National Heritage List inscription date 19 March 2007
The Sydney Harbour Bridge is considered the world's greatest arch bridge and one of Australia's best-known and photographed landmarks.
Click an image for a larger view.
The beginning of a modern Sydney
An engineering masterpiece completed during the technical revolution of the 1930s, the bridge represented a pivotal step in the development of modern Sydney and was recognised internationally as a symbol of progress, of industrial maturity and a vision of a splendid future for Australia.
It took more than 100 years for the idea of a bridge spanning the northern and southern shores of the harbour to become reality. Convict architect Francis Greenway proposed a bridge over Sydney Harbour to Governor Macquarie as early as 1815. By 1916 a suitable design was submitted by engineer JJC Bradfield, it involved an arch bridge as a key element of an integrated transport system including an extensive network of rail and roadways leading to the bridge. It wasn’t until 1924 that a contract was let to Dorman Long & Company of Middlesbrough, England to build the iconic structure.
Constructing a national icon
Construction started that year. It took over 2,000 men eight years to build the landmark bridge and cost £4.2 million. Six million hand driven rivets and 53,000 tonnes of steel were used for the build. Although the workers were overwhelmingly Australian, the workforce had a multi-national character, with skilled labourers, such as stonemasons and ironworkers, brought from overseas.
Sixteen men died during the construction phase, and around 800 families living in the bridge’s footprint were relocated without compensation. Completion of the bridge in 1932 coincided with the darkest days of the Depression.
The opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 was a momentous occasion, drawing crowds of nearly one million people. Celebrations on the day commemorated the bridge made in Australia, mostly by Australians, for Australians. A song written for the occasion by Jack Lumsdaine tells of `the bridge we have been waiting for.”
The Labor Daily of 19 March 1932 says: ‘Today is the day of days, when political differences are forgotten. New South Wales unites in the glorification of Our Bridge, and added attraction to Our Harbour. The building of this gigantic Bridge is just as much a national milestone as Anzac.’
A rebellious ribbon-cutting
The NSW Premier at the time, John T Lang, officially declared the bridge open, but before he could cut the ribbon, Captain Francis de Groot of the New Guard (but disguised as a military horseman), slashed it with his sword. He claimed that the bridge should have been opened by member of the royal family. The incident has become a part of Australian folklore and a symbol of the perceived national character trait of rebellion against authority.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge crosses one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and is a striking feature of Sydney’s skyline. It was part of JCC Bradfield’s vision for the bridge that it be used “at times of national rejoicing”. Today the bridge is indeed often the focus for national celebration, such as the annual New Year’s Eve celebrations broadcast across the globe.
Whether it is by car, bus, train, bike or foot, from the bridge visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of Sydney’s other majestic landmark, the Sydney Opera House. These two outstanding examples of our national heritage represent Australia's most renowned iconic landmarks.