Sydney Harbour Bridge in Sydney

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The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a steel through arch bridge across Sydney Harbour that carries rail, vehicular, bicycle and pedestrian traffic between the Sydney central business district (CBD) and the North Shore. The dramatic view of the bridge, the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera House is an iconic image of both Sydney and Australia. The bridge is nicknamed "The Coathanger" because of its arch-based design.

Under the directions of Dr J.J.C. Bradfield of the NSW Department of Public Works, the bridge was designed and built by English firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd of Middlesbrough, and opened in 1932. According to the Guinness World Records, it is the world's widest long-span bridge. It is also the fifth longest spanning-arch bridge in the world, and it is the tallest steel arch bridge, measuring from top to water level. Until 1967 the Harbour Bridge was Sydney's tallest structure.


The southern (CBD) bridge end is located at Millers Point in The Rocks area, and the northern end at Milsons Point in the lower North Shore area. It carries six lanes of road traffic on its main roadway, while on its eastern side are two lanes of road traffic (formerly two tram tracks) and a footpath, and on its western side are two railway tracks and a bicycle path, making the western side broader than the eastern side.

The main roadway across the bridge is known as the Bradfield Highway and is about long, making it one of the shortest highways in Australia. (The shortest, also called the Bradfield Highway, is found on the Story Bridge in Brisbane.)


The arch is composed of two 28-panel arch trusses; their heights vary from at the centre of the arch to at the ends next to the pylons.

The arch has a span of 503 m and its summit is above mean sea level; however, expansion of the steel structure on hot days can increase the height of the arch by as much as . Large steel pins support each end of the arch, allowing it to rotate to accommodate expansion and contraction caused by changes of temperature, and avoiding stresses that would otherwise cause damage.

The total weight of the steelwork of the bridge, including the arch and approach spans, is 52,800 tonnes, with the arch itself weighing 39,000 tonnes. About 79% of the steel was imported from England, with the rest being sourced from Australia. The rivets were heated red-hot and inserted into the plates; the headless end was immediately rounded over with a large pneumatic rivet gun. The largest of the rivets used weighed and was long. The practice of riveting large steel structures, rather than welding, was, at the time, a proven and understood construction technique, whilst structural welding had not at that stage been adequately developed for use on the bridge. The pylons were designed by the Scottish architect Thomas S. Tait, a partner in the architectural firm John Burnet & Partners.

Some 250 Australian, Scottish, and Italian stonemasons and their families relocated to a temporary settlement at Moruya, NSW, south of Sydney, where they quarried around of granite for the bridge pylons. In 1825 Greenway wrote a letter to the then The Australian newspaper stating that such a bridge would "give an idea of strength and magnificence that would reflect credit and glory on the colony and the Mother Country". In 1922 the government passed the Sydney Harbour Bridge Act No. 28, specifying the construction of a high-level cantilever or arch bridge across the harbour between Dawes Point and Milsons Point, along with construction of necessary approaches and electric railway lines,

An estimated 469 buildings on the north shore, both private homes and commercial operations, were demolished in order to allow construction to proceed, with little or no compensation being paid. Work on the bridge itself commenced with the construction of approaches and approach spans, and by September 1926 concrete piers to support the approach spans were in place on each side of the harbour. but surprisingly only two from falling off the bridge. Several more were injured from unsafe working practices undertaken whilst heating and inserting its rivets, and the deafness experienced by many of the workers in later years was blamed on the project. Henri Mallard between 1930 and 1932 produced hundreds of stills and film footage which reveal at close quarters the bravery of the workers in tough Depression-era conditions.

The total financial cost of the bridge was AU£6.25 million, which was not paid off in full until 1988.


The bridge was formally opened on Saturday, 19 March 1932. Amongst those who attended and gave speeches were the state Governor, Sir Philip Game, the Minister for Public Works, and Ennis. The Labor Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, was to open the bridge by cutting a ribbon at its southern end.

However, just as Lang was about to cut the ribbon, a man in military uniform rode in on a horse, slashing the ribbon with his sword and opening the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the name of the people of New South Wales before the official ceremony began. He was promptly arrested. The ribbon was hurriedly retied and Lang performed the official opening ceremony. After he did so, there was a 21-gun salute and an RAAF flypast. The intruder was identified as Francis de Groot. He was convicted of offensive behaviour and fined £5 after a psychiatric test proved he was sane. He was a member of a right-wing paramilitary group called the New Guard, opposed to Lang's leftist policies and resentful of the fact that a member of the Royal Family had not been asked to open the bridge. He installed a number of attractions, including a café, a camera obscura, an Aboriginal museum, a "Mother's Nook" where visitors could write letters, and a 'pashometer'. The main attraction was the viewing platform, where "charming attendants" assisted visitors to use the telescopes available,

The outbreak of World War II in 1939 saw tourist activities on the bridge cease, as the military took over the four pylons and modified them to include parapets and anti-aircraft guns.

