Sydney Architecture Images- Circular Quay and area

Sydney Harbour Bridge


John Job Crew Bradfield (E) (bridges) 
Construction by Dorman & Long, Ralph Freeman Consulting Engineer 
Sir John Burnett & partners Consulting Architects


Sydney Harbour, between Miller's Point and Milson's Point


Design 1922-24: construction from 1923 (approaches) 


Inter-War Art Deco


Steel, granite


  As seen from the Rocks...
Although the concept of a harbour crossing was entertained fifty years earlier, it was not until 4 January, 1900 that tender designs and financial proposals were sought for a ‘North Shore’ bridge to span the harbour. This was despite Sir John Sulman’s suggestion that a tunnel was a better option. 

All of the 24 schemes were criticised and thought unsatisfactory. By 1903, the firm of J Stewart and Co. had submitted one design (of many) for a single arch bridge without pylons, which is very similar to the one built today. However, this too was rejected as being ‘too huge’ and ‘objectionable’ from an artistic point of view. 

Over the next fifteen years, under the guidance of one of Australia’s greatest civil structural and transport engineers, JJC Bradfield (1867-1943), the bridge project took shape. Finally, an international competition was held, with Bradfield suggesting that the design should be an arch bridge with granite faced pylons at either end. 

The winning design tender by Dorman and Long (recommended by Bradfield himself) proposed the single arch design No. A3 (one of six alternatives) be built from both ends (using cable supports) and joined in the middle. The contract was let in March 1924 . The structural calculations were supervised by Ralph Freeman in London who had left the Cleveland bridge Company in the USA. 

As it was an arch design, any design change required a recalculation across the entire structure, and the calculations for the bridge both in tension (cable supported) and compression (as an arch) filled twenty eight books of transcribed calculations. An impressive but high maintenance design, it kept the Dorman and Long factory in Britain busy producing steel, having agreed to an attractive payment plan with the NSW Government. 

The social impact of the bridge, its construction areas, and its connecting highways involving the demolition of 800 houses, would be inconceivable today. Built between the wars, the project reduced the unemployment created by the Depression and was the greatest labour intensive project to employ 19th century work practices of sledge and cold chisel. 

The span is 1,650 feet to allow unobstructed passage for ships in Sydney Harbour. Of sixteen deaths, seven were workers on the bridge structure itself (139 died during construction of the Brooklyn Bridge). Families living in its path were displaced without compensation. 

Rural taxpayers saw ‘the vampire city, of which the bridge is so complete a symbol . . . sucking the life blood of the suffering country’. The mythology of the bridge being a ‘symbol not only for the city, but for the aspirations of the nation’ blinded most people to the injustices.

Information appearing in this section is reproduced from Sydney Architecture, with the kind permission of the author, Graham Jahn, a well known Sydney architect and former City of Sydney Councillor. Sydney Architecture, rrp $35.00, is available from all good book stores or from the publisher, Watermark Press, Telephone: 02 9818 5677. 

Official name Sydney Harbour Bridge 
Carries Motor vehicles, trains, trams (until 1958), pedestrians and bicycles 
Crosses Port Jackson 
Design Single-Arch 
Longest span 503 metres (1650 ft) 
Total length 1149 metres (3770 ft) 
Width 49 metres (161 ft) 
Clearance below 49 metres (161 ft) at mid-span 
Opening date March 19, 1932 
Toll $3

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the major landmarks of Sydney, Australia, connecting the Sydney central business district (CBD) with the North Shore commercial and residential areas, both of which are located on Sydney Harbour. The dramatic water vista of the bridge together with the nearby Sydney Opera House is an iconic image of both Sydney and Australia. The bridge is affectionately known as "the Coathanger" on account of its arch-based design.

The bridge was the city's tallest structure until 1967. It is the widest bridge in the world. It is the world's largest single-arch bridge, but not the longest (as millions of Australian school children were erroneously taught). The bridge was officially opened on 19 March 1932. The Bayonne Bridge in the United States, opened four months earlier on 15 November 1931, is 70 cm (or 2.3 feet) longer.

The design bears a marked resemblance to that of the New York Hell Gate Bridge. Its design was used as a basis for the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, which is almost identical, except to a smaller scale.


