Sydney Harbour Icons

With LEGO® Bricks

Come behind the scenes to discover some of the Lego® building techniques used by Ryan McNaught to create his extraordinary Sydney Harbour models and learn about the actual structures, ships and their colourful custodians.

When Sydney Living Museums approached Lego® Certified Professional Ryan McNaught to collaborate on this exhibition we insisted on three things: a lively and colourful installation capturing the spectacular features of Sydney Harbour; a line up of technically awesome and inspiring structures; and finally a busy, hands-on, interactive experience where visitors could build and display their own Lego® creations.

Ticking all of these boxes, and more, Sydney Harbour Icons with Lego® Bricks features the Sydney Opera House, Ryan McNaught's fourth attempt at this eccentric and challenging construction; the Sydney Harbour Bridge, complete with a moving train, traffic jams, maintenance crews, commuters and revellers; Luna Park with it's beaming face, bone shaking Wild Mouse and gently turning Ferris Wheel; a flotilla of watercraft at work and play, including  P&O’s newly launched cruise liner Pacific Aria, the replica tall ship Endeavour, a hardy tug and a handful of speedy yachts jostling at the starting line of the Rolex Sydney-Hobart race. Shimmering and sparkling overhead - perhaps the most improbable models of all - is a world first Lego rendition of joyously exploding fireworks, ushering in the brand new year.

This famed waterway not only symbolises Australia in many people’s minds, it greets you like no other seaport in the world. We all know the word ‘iconic’ gets over-used but looking around this ridiculously picturesque stretch of water, icons literally compete for your attention, as if they’re lining up to get their photos taken.

Ryan McNaught, Certified Lego Professional



HMB Endeavour

Colourful model of three masted tall ship built in LEGO bricks.

At this scale, the squat little Endeavour was a real handful. Getting that chubby hull right made this one of the toughest builds in the exhibition. It’s a good thing it doesn’t have to sail around the world like the real one.

Ryan McNaught

Ryan McNaught's LEGO model of the tall ship HMB Endeavour, Museum of Sydney 2015. Video still © Sydney Living Museums


The replica tall ship HMB Endeavour was launched in 1993 after five years under construction in Fremantle, Western Australia. With its blunt nose, portly hull and spidery web of Manila-rope rigging, the tall ship HMB Endeavour seems lost in time as it glides idly past Sydney Cove, oblivious to the sleek and shiny pleasure craft that hurry by or the brash and bustling city towering along the water’s edge. Unlike the original 18th-century ship’s timbers of elm, oak and spruce, the replica Endeavour is crafted from West Australian jarrah and old-growth American Oregon pine. Apart from this and other modern ‘necessities’ such as engine, satellite navigation and hot showers, the HMB Endeavour is among the world’s most accurate replica tall ships. Find out more about the HMB Endeavour and its epic story and, better still, come on board this amazing vessel, bobbing along side the docks at the Australian National Maritime Museum.

Tall wooden ship with 3 masts, bowsprit and complex web of rigging, anchored off Barangaroo, Darling Harbour, Sydney.
The world's most accurate replica tall ship, the Australian National Maritime Museum's HMB Endeavour. Video still © Sydney Living Museums

People often ask me if Cook walked along the wharf and saw our beautiful new tall ship, would he think it was the original? My response always is that if the original Endeavour and ourselves were alongside the wharf at the same time, Cook would pick ours because it was in better condition than his.

John Dikkenberg, Captain, HMB Endeavour



Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race

Colourful model of racing yacht under sail built in LEGO with minifig sailors on board

We had lots of fun with these sleek, stylish yachts crewed by their colour-coded teams, all systems go, slicing through the water on their punishing race to Hobart. Sadly. One of them got into trouble. That’s life in Sydney’s fast lane!

Ryan McNaught

Ryan McNaught's LEGO model of Sydney to Hobart racing yacht under sail, Museum of Sydney, 2015. Video still © Sydney Living Museums


In 1945 a handful of Sydney yachties from the just-formed Cruising Yacht Club hatched the idea of a friendly race to Hobart, Tasmania, dubbed ‘cruising in company’. It was 1100 kilometres of unpredictable seas. Crewed by enthusiastic sailors, the nine yachts lacked reliable safety systems, lights and two-way radios and luckily avoided tragedy. No-one braving the inaugural race would have guessed that 70 years later this ‘cruise’ to Hobart would set the international benchmark for sea safety, rescue and race communications. Watched by millions, the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race ranks alongside the Melbourne Cup and Australia-England cricket test series as an icon of Australian sport. Find out more about the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia and make sure to snag a good look-out spot on boxing day, to see the yachts make their way 'out the heads'.

