"In the event of a bridge being thrown across from Dawes Battery to the north shore a town would be built on that shore, and would have formed with these buildings a grand whole that would have indeed surprised anyone entering the harbour."

Francis Greenway, government architect - letter to The Australian newspaper, 1825

From the early days of Sydney's history, there existed a vision of a bridge across the harbour. Linking the northern and southern land surrounding the harbour, this would allow the city to expand, without the need for a long trip around the harbour, or a water crossing. On the 19th of March, 1932, this vision became a reality.

Construction of the bridge began in 1923, when work on the approaches started, the actual bridge construction beginning in 1929. Designed by John Job Crew Bradfield, it remains the largest steel span bridge in the world - it is not the longest however. With a 503 metre span, New York's Bayonne bridge was longer by one metre, opened a year earlier. Due for completion in 2003, the Hu-Pu bridge, in Shanghai, China, will be 500 metres long and the longest by far.

The arches of the bridge stretch 134 meters above Sydney harbour, with 49 metres of clearance under the bridge for ships to pass. Just about any ship is able to sail under the bridge, although tall ships visiting for Australia's Bicentennial celebrations in 1988 had a few problems. In total, 52,800 tonnes of steel were used in the bridge's construction.

Although it may appear at a glance that the four large concrete, granite faced pylons that stand at the ends of the bridge are there to hold it up, that task actually falls to four massive steel pins, 4.2 metres long each, sitting close to the base of the pylons. The bridge slowly took shape over the years, firstly the steel arches growing from opposite ends of the bridge. Massive cranes crept outwards atop the structure, placing steel girders in place, the two ends finally meeting on the 19th of April, 1930. After this, the deck was laid from the centre out - built this way so that the cranes didn't need to be moved back to the start of the arches. Nine months later, the decking was complete.

Incredibly, there were only 16 fatalities in the construction of the bridge, 7 on the bridge itself, and 9 in workshops producing the materials needed for it's construction. Although that would be an appallingly high number these days, compare it to the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, completed 60 years earlier - 139 workers died during its construction.

The opening of the bridge is an occasion that was marked by controversy, although in typical Australian larrikin fashion. Before the ribbon could be officially cut by then NSW premier, John T. Lang, Captain Francis De Grout, of the Paramilitary group of the New Guard, rode up on his horse, and slashed the ribbon with his sword. The ribbon was retied, and the bridge officially opened, before a crowd estimated to be between 300,000 and a million people.

As Australia grows into a new century, the bridge has lost none of it's appeal, or importance to the city of Sydney, and the people of Australia. Indeed, more and more it is becoming a focal point for celebrations, and a focus for commemoration. On the 28th of May, 2000, over a quarter of a million people marched across the bridge in a symbolic apology to Indigenous Australia, and the people of the Stolen Generations. In recent years, the bridge has been a canvas for artworks that form the focus of major celebrations. The first time this occurred was New Years Eve, 1998/1999, when a simple smiley face lit up the bridge. As part of celebrations for the massive 1999/2000 celebrations, the word 'Eternity' came to life - a simple tribute to Arthur Stace, a man who would walk Sydney's streets in the 30's, writing his one word message in chalk on paths around the city. As part of the celebrations for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the Olympic Rings glowed brightly against the bridge's side, from the opening ceremony, to the closing.

The flags flying from the top of the bridge are often also changed, to commemorate certain occasions. In a running bet on the outcome of the rugby league State of Origin series, contested between the states of New South Wales and Queensland each year, the harbour bridge will fly the Queensland flag if they win the series. (Unfortunately, it's been flying there a bit in recent years!) Recently, when fire fighters present at the World Trade Centre on September 11 visited the city, the Stars and Stripes flew high above the harbour.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge has long been one of Sydney's most famous tourist attractions, however it is now also possible to climb it, with the creation of company BridgeClimb in 1998. Operating from early morning into the evening, these climbs have proved so popular that they now leave at ten minute intervals to cope with demand. If you visit Sydney these days, you will always see the shape of tiny groups of people, far above the harbour, enjoying what must be the most spectacular view Sydney has to offer.

It seems that with any bridge - or indeed any major construction - with the size and history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, there are many statistics available. So here is an assortment of some of this bridge's interesting facts and figures:

  • There are 6 million hand driven rivets holding the bridge together, the largest 39cm long, weighing 3.5 kg.

  • In the hot Australian sun, the arch can rise or fall up to 18cm.

  • At 49 Metres wide, it is the world's widest steel span bridge.

  • Initially, the bridge required 272,000 litres of grey paint, to cover it in three coats. It is constantly being painted.

  • In June of 1976, the one billionth car crossed the bridge.


The Daily Telegraph

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