After the war, in 1948 Yvonne Rentoul opened the 'All Australian Exhibition' in the pylon. This contained dioramas, and displays about Australian perspectives on subjects such as farming, sport, transport, mining, and the armed forces. An orientation table was installed at the viewing platform, along with a wall guide and binoculars. The owner kept several white cats in a rooftop cattery, which also served as an attraction, and there was a souvenir shop and postal outlet. Rentoul's lease expired in 1971, and the pylon and its lookout remained closed to the public for over a decade.

The pylon was reopened in 1982, with a new exhibition celebrating the bridge's 50th anniversary. In 1987 a 'Bicentennial Exhibition' was opened to mark the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia in 1988.

The pylon was closed from April to November 2000 for the Roads & Traffic Authority and BridgeClimb to create a new exhibition called 'Proud Arch'. The exhibition focussed on Bradfield, and included a glass direction finder on the observation level, and various important heritage items.

The pylon again closed for four weeks in 2003 for the installation of an exhibit called 'Dangerous Works', highlighting the dangerous conditions experienced by the original construction workers on the bridge, and two stained glass feature windows in memory of the workers.


Since 1998, BridgeClimb has made it possible for tourists to climb the southern half of the bridge. Tours run throughout the day, from dawn to dusk, and are only cancelled for electrical storms or high wind. Night climbs are also available.

Groups of climbers are provided with protective clothing appropriate to the prevailing weather conditions and are given an orientation briefing before climbing. During the climb, attendees are secured to the bridge by a wire lifeline. Each climb begins on the eastern side of the bridge and ascends to the top. At the summit, the group crosses to the western side of the arch for the descent. Each climb is a three-and-a-half-hour experience.

In December 2006, BridgeClimb


Since the opening, the bridge has been the focal point of much tourism and national pride.

50th Anniversary celebrations (1982)

In 1982, the bridge celebrated the 50th anniversary of its opening. For the first time since its opening in 1932, the bridge was closed to vehicles, and pedestrians were allowed full access for the day.

75th anniversary (2007)

In 2007, the 75th anniversary of its opening was commemorated with an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, called "Bridging Sydney". An initiative of the Historic Houses Trust, the exhibition featured dramatic photographs and paintings with rare and previously unseen alternative bridge and tunnel proposals, plans and sketches.

On 18 March 2007, the Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrated its 75th anniversary. The occasion was marked with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the governor, Marie Bashir and the premier of New South Wales, Morris Iemma. The bridge was subsequently open to the public to walk southward from Milsons Point or North Sydney. Several major roads, mainly in the CBD, were closed for the day. An Aboriginal smoking ceremony was held at 7pm.

Approximately 250,000 people (50,000 more than were registered) took part in the event. Bright yellow souvenir caps were distributed to walkers. A series of speakers placed at intervals along the bridge formed a sound installation. Each group of speakers broadcast sound and music from a particular era (e.g. King Edward VIII's abdication speech; Gough Whitlam's speech at Parliament House in 1975), the overall effect being that the soundscape would "flow" through history as walkers proceeded along the bridge. A light-show began after sunset and continued late into the night, the bridge being bathed in constantly changing, multi-coloured lighting, designed to highlight structural features of the bridge. In the evening the bright green caps were replaced by orange caps with a small, bright LED attached. The bridge was closed to walkers at about 8.30 p.m.

Breakfast on the Bridge (2009 to Present)

On 25 October 2009 turf was laid across the eight lanes of bitumen, and 6000 people celebrated a picnic on the bridge accompanied by live music. The event was repeated in 2010, with the aim to make this an annual event.


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).

Francis de Groot 'opening' the Sydney Harbour Bridge, (1932). His organisation, the New Guard, had resented the fact that King George V had not been asked to open the bridge.

James Michener assessing the Sydney Harbour Bridge in his book "Return to Paradise", (1951).

American travel-writer Bill Bryson's impressions of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in his book "Down Under", (2000).

See also

  • Australian landmarks
  • List of the largest arch bridges

Other sources

  • Four papers on the design and construction of the bridge in volume 238 of the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 1935 Kinley
  • Knezevic, Daniel,(1947), 'The Lost Bridge',

External links