Large black hulled maxi yacht Commanche, leaning over under heavy wind, leaving Sydney Harbour on it's way to Hobart on boxing day 2014
American super-maxi yacht Comanche on its way south at the start of the grueling Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, 2014 Video still © Sydney Living Museums

We have an amphitheatre here which captivates the people of Sydney and what we'll see on the 26th [of December] is every foreshore vantage point crowded with people, out to wave goodbye to the sailors starting in the race.

CYCA Commodore John Cameron




Colourful model of tugboat built out with Lego with minifig passengers and tyre bumpers

Like all harbour tugs, this little fellow is all business. You can see that it’s functional, sturdy and armed with trusty tyres, ready to bump into anything afloat. No-one who’s seen a tugboat at work would accuse it of being chicken.

Ryan McNaught

Ryan McNaught's LEGO model of a plucky harbour tugboat, complete with captain, crew and a chicken on board, Museum of Sydney, 2015. Video still © Sydney Living Museums


Tugboats are the workers of the harbour. "While they're all about function", as tug master Jeff McClenaughan, tells us, "they're also a lot of fun to operate." Early tugboats kept Sydney’s maritime trade alive by assisting sailing ships to dock in or depart from the harbour and by hauling ships to nearby ports in all kinds of weather and seas. Before radios, tugs raced through ‘the heads’ to meet incoming ships – with rival operators sometimes stooping to dangerous tactics. While engines made ships more efficient offshore, tugs were vital to manoeuvring large vessels alongside wharves or guiding them through confined and sometimes treacherous ‘inshore’ waters. Today, with cargo ships no longer docking in the harbour, the work of Sydney’s plucky tugs ranges from nudging work platforms, fireworks barges and buoys into place to towing ocean liners, tall ships and aircraft carriers. And best of all, according to Jeff, a tug surrounded by tyre fenders can 'bump' into anything it likes, without doing any damage. Read more about the tugboats of Sydney Harbour at the Dictionary of Sydney.

Small tugboat with cabin and tyre bumpers in Sydney Harbour.
Like all Sydney Harbour tugboats, the plucky Coramba is all business. Photo © Jeff McClenaughan, Ausbarge

It's a great feeling to be in a comparatively small vessel with a lot of power ... you can do a lot of things with it, and it's a lot of fun - it is a lot of fun.

Tugboat master Jeff McLenaughan, Ausbarge




Giant Lego P&O cruise Ship

The real tricky part of this cruise ship was splitting it in half, but the pay-off is that now you can see all the cabins, restaurants, ships, casinos; everything happening on board a modern cruise ship. We even have a few stowaways from the 1980s and 1990s - 'Disco Stu' and his friends getting funky on the dance floor and all the rest, they're all on board sailing as well. So keep a sharp eye out for them.

Ryan McNaught

Giant Lego P&O Cruise Ship © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums


The oldest cruise line in the world, P&O, has run ocean-going passengers ships since the early 19th century. It also brought the first ocean liner to Sydney in 1932. Originally based around mail and cargo delivery, P&O launched its first dedicated passenger cruises in 1844, running between Southampton and Mediterranean Sea ports. The popularity of ocean cruises to Sydney peaked between 1945 and the early 1970s, when the scene of a homecoming liner gliding down the harbour or pulling out from the docks swathed in colourful streamers, was a familiar spectacle. Once the jet age took hold and the cost of air travel dropped, most travelers opted for an overnight haul to London rather than spending a leisurely three weeks at sea. Today family-friendly cruises are enjoying a comeback, with the majestic Pacific Aria and its sister ship, the Pacific Eden, joining Australia’s P&O fleet in November 2015. Meet the fleet here and find out about P&O's cruising adventures.

