This is an NFSA Digital Learning resource. See all Digital Learning websites.

BRIDGING THE CENTURY

18801880 A Royal Commission recommends that a bridge across Sydney Harbour be built as soon as it is expedient to do so. There is no shortage of plans, and two Royal Commissions consider the merits of a bridge, or a tunnel, or a combination of both.

19111911Just a decade after Federation, the New South Wales Government announces that it is committed to a bridge across Sydney Harbour. Two years on, in 1913 the Government appoints J.J.C. Bradfield as Chief Engineer for Metropolitan Railway Construction and Sydney Harbour Bridge.

19141914Bradfield is sent overseas to investigate city railway systems plus modern techniques of bridge design and construction. Inspired by the Hell Gate Bridge spanning the East River in New York, Bradfield favours a single arch design to carry motor traffic, trains and foot passengers across Sydney Harbour.

19221922Bradfield wins the support of J.T. (Jack) Lang, treasurer in the Storey Labor Government (1920-22), and a worldwide tender for bridge design is announced. Bradfield is sent abroad to investigate prospective tenders and - although he is meant to seek a cantilever design - he urges tenderers to consider his arch plan.

19241924Six companies tender for the project, offering twenty different designs. In March 1924 the British firm of Dorman Long & Co wins the contract for a vast twin-hinged steel arch design, at a contract price of precisely £4,217,721/11 and 10 pence.

19241924In July, the crowded streets beneath the northern approach to the proposed bridge are closed and wreckers move in to demolish more than 800 houses. The owners receive only minimal compensation, and some residents are violently ejected from their homes.

19251925Jack Lang leads a new State Labor Government, and the Sydney Harbour Bridge construction project becomes the showcase for his radical plans to transform and modernise the State of New South Wales.

19281928The Sydney Harbour Bridge is underway: a half-kilometre span with four rail lines, six road lanes and two footways. Massive slabs of stone for the granite-faced pylons are shipped 300 km from Moruya. The bridge is built from 50,000 tonnes of steel and six million rivets.

19301930On 19 August the Sydney Harbour Bridge arch is joined. Bradfield's scrupulous inspections are rewarded: the two halves of the arch meet with a combined error of only 13mm. In October Jack Lang is returned for a second term as Premier, as the effects of the 1929 Great Depression worsen.

1932193219 March the Sydney Harbour Bridge is officially opened. Francis de Groot, a member of the right wing New Guard gatecrashes the ceremony on horseback and slashes the ribbon ahead of Premier Lang, proclaiming the bridge open for the people of NSW. Hundreds of thousands of people walk over the Bridge on the day. De Groot is later fined £5 for damaging public property.

19861986Loans that paid for the Sydney Harbour Bridge are finally repaid, 54 years after the Bridge's completion. Loans had been taken because the actual cost of construction was three times more than the original estimated cost.

20002000In one day, one million people walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a way to say 'sorry' to Indigenous Australians. And images of the Sydney Harbour Bridge wearing 'the rings' for the Sydney 2000 Olympics are broadcast to a global television audience of 3.7 billion people.