The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of Australia’s most well known and photographed landmarks. It is the world’s largest (but not the longest) steel arch bridge with the top of the bridge standing 134 metres above the harbour. It is fondly known by the locals as the ‘Coathanger’ because of its arch-based design.
A history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
It was as early as 1815 that Francis Greenway proposed building a bridge from the northern to the southern shore of the harbour. It took some time for this to become a reality with design submissions invited in 1900. All the submissions were considered unsuitable and so the momentum for the bridge crossing stopped. However, after the First World War more serious plans were made, with a general design for the Sydney Harbour Bridge prepared by Dr J J C Bradfield and officers of the NSW Department of Public Works. The New South Wales Government then invited worldwide tenders for the construction of the Bridge in 1922 and the contract was let to English firm Dorman Long and Co of Middlesbrough. The Sydney Harbour Bridge construction started in 1924 and took 1,400 men eight years to build at a cost of 4.2 million. Six million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel were used in its construction. It now carries eight traffic lanes and two rail lines, one in each direction, but at the time of its construction the two eastern lanes were tram tracks. They were converted to road traffic when Sydney closed down its tram system in the 1950s.
An interesting past
The Bridge has an interesting past including its official opening on 19 March 1932. Before the NSW Premier, the Honourable John ‘Jack’ T. Lang, could cut the ribbon to signify the opening of the Harbour Bridge, Captain Francis De Groot of the political group The New Guard slashed the ribbon with his sword. Captain De Goot believed that the only person to open the Bridge should be a member of the Royal Family. Captain De Goot was detained, the ribbon tied together, and the Premier then officially cut the ribbon. As many as 800 families living in the Bridge’s path were relocated and their homes demolished without any compensation given when the Bridge started construction. Sixteen workers lives were lost during construction of the Bridge.
Climbing the Bridge
BridgeClimb started in 1998 and attracts tourists and locals alike to climb the monument. After climbing through catwalks and up ladders and stairs, the view is absolutely breathtaking. There are day, twilight and night climbs and a group of twelve will leave for a climb every ten minutes. The safety precautions taken include a blood alcohol reading and a Climb Simulator, which shows Climbers the climbing conditions that might be experienced on the Bridge. By all reports, BridgeClimb is fantastic and one of the ‘must dos’ while on a trip to Sydney, with royals and celebrities such as Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, Matt Damon, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Ferguson, Cathy Freeman, Kylie Minogue and Kostya Tszyu all having done the Climb.
Flying under the Bridge
It is reported that in 1943 a flight of 24 RAAF Wirraways flew under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with one of the pilots changing his flight path at the last moment to go over the top of the Bridge only just clearing it in time. There is another story of the Americans flying under the Harbour Bridge, with one Kittyhawk flying under in about February 1942 and two Kittyhawks in May 1942. Again in May 1942, the Dutch flew three aircraft of the 18 Squadron NEI-AF under the Bridge in formation and then circled back to do another flight under the Bridge in a single line. On 22 October 1943, Flight Lieutenant Peter Isaacson and his crew flew the huge Australian Lancaster, Q for Queenie, under the Harbour Bridge during a tour around Australia to raise funds for the war effort.
The building of the bridge was under the management of Bradfield. Three other people heavily involved in the bridge’s design and construction were Lawrence Ennis, Edward Judge, and Sir Ralph Freeman. Ennis was the engineer-in-charge at Dorman Long and Co and the main on-site supervisor (Bradfield visited occasionally throughout the project and, in particular, at many key stages of the project, to inspect progress and make managerial decisions), Judge was chief technical engineer of Dorman Long, and Freeman was hired by the company to design the accepted model in further detail. Later a bitter disagreement broke out between Bradfield and Freeman as to who actually designed the bridge. The official ceremony to mark the “turning of the first sod” occurred on 28 July 1923, on the spot at Milsons Point on the north shore where two workshops to assist in building the bridge were to be constructed. Construction started: July 28, 1923 Opened: March 19, 1932 Height: 141 m Location: Milsons Point, Millers Point, Sydney Bodies of water: Port Jackson, Sydney Harbour Architects: John Bradfield, Ralph Freeman, Thomas S. Tait