Large ocean liner with dark blue hull alongside passenger terminal at circular quay, Sydney Harbour with the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background and ferry terminals in the foreground
P&O cruise ship, the Pacific Aria, alongside the Oversees Passenger Terminal at Sydney's bustling Circular Quay. Photo Gary Crockett © Sydney Living Museums

... one of things that I love about this ship is that we turn around in Sydney, probably one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. So when we come through we turn to port as we come up the channel, Bradley's Head on our starboard side, we're reducing speed all the time, all of a sudden Fort Denison comes into the sunlight and then you see the bridge on the starboard side. And we sound the whistle, the kids love it, everybody's screaming and cheering and certainly on the top they're all waving down and then we put the ship alongside here - fantastic.

Captain Gavin Pears, P&O Cruises



Sydney Opera House

large scale lego model of sydney opera house

This is one of the most difficult models to build out of Lego and the reason is those compound curves. You’ve not only got a brain-busting variable curve, but also a good seven of them going in all directions. You’ve got wedges and recessed panels joining the sections together and the whole roof’s got to support itself, almost like defying gravity. That’s what I call an anti-Lego build …

Ryan McNaught

Large scale Lego model of Sydney Opera House by Ryan McNaught in the exhibition Sydney Harbour Icons with Lego Bricks at the Museum of Sydney. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums


Like a ship in full sail, or a family of gleaming crustaceans sunning themselves on the seashore, the Sydney Opera House is one of the world’s most scrutinized and eccentric buildings. The Opera House was opened in 1973 after 15 years of construction, during which the architect, Jǿrn Utzon, famously resigned, while controversial and dramatic changes were made to his original vision. Standing at the forefront of 20th-century architecture, it’s also one of the world’s most famous performing arts centres. In 2007, six decades after Utzon submitted his design, UNESCO added the Sydney Opera House to its World Heritage list. Find out more about the history and design of the Sydney Opera House here

Large building standing on peninsula with brown podium, large white sail-like roof sections under blue sky, with light cloud cover.
The Sydney Opera House on Bennelong Point. Photo Gary Crockett © Sydney Living Museums

... we placed a building that celebrates fantastic art forms like ballet and opera and music, right here in the middle of the harbour. I think Sydney needed it, as Sydney matured as a place, it needed to have a cultural icon, something where all those talented people that we have in this city could actually be showcased. It showed that Australia and Sydney in particular had matured to the point where those special things, those arts, are valued highly.

Engineer Peter Macdonald, Principal, Arup



Luna Park

Exhibition table of bright and colourful lego models of Luna Park, including entrance face, ferris wheel, medieval-like crystal place and roller coaster

The trick with Luna Park was to give the minifigs a great time, which meant plenty of lights and movement. Check out the brave faces on the Wild Mouse rollercoaster and you’ll see that it’s a bit of a wild ride. The Ferris wheel motor and worm gears are true Lego parts, which also came in handy. Those minifigs are going to get pretty dizzy.

Ryan McNaught

Lego model of Luna Park in the exhibition Sydney Harbour Icons with Lego Bricks at the the Museum of Sydney. Photo © James Horan for Sydney Living Museums


Since 1935 thousands of visitors have canoodled in the ‘River Caves’, howled with delight on the Wild Mouse roller coaster and endured unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions on the rubber-walled Rotor. With their amusement attraction failing in Adelaide, the park’s original ‘showmen’ owners relocated their rides to Milsons Point. Luna Park was built by a team of 1000 engineers, fitters, riggers and labourers, and tricked up by a creative coterie of artists. It was a hit from the beginning. And despite a number of financial setbacks, redevelopment threats, local opposition, near misses and terrible tragedy, the devilish face remains aglow, a sinister and seductive beacon sparkling irreverently on the harbour’s inky waters. Find out more about the amazing history of Luna Park, or check out opening hours and visitor information.

Large colourful clown-like face and towers guarding the entrance to amusement park on the water's edge, with Ferris wheel and other rides in the background.
The beaming and slightly unsettling face at the entrance to Luna Park, Milson's Point, Sydney. Photo © Aleksandar Todorovic /

4 October 1935 - Luna Park opens with rides relocated from Luna Park Glenelg [South Australia]. The concept is based on the success of the first Luna Park which opened on Coney Island, New York in 1903.



