The making of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge was officially opened on March 19, 1932. An iconic structure in Sydney and one of the best recognised, photographed and loved landmarks of the world, it is the world’s heaviest steel arch bridge. A.S.Ganesh tells you how this bridge came to be…
There are some human-made structures that are readily identified and immediately associated with the place in which they are located. Taj Mahal is one such structure that people worldover connect with India. Similarly, there are two landmarks in Sydney – the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge – that have turned out to be prominent structures that people globally link with Australia.
Spanning the Sydney Harbour and connecting Sydney with its northern suburbs, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is about 1,150 m in length, with the top of the bridge standing 134 m above the harbour. Apart from having two rail lines and eight lanes for vehicular traffic, the bridge also has a cycleway for bicycles and a walkway for pedestrians.
The site of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (both sides of the harbour) was home to Eora people (Aboriginal Australians) before the arrival of the Europeans in 1788. While the bridge came about only in 1932, the desire to span the harbour and the idea for its construction dates back over 100 years.
As early as 1815, Francis Greenway, an architect convicted of forgery in 1812, suggested the construction of a bridge across the harbour. In the decades that followed, the idea took many forms – a large cast iron bridge, a floating bridge, and even a tunnel. Some proposals were serious, some were even accepted, but nothing really materialised as the costs involved were prohibitive.
This remained the case till the turn of the century as estimated costs meant that even satisfactory designs couldn’t be pursued. It was in 1900 that civil engineer John Job Crew Bradfield first became involved with the idea. Over the next three-plus decades, Bradfield became the project’s most vocal advocate and is even remembered as the father of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
For Bradfield, the bridge was part of his vision for the suburban railway network’s electrification. He used his influence to both promote and oversee the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
In 1912, Bradfield was appointed as the chief engineer of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and City Transit. Just when it looked like things were about to get moving, World War I put a halt to all plans.
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