The Sydney Harbour Bridge deck, from an RTA camera looking south. Note different road surface on the two easternmost lanes that replaced the eastern tram tracks.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge deck, from an RTA camera looking south. Note different road surface on the two easternmost lanes that replaced the eastern tram tracks.
The bridge's two ends are located in at Dawes Point (in Sydney's Rocks area) and Milsons Point (in Sydney's lower North Shore area). It carries six lanes of road traffic on its main roadway, two lanes of road traffic (formerly two tram tracks) and a footpath on its eastern side, and two railway tracks and a bicycle path along its western side.
The Dawes Point pylon

The Dawes Point pylon
The road across the bridge is known as the Bradfield Highway and is about 2.4 km/1.5 mi 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). At 48.8 m/151.3 ft wide, it is the widest bridge in the world (Guinness World Records, 2004).


The bridge deck portion of the highway is 1.149 km/.71 mi long. It is concrete and lies on trimmers (beams that run along the length of the bridge). The trimmers themselves rest on steel beams that run along the width of the bridge. The trimmers and beams are visible to boats that pass underneath the bridge.


The arch is composed of two 28-panel arch trusses. Their heights vary from 18 m/55.8 ft (at the center of the arch) to 57 m/176.7 ft (beside the pylons).

The arch span is 503 m/1559 ft and the weight of the steel arch is 39,000 tons. The arch's summit is 134 m/415.4 ft above mean sea level, though it can increase by as much as 180 mm/7 in on hot days as the result of steel expanding in heat. Two large metal hinges at the base of the bridge accommodate these expansions and contractions and thereby prevent the arch from being damaged.

The two pairs of pylons at each end are about 89 m/276 ft high and are made of concrete and granite. A museum and tourist centre with a lookout of the harbour is in the southern east pylon. Abutments, which support the ends of the bridge, are contained at the base of the pylons. They prevent the bridge from stretching or compressing due to temperature variations. Otherwise, the pylons serve no structural purpose and are primarily to visually balance the bridge itself. They were originally not part of the design but were added later to allay concerns about structural integrity - ironically, as the pylons do not actually touch the bridge (except at road level).

The steel used for the bridge was largely imported. About 79% came from Redcar in the North East of Britain, the rest was Australian-made. The granite used was quarried in Moruya, New South Wales, and the concrete used was also Australian made.

The total weight of the bridge is 52,800 tonnes, and six million hand-driven rivets hold the bridge together.


The view from a car driving north across the bridge.
The view from a car driving north across the bridge.

Sydney Harbour Bridge as seen from the Rocks area. On the upper arch you can see tourists climbing to the top. Climbing the bridge has become a popular tourist attaction.
Sydney Harbour Bridge as seen from the Rocks area. On the upper arch you can see tourists climbing to the top. Climbing the bridge has become a popular tourist attaction.

Sydney Harbour Bridge in day.
Sydney Harbour Bridge in day.

From the Sydney CBD side, motor vehicle access to the bridge is normally via Grosvenor Street, Clarence Street, Kent Street, the Cahill Expressway, or the Western Distributor. Drivers on the northern side will find themselves on the Warringah Freeway, though it is easy to turn off the freeway to drive westwards into North Sydney or eastwards to Neutral Bay and beyond upon arrival on the northern side.

Pedestrian access from the northern side involves climbing an easily-spotted flight of stairs at Milsons Point. Pedestrian access on the southern side is more complicated, but signposts in the Rocks area now direct pedestrians to the long and sheltered flight of stairs that leads to the bridge's southern end. These stairs are located near Gloucester Street and Cumberland Street in the Sydney Rocks area.

The bridge can also be accessed from the south by getting on Cahill Walk, which runs along the Cahill Expressway. Pedestrians can access this walkway from Circular Quay by a flight of stairs, or a lift, alternately it can be accessed from The Botanical Gardens.

It is now possible for members of the public to climb the southern half of the bridge by day or night.

The bridge lies between Milsons Point and Wynyard railway stations, located on the north and south shores respectively, with two train lines running along the western side of the bridge. Both stations are part of the North Shore line.

To travel across the bridge there is a toll for vehicles of AUD$3.00. This toll is only charged for traffic headed into the CBD (southbound). No toll is charged for any other northbound traffic.