Sydney Harbour Bridge

view along the road platform on lego model of sydney harbour bridge showing brown pylons, girders, traffic signals and cars

Getting the iconic arch right was hard enough, but getting this huge model to stay up really blew our minds. We followed the cue of the 1930s builders by starting at each end and meeting in the middle. Just like the real one today, it’s busy: blocked by an accident, crisscrossed by trains, patched up by painters and bravely conquered by climbers.

Ryan McNaught

Ryan McNaught's Lego model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge showing the pylons, passing traffic and sight seers. Video still © Sydney Living Museums


Here is Sydney, Australia’s most famous bridge is nicknamed ‘the coathanger’. Following eight years of construction and employing 1400 workers, this majestic steel-arched bridge opened in 1932, connecting the city’s newly developed and leafy northern suburbs with the CBD and Sydney’s southern districts. While its hardy engineering, mechanistic form and raw beauty hailed from the 19th century, it symbolized progress and hope for a nation gripped by economic woes. More than 80 years on, packed trains and around 220,000 cars, along with cyclists, joggers, pedestrians and wide-eyed tourists cross this ‘living landmark’ every day. Find out more about the Bridge and the BridgeClimb experience here.

large steel arched bridge spanning water between peninsulas
One of the world's largest steel arched structures and certainly the most famous landmark is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, connecting Milson's Point and Dawes Point across the busy waterway of Sydney Harbour. Photo Gary Crockett © Sydney Living Museums

Welcome to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the world's greatest steel arched bridge. Eighty three years old, opened in 1932, 134 metres above the world's largest natural harbour.

Chris Henry, BridgeClimb



New Year's Eve Fireworks

Installtion view of brightly lit Lego fireworks model hovering over exhibition of Lego Models

As far as I’m aware, no-one has ever been crazy enough to tackle a LEGO fireworks model before and without Sydney Living Museums’ Kieran Larkin and Justin Maynard, who figured out how to rig up and slot hundreds of filament-like LEDs into the tentacles, I’d still be scratching my head and wondering where to start. Step back kids, this bunger’s gonna blow!

Ryan McNaught

Justin Maynard's Lego fireworks flash and flicker above a roomful of Sydney Harbour Icons, built by Ryan McNaught at the Museum of Sydney. Video still © Sydney Living Museums


When Italian fireworks maker Celestino Foti sailed into Sydney in 1952 he gazed in awe at the Harbour Bridge looming overhead. Fifty years later that bridge would display his family’s gunpowder wizardry to the world. Initially his business created minor spectacles at local festivals and backyard parties. As the popularity of ‘cracker nights’ waned in 1980s Foti International Fireworks turned to producing epic displays and large-scale celebrations. For New Year’s Eve 2014 the Fotis lit up the sky with 7 tonnes of fireworks. Using the harbour as a giant canvas, Celestino’s grandson Fortunato sent 12,000 mortars, 25,000 shooting comets and 100,000 pyro effects aloft, to the amazement of 1.6 million onlookers lining the harbour foreshores..

Brightly coloured fireworks explode above the water of Circular Quay and the Sydney Harbour Bridge while revelers crowd the streets of Sydney's Rocks area to celebrate New Years Eve.
Foti International Fireworks launch colourful and spectacular fireworks from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and high above Circular Quay, while revelers crowd Bennelong Point and streets of the Rocks to celebrate New Years Eve, 2014. Photo © Destination NSW

I've pretty much displayed fireworks on every continent of the world and you know Sydney Harbour is probably the envy of all fireworks people, anywhere, hands down. It's not only a great location for fireworks, like a natural amphitheatre, there's not many places where you can get one and half million people down to watch an event - you can't get any better.

Fortunato Foti, Master pyrotechnician

It doesn’t matter how many times I go out on the harbour, I still get a buzz out of looking at the bridge, the Opera House, the boats buzzing around, yachts, little boats, big boats, barges, work boats, tugs, ships – it’s a brilliant place to work and it’s what I love to do.

Jeff McClenaughan, tugboat captain, Ausbarge


Museum of Sydney

7 November 2015 - 31 July 2016

Exhibition partners

Major partner

Major partner,
Museum of Sydney

See more Children & Family