Stadium,” recalled Rita.
“George and I have witnessed all of the big events over 20 years – and our service stretches back even further as we joined the Stadium team in ’98 – so ANZ Stadium, as it’s called now, has been such a big part of our lives with so many wonderful memories.”
George and Rita watched in amazement on 6 March 1999 as a world-record rugby league crowd of 104,583 filled the stands of the Stadium in its old Olympic configuration to witness the first event, an NRL Double-Header.
And they are still feeling the buzz of excitement that comes with a big Sydney event . . . running the two food outlets on the ANZ Stadium Members’ terraces in June this year as the NSW Blues secured a famous State of Origin series win in front of a raucous crowd of 82,233 fans.
Think of any of the famous sporting and entertainment events that have taken place at ANZ Stadium over the past 20 years, and George and Rita have a story to tell.
George recalls the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final between the Wallabies and England for more than just the Jonny Wilkinson field goal that broke Australian hearts.
“I was working in the Central Production Unit when I got a call from one of the Private Suites that one of the young guests had requested some hot chips . . . lo and behold the young man in question was Prince Harry, who was with his brother Prince William watching England play Australia in the Final,” says George.
“Now, the menu served in those Suites that night was absolutely amazing, but being such a young lad at the time, Prince Harry just wanted hot chips.
“So I started cooking the chips in the deep fryer in the CPU, and all of a sudden word got out and chefs turned up from everywhere, maybe wanting to be able to put in their CVs that they had cooked for Prince Harry!”
At the Sydney Olympics, George worked not only in the kitchen, but as an official driver of the US squad as well. “I was the designated driver for the American team and I had a lot of work to do for the Olympic Commission. I got to meet Muhammed Ali, Hilary Clinton’s daughter Chelsea and America’s Chef De Mission . . . they were such exciting times.”
George and Rita met on a soccer pitch in Panania, south-western Sydney, in 1983. George was coaching a local junior team and Rita was there signing up her 8-year old daughter to play. The pair have been inseparable ever since and share a special love of the world game.
Rita says: “Working at the Stadium is hard work but it is also fun. I think the biggest highlight for me, because I'm such a soccer fan, was the 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifier with the Socceroos striving to make it for the first time in 32 years.
“I heard us (Australia) score a goal and I was in the kitchen on the Level 2 Members’ Terrace. I knew it was going to a penalty shootout, and I said to our Executive Chef John Deane, `John, if you have to sack me you have to sack me, but I’ve got to go and watch this’, and I got to watch John Aloisi in that shootout.
“The roar of the crowd when he scored was the loudest I’ve ever heard . . . it was as if the building was shaking. It was just unbelievable. There have been some amazing events at the Stadium.”
George and Rita have seen the food and beverage offerings at stadiums evolve dramatically over the past 20 years and believe the quality and variety at ANZ Stadium compares with the finest modern venues around the globe.
“There’s nothing wrong with a pie and hot chips at the footy, but the expectations of the public have changed, especially among corporate guests and Members,” says Rita.
“The food in the Private Suites is just wow, unbelievable, and in the Members’ areas too. You can still enjoy stand event fare but if you want quality food and beverages they are on offer.”
As casual staff members, George and Rita have made their way from selling pies and pizzas to each running one of the two identical Members terraces on the western side of ANZ Stadium, known as The Cauldron and The Sin Bin. “It ends up being a little competition of who’s going to sell the most dishes,” jokes George.
Casual employees have become a foundation behind the success of major events at ANZ Stadium. With over 2500 staff registered with the Stadium, and approximately 250 working in the kitchen on event days, Executive Chef John Deane says he couldn’t operate without the casual team. The majority of casual staff live in the Greater Western Sydney area.
“If we had none of our regular casual staff members, nothing would happen . . . we need that acquired knowledge at our events to bring our menus to life,” says John.
“George and Rita have been at the Stadium longer than I have and they are a delight to work with. They really care about their customers and that is what we want in our staff.
“In the hospitality industry, I would say it’s fairly unique for a couple to work alongside one another for 20-odd years. Many hospitality couples find they just cannot work together.
“George and Rita really do have a passion for the place. When they walk in to the Stadium, they bring this wealth of knowledge and experience. They know how the kitchen operates, they know the system, the equipment . . . they go and do their job and make people happy.”
- Sydney’s Olympic Stadium is turning 20 early next year. This is the first in a series of stories on the Stadium, its people, the famous events, and the fans who have brought the colour, energy and excitement over two decades of sport and entertainment.