There are toll plazas at the northern and southern ends. The eastern-most southbound lanes (which continue over the Cahill Expressway after leaving the bridge) have their tollbooths at the northern end of the bridge, with the remainder being at the southern end of the bridge.

The toll was originally placed on bridge travel, in both direction, to recoup the cost of its construction. This cost was recovered in the 1980's but the toll has been kept (indeed increased) as the State Government's main roads infrastructure department (the RTA) does not want to lose the significant amounts of revenue the bridge brings in.

Use of the bridge by bicycle riders (provided that they use the cycleway) and pedestrians is free.


There had been plans to build a bridge as early as 1815, when Francis Greenway proposed that a bridge be built across the harbour. Nothing came of this.

The building of the current bridge can be said to have started in 1890, when a royal commission determined that there was a heavy level of ferry traffic in the Sydney Harbour area, best relieved with the construction of a bridge. Vehicular access to the north shore was undertaken with a series of smaller bridges located further westwards in the harbour, but this was insufficient for the traffic in the Sydney/North Sydney area.

Top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Designs and proposals were requested in 1900, but a formal proposal was not accepted until 1911. In 1912, John Bradfield was appointed chief engineer of the bridge project, which also had to include a railway. He completed a formal design - the now familiar single arch shape - in 1916, but plans to implement the design were postponed until 1922, primarily because of World War I.

In November 1922 the NSW parliament passed laws that allowed the bridge's construction. Construction tenders for the bridge were requested the same year, and the British firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd, Middlesbrough won. To offset concerns about a foreign firm participating in the project, assurances were given by Bradfield that the workforce building the bridge would all be Australians.

The building of the bridge coincided with the construction of a system of underground railways in Sydney's CBD, known today as the City Circle, and the bridge was designed with this in mind. The bridge was designed to carry six lanes of road traffic, flanked by two railway tracks and a footpath on each side. Both sets of rail tracks were linked into the underground Wynyard railway station, on the south side of the bridge, by symmetrical ramps and tunnels. The eastern-side railway tracks were used to carry trams from the north into a terminal within that station.


HMAS Canberra (1927) sailing under the Bridge in 1930
HMAS Canberra (1927) sailing under the Bridge in 1930

The building of the bridge was under the management of Bradfield. Three other persons were involved in the bridge's design and construction: Laurence Ennis, the engineer-in-charge at Dorman Long and Co was the main supervisor (Bradfield visited occasionally throughout the project, and in particular at the many key stages of the project, to inspect progress and make managerial decisions); Edward Judge was Chief Technical Engineer of Dorman Long and later became President of the British Iron and Steel Federation; Sir Ralph Freeman was hired by the company to design the accepted model in further detail. Later a bitter disagreement broke out between Bradfield and Freeman as to who actually designed the bridge. Another name connected with the bridge's design is that of Arthur Plunkett.

The construction project itself began in 1923, with the demolition of 800 homes. The owners of these homes received compensation, but their occupants did not.

The first stage of the bridge project was the building of two worksheds at Milson's Point to assist in building the bridge - the light and heavy workshops. Their purpose was to build the bridge's many parts.

The Arch being constructed. Painting by Grace Cossington Smith (1926).
The Arch being constructed. Painting by Grace Cossington Smith (1926).

The first sod for the bridge was turned that same year. In January 1925, the excavations to build the abutments and approach spans began. In October 1925, the building of the abutments and approach spans themselves began, and these were completed in September 1928. Construction of the bridge itself began in December 1928, with the construction of the bridge parts in the workshops.

Construction of the arch of the bridge began in 1929, with two separate teams building the arch on each side using creeper cranes. The first panel was erected on the southern side in March 1929. The southern end of the bridge was worked on a month ahead of the northern end, in order to detect any errors and to ensure that they did not happen on the northern side.

During construction the two halves of the arch were held up by numerous support cables. Once the arch halves were completed the cables were slowly released to bring the two halves of the arch together. This was finalised on the afternoon of 19 August 1930. Ennis and four associates personally witnessed this whilst standing on top of the bridge. Following a parting that occurred due to the contracting of metal in the evening, the ends were rejoined at 10 pm, and have remained joined since then. The support cables were then surplus to the design and removed. They were subsequently used to provide the support cables for the Walter Taylor Bridge, over the Brisbane River in the western suburbs of Brisbane, Queensland.

