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Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the major landmarks of Sydney. It connects the Sydney CBD and with the North Shore commercial area , both of which are located on Sydney Harbour.

The vista of the bridge together with the nearby Sydney Opera House is an iconic image of Australia.

The bridge has sometimes been called "The Coathanger" because of its arch based construction..

One source of disappointment for those who had built the bridge was the discovery that the Bayonne Bridge in New York, opened on November 15, 1931, was 70 cm longer. However, the Harbour Bridge was Sydney's tallest structure until 1967.

Table of contents
1 Description
2 Access
3 History
5 External Links


The bridge's two ends are located in at Dawes Point (in Sydney's Rocks area) and Milson's Point (in Sydney's lower North Shore area). It carries 8 lanes of traffic on its main roadway (called the Bradfield Highway), 2 railway lines and a bicycle path along its western side, and a footpath along its eastern side. The Bradfield Highway is about 2.4 km long and is the shortest highway in Australia.

The arch span is 503 metres and the weight of the steel arch is 39,000 tons. The summit is 134m above mean sea level, though it can increase by as much as 18 cm on hot days as the result of steel expanding in heat. The two pairs of pylons at each end are about 89 metres high and are made of concrete and granite. A museum and tourist centre with a lookout of the harbour can be found in one of the southern pylons.

The steel used for the bridge was largely imported. About 79% came from the Great Britain, the rest was Australian-made. The granite, quarried in Moruya NSW, and concrete is also Australian.


Motor vehicle access to the bridge is normally done through York Street, Sydney or via the Cahill Expressway. A bridge toll is payable at the tollgates on the southern end of the bridge. Drivers on the northern side will always find themselves on the Warringah Freeway, though it is easy to turn off the freeway to drive westwards into North Sydney or eastwards to Neutral Bay and beyond upon arrival on the northern side.

Pedestrian access from the northern side is easy and involves climbing an easily-spotted flight of stairs at Milson's Point. Pedestrian access on the southern side is more complicated , and pedestrians seeking to use it need to know exactly where the long and sheltered flight of stairs that lead to the southern end's access is. It is located near Gloucester Street and Cumberland Street in the Sydney Rocks area.

The railway on the bridge runs between Wynyard and Milson's Point railway stations.



There had been plans to build a bridge as early as 1815, when Francis Greenway proposed that a bridge be built across the harbour. Nothing came of this.

The building of the current bridge can be said to have started in 1890 , when a royal commission determined that there was a heavy level of ferry traffic in the Sydney Harbour area, best relieved with the construction of a bridge. Vehicular access to the north shore was undertaken with a series of smaller bridges located further westwards in the harbour, but this was insufficient for the traffic in the Sydney/North Sydney area.

Designs and proposals were requested in 1900, but a formal proposal was not accepted until 1911. In 1912, John Bradfield was appointed chief engineer of the bridge project, which also had to include a railway. He completed a formal design - the now familiar single arch shape - in 1916, but plans to implement the design were postponed until 1922, primarily because of World War I.

In November, 1922, the NSW Government passed a formal Act that approved the bridge's construction. Construction tenders for the bridge were requested the same year, and a British firm called Dorman Long and Co Ltd won. To offset concerns about a foreign firm participating in the project, assurances were given by Bradfield that the workforce building the bridge would all be Australians.


The building of the bridge, under the supervision of Bradfield, coincided with the construction of a system of underground railways in Sydney's CBD, known today as the City Circle in the late 1920s, and the bridge's required rail link was designed with this in mind.

The construction project began in 1923, with the demolition of 438 homes. The first sod for the bridge was turned that same year. In 1925, the excavations began, and construction of the bridge itself began in 1927. Construction of the arch of the bridge began in 1929, with two separate teams building the arch on each side. The arch was successfully joined on August 19, 1930. The road, two sets of tram lines and railways were completed in 1931. In January 19, 1932, the first train, a test steam locomotive, safely crossed the bridge. About 90 others also crossed the bridge in the months that followed.

The standards of industrial safety were inadequate. 16 workers died during its construction, mainly from falling off the bridge. Several more were injured from unsafe working practices undertaken whilst heating and constructing its rivets.

Opening of the Bridge

On March 14, 1932, three postage stamps were issued to comemmorate the imminent opening of the bridge. One of these stamps, with a face value of five shillings, is now worth several hundred dollars today.

Several songs were also composed in advance for the occasion. These have now been largely lost or forgotten.

The bridge was formally opened on 19th March, 1932. The opening itself became an event in its own right. The Premier of the day, controversial Labor politician Jack Lang, intended to formally open the bridge by cutting a ribbon at a public ceremony. However, just as he was about to do so, a Captain Francis de Groot moved forward on a horse and slashed the ribbon instead with a sword , declaring the bridge to be open "in the name of the people of New South Wales". He was arrested and later convicted of offensive behaviour.

It later transpired that de Groot was not a member of the regular Army but that he was a member of a 1930s right-wing paramilitary group called the New Guard. He had been impersonating a member of the military present that day on the bridge.

Other features of the opening ceremony included a vast display of floats and arching bands - one quite remarkable by Depression standards. The public was allowed to walk on the highway.

The bridge itself was regarded as a triumph over Depression times.


Since the opening, the bridge has been the focal point of much tourism and national pride. It is Sydney's focal point of New Year and Australia Day celebrations, with fireworks being set off from the arch. Tragically, it has also been the scene of about 40 suicides, many of which took place within months of the bridge's opening.

In 1957, the two tram lines were removed, thus giving the bridge two more traffic lanes.

In 1982, the bridge celebrated the 50th anniversary of its opening. Once again, the bridge was closed to vehicles and pedestrians again allowed full access for the day.

Australia's bicentennial celebrations in January 26, 1988, attracted large crowds in the bridge's vicinity. In that same year, work began to build a underground tunnel to complement the bridge. It was determined that the bridge could no longer support the increased traffic flow. The Sydney Harbour Tunnel was completed in August, 1992. It is intended only for use by motor vehicles. Before it was officially opened for use, the tunnel was made open for pedestrian access, with persons on that day able to walk down the tunnel's roadway.

In May, 2000, the bridge was closed to vehicular access for a day to allow a special reconciliation march - the "Walk for Reconciliation" - to take place. This was part of a response to an Aboriginal "Stolen Generation" inquiry, which found widespread suffering had taken place amongst Australian Aboriginal children forcibly placed into the care of white parents in a little-known scheme. A large number of Australians walked down the Bradfield Highway in a symbolic gesture of crossing a divide.

During the Sydney 2000 Olympics in September and October 2000, the bridge was adorned with the Olympic rings. It was included in the Olympic torch'es route to the Olympic stadium. The men's and women's Olympic marathon events likewise included the bridge as part of its route to the Olympic stadium. A massive fireworks display at the end of the closing ceremony ended at the bridge.

Security on the bridge has recently been introduced. It has been deemed likely that the bridge will attract the attention of terrorists because of Australia's support of the War on Terrorism.


"There the proud arch Colossus like bestride
Yon glittering streams and bound the strafing tide"

Prophetic observation of Sydney Cove by Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin , from his poem 'Visit of Hope to Sydney Cove, near Botany Bay' (1789)

"To get on in Australia, you must make two observations. Say, "You have the most beautiful bridge in the world" and "They tell me you trounced England again in the cricket." The first statement will be a lie. Sydney Bridge [sic] is big, utilitaritan and the symbol of Australia, like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower. But it is very ugly. No Australian will admit this."

James Michener assesses Sydney Harbour Bridge in his book 'Return to Paradise', (1951)

External Links