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.
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.
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.
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.
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!