The road and the two sets of tram and railway tracks were completed in 1931. Power and telephone lines, and water, gas and drainage pipes were also all added to the bridge in that year. On 19 January 1932, the first test train, a steam locomotive, safely crossed the bridge. About 90 others also crossed the bridge in the months that followed as part of a series of tests to ensure the bridge's safety.

The construction worksheds were demolished after the bridge was completed, and the land that they were on is now occupied by Luna Park and the North Sydney swimming pool.

The standards of industrial safety during construction were poor by today's standards. Sixteen workers died during construction, mainly from falling off the bridge. Several more were injured from unsafe working practices undertaken whilst heating and constructing its rivets, and deafness experienced by many of the workers in later years was blamed on the project.

The total financial cost of the bridge was £10,057,170/7/9. This was not paid off in full until 1988.

Sydney Harbour Bridge / Anchorage

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is founded on sandstone rock excavated to a depth of 12 m and filled with special reinforced high-grade concrete. Each half arch was built out from either side of the harbour, using a creeper crane that slowly progressed up the arch lifting steelwork into position as it went. The half arches were secured by wire ropes, anchored in inclined U-shaped tunnels cut into the rock. Each anchorage consisted of 128 wire ropes of 70 mm diameter, about 366 m long. The steelwork from the fabricating shops was placed onto barges, towed into position on the harbour and lifted up by creeper crane. When erection reached mid-span, the critical operation of closing the arch was achieved by lowering out on the wire rope anchorages to connect at bottom chord level, following which the required load was jacked into the top chord to make the arch two-pinned. The temporary wire rope anchorages were then removed. After the spans were connected, a deck was put in place. The deck was hung from the arch and built from the centre out so that they would not have to move the cranes.


The four impressive, decorative 89-metre high pylons are made of concrete, faced with granite. Three ships were specifically built to carry the 17,000 cubic metres of cut, dressed and numbered granite blocks, 300km north to Sydney.

Approximately 6 million rivets were used to make the bridge. In the 1920's welding was too unreliable and nuts and bolts were quite expensive so rivets were used. Rivets were heated to white-hot state in small furnaces located across the bridge, thrown to a catcher who passed them to the riveters. One man held the rivet firm while another hammered the other end with a pneumatic hammer. This forced the hot soft metal to mushroom out, covering the hole. Steel plates were transferred from barge to bridge by crane, often with a 'dogman' travelling with the load and then returning for the next 'delivery'. Plates were bolted into position as a temporary measure until being riveted together. The bridge was painted grey because grey is the closest colour to the natural colour of steel. In addition, it does not show dirt and dust. 485,000 square metres steelwork had to be painted which required 272,000 litres of paint to give the bridge its initial three coats. Constant inspections of the steelwork are made and painting is carried out on an 'as required' basis.

In February 1932 the Bridge was test loaded using up to 96 steam locomotives. The official opening day on Saturday 19 March 1932 was a momentous occasion, drawing remarkable crowds. The NSW Premier, the J. Lang, officially declared the Bridge open. However, when he was about to open the bridge by cutting the ribbon, Captain Francis de Groot moved forward on a horse and slashed the ribbon with a sword, declaring the bridge to be open "in the name of the people of New South Wales". He was promptly arrested and later convicted of offensive behaviour. The ribbon itself was retied and Lang continued to perform the opening ceremony. The celebrations continued with a gun-salute, a procession of passenger ships under the bridge, a fly-past, fireworks, cavalcade of decorated floats, marching groups and bands.

Opening of the bridge

Harbour bridge from the South

Harbour bridge from the South

The bridge was formally opened on 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 Premier of NSW, Labor politician Jack Lang, was to open the bridge by cutting a ribbon at its southern end. However, just as he was about to do so, a man in military uniform moved forward on horseback and slashed the ribbon with a sword, declaring the bridge to be open. He was promptly arrested, identified as Francis de Groot, and later convicted of offensive behaviour. The ribbon was hurriedly retied and Lang performed the official opening ceremony. After he did so, there was a 21-gun salute and a RAAF fly-past.

De Groot was not a member of the regular Army but his uniform allowed him to blend in with the real cavalry. He was a member of a right-wing paramilitary group called the New Guard, opposed to Lang's leftist policies. This incident was one of several that Lang had with the New Guard in that year.

A similar ribbon-cutting