Sydney Harbour Bridge. Through-arch Bridge in Sydney, New South Wales

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Through-arch Bridge in Sydney, New South Wales

Sydney Harbour Bridge - 32 Hundred lighting Photo © Hai Linh Truong

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Sydney Harbour Bridge

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Sydney Harbour Bridge - Sydney Harbour
Sydney Harbour Bridge - Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Steven
Nicknamed ‘The Coathanger’, this steel through arch bridge that traverses Sydney Harbour is one of the city's icons. It carries trains, cars, bicycles, and people between Sydney's CBD and the North Shore, offering spectacular views across the beautiful Sydney Harbour. Influenced by the Hell Gate Bridge (Wikipedia Article) in New York City, it was officially opened in 1932, and is the tallest steel arch bridge in the world at 134 meters from the top of the structure to the water's floor.


While there were plans to build a bridge over the Sydney Harbour as early as 1815, it was not until 1900 that the government committed to building a new central railway station and organised an international competition for the design and construction of a harbour bridge. Norman Selfe (Wikipedia Article) won with a design for a steel cantilever bridge but it was J.J.C. Bradfield, the bridge's chief engineer, who became known as the ‘father’ of the bridge as a result of his work on the project over many years.

The outbreak of World War I saw the plans put on hold as economic resources were siphoned elsewhere, but were instigated again in the 1920s with a proposal for a single-arched bridge, based on New York City's Hell Gate Bridge. This cheaper design was expected to be better equipped for heavy loads with six lanes of road traffic, together with two railway tracks and a footpath planned.

Construction officially began in 1923 with around 469 buildings demolished on the North Shore to build the bridge's approaches. The final cost came in at $6.25 million AUD, which was not paid in full until 1988.

The bridge was formally opened on 19 March 1932 amongst much controversy as a uniformed man on horseback rode through the official ceremony and slashed the ribbon with his sword, opening the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the name of the people of New South Wales.

Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and
	Skyline from Milson's Point at Night - Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Opera House, Harbour Bridge and Skyline from Milson's Point at Night - Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Geee Kay


Sydney Harbour
	Bridge - Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge - Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Jason James
The arch design contract was awarded to English firm, Dorman Long and Co Ltd of Middlesbrough, who also built the similar Tyne Bridge of Newcastle Upon Tyne. The construction of the bridge occurred as the City Circle underground railway line was being built in Sydney's CBD, and it was designed with this in mind with both rail tracks linked to the underground Wynyard railway stain on the southern side of the bridge.
Construction began with the approaches built, followed by concrete piers to support the approach spans on either side. Concrete and granite abutment towers were constructed to support the incredible weight of the bridge before the erection of the steelwork by ‘creeper cranes’ that lifted men and materials into position, eventually meeting in the middle. Within 2 years of work, the two halves of the arch touched for the first time with vertical hangers and horizontal crossbeams attached. Rails and road were laid, and power and telephone lines, together with water, gas, and drainage pipes, were added in 1931.
Sixteen workers died during the bridge’s construction due to unsafe work practices, and many later experienced deafness as a result of the conditions.

View from our hotel window - Sydney
	Harbour Bridge
View from our hotel window - Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Sally Crossthwaite

Sydney Harbour Bridge - Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge - Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Mal Booth

Visiting the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Even throughout its construction, the Sydney Harbour Bridge has drawn tourists to its spectacular design. The southeast pylon, accessed by the pedestrian walkway across the bridge and up 200 steps, has always been a favorite spot from which to experience this prominent structure. In 1934, Archer Whitford added a number of attractions to the pylon, including a café, a camera obscura, an Aboriginal museum, an area where visitors could write letters, known as a ‘Mother’s Nook’, and an ever-popular ‘pashometer’. Telescopes were set up on a viewing platform from which the landmarks and suburbs of the city could be identified.

During World War II the military took over the pylons, converting them to anti-aircraft weapons and parapets, and tourist activity ceased.
The ‘All Australian Exhibition’ was opened in 1948 with displays about Australian subjects, including sport, mining, farming, and the defense forces. Oddly there was also a rooftop cattery, home to several of the owner's , Yvonne Rentoul, white cats, and a postal outlet.

In 1982 a new exhibition was installed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and 5 years later a ‘Bicentennial Exhibition’ was opened to mark 200 years since the British settled in Australia.

In 2003, an installation titled ‘Dangerous Works’ was opened and addressed the dangerous conditions the construction workers experienced when building the bridge and two stained glass windows were designed in their memory.

Today, one of the most popular ways to experience the bridge is through the Bridge Climb, following in the footsteps of a number of illegal traversals of the bridge since the 1950s. Climbers are provided with protective clothing and a thorough briefing before being secured to the bridge via a wire lifeline. Climbs begin on the eastern (city) side of the bridge and ascend to the top; the whole experience takes around 3 hours. Tours depart daily from dawn to night. Alternatively, you can participate in a Discovery Climb that takes guests up the lower chord of the bridge to view its internal structure before ascending a staircase to the summit.

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Author: Pip23. Last updated: Feb 17, 2015


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