My First Love Was A Bridge
September 24, 2015
Sydney Harbour Bridge

I was born in Sydney, Australia and spent my first five years growing up in the city. During that time I met my first love – the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I was obsessed with the Harbour Bridge the way most toddlers won’t go anywhere without their favourite toy or insist on listening to the same song on repeat. My mum even made me a Harbour Bridge shaped birthday cake – because I requested it. I have always been in awe of the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s size and beauty. I distinctly remember the bitter disappointment I felt when mum told me they were building a tunnel, that meant we wouldn’t cross the Bridge as often. What is the history behind this special Bridge? Let me tell you…

Ideas and designs

The idea of a bridge connecting Milsons Point and Dawes Point on opposite sides of Sydney Harbour, sprung up in 1815. It would be almost one hundred years before the idea started to become a reality. Dr John Bradfield, the chief engineer of New South Wales (NSW) Public Works was appointed to oversee the project in 1912. World War I hindered progress until in 1922 the NSW government finally passed legislation to allow the Bridge to be built, while a worldwide tender process searched for a worthy design.

Designs were submitted from six countries, with British firm Dorman, Long and Co. winning with their proposal for an arched bridge. The design bears strong resemblance to New York’s Hell Gate Bridge built in 1916, and Tyne Bridge in the UK that opened in 1928, only on a much larger scale.

Harbour Bridge designs

Sketches of designs submitted for the Sydney Harbour crossing in the 1900 tender. None of the submissions were considered suitable, and another tendering process was not conducted until 1922. Image care of Wikipedia.

Build a bridge and get over it, Sydney Harbour that is

Work began on the Bridge in 1924 and to prevent shipping hazards and additional costs, the arch was built in two halves anchored with giant steel cables to rocks. Two custom designed creeper cranes, each weighing 580 tonnes and able to lift 123 tonnes were made to slink along the tops of the two half arches as they were being constructed, lifting the steel into place.

In 1930, after a severe storm tested the Bridge, its two halves met for the first time. Workers on the Bridge were shouted a cheap beer and half day holiday. Ferry horns tooted and their passengers waved with joy, as the Australian and British flags fluttered proudly in the breeze, hung from the creeper cranes.

SHB Two Halves Meet

Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction, August 1930. Photo care of The City of Sydney Archives.

Bridge the gap

With the creeper cranes now in the centre, the deck was built from the middle outward. Train and tram tracks were laid and to prove the strength of the Bridge, 96 locomotives were lined up buffer to buffer on the four rail tracks.

Six million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel later, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the longest single span steel arch bridge in the world at the time, was completed in 1932. At the height of the Great Depression, completion of the Bridge lifted the spirits of the people of Sydney and the opening was celebrated with much fanfare.

Celebrations included a gun salute, fly-over, fireworks, sporting carnivals, exhibitions, and a parade of marching bands, military, war veterans, school children, indigenous Australians, surf life savers and bridge workers among other notable community groups. This was followed by a pageant of themed floats cataloguing NSW history and looking into the future. The public were then invited to walk across the deck of the Bridge, which was not repeated until 1982 when the city celebrated the 50th anniversary.

Sydney Harbour Bridge Up Close

Photo by Juan Alberto Garcia Rivera via Flickr.

The love affair

Even now, the first thing I look for on a visit to Sydney, as the plane comes in to land or as we drive into the city, is my beloved Harbour Bridge – 39,000 tonnes of graceful, sweeping steel and four granite clad, art deco style pylons. As luck would have it, my grandfather in-law lives at Milson’s Point, so I have a great excuse to get up close and personal with the Bridge on every trip back to my birthplace.

A Bridge climb will take you up one half of the arch to the summit at 134m above sea level for beautiful panoramic views of Sydney and back down the opposing side of the same half i.e. you won’t climb from one end of the Bridge to the other as I had expected. The climb is an unforgettable experience, providing a unique viewpoint of Sydney and the Harbour.

Sydney Harbour Bridge climb

Sir James and I on our Harbour Bridge Climb.

Overall though I prefer to take in the Bridge from somewhere I can get a macro view of its broad arc and geometric silhouette cut by the vertical hangers and diagonal bracing, yet still feel the enormity of its presence. However crowded it may be at times, my favourite observation point is from outside the Sydney Opera House. There are plenty of restaurants to enjoy a coffee or glass of wine while marvelling at the engineered beauty and landmark feature of Sydney’s skyline. Oh and the Opera House is nice too!

With love,

Madam ZoZo

About author

Madam ZoZo

Hi! I'm Madam ZoZo, aka Zoë, an Australian designer, creative consultant, blogger and digital nomad. I'm passionate about travel, design, dance and new experiences that fuel my creativity. I strive to travel in a style that is gentle on the earth and that contributes to the communities I visits, even if it is merely to take away a greater understanding of a different culture. Duende by Madam ZoZo, is where I share the stories of my travels and the duende (soul/inspiration) I find along the way.

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There are 2 comments

  • […] 2016 was completed with a trip home to Australia, beginning in Sydney and then northward to Ballina, Byron Bay, Gold Coast and Brisbane. After a beautiful Christmas day with family, we were fortunate enough to witness the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race start from a ferry on Sydney Harbour.  The mood on the harbour was electric, as hundreds, if not thousands of sea vessels jostled for a position to catch the starter’s gun and many pursued the racing yachts as long as they could keep up .  Not only was the race start incredible to experience from such close range, but the weather was perfect and I got to spend time staring lovingly at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. […]

  • […] Pittsburgh has 446 bridges, making it the city with the most bridges in the world. As someone whose first love was a bridge, this instantly endeared the city to me. Why so many bridges? Pittsburgh is located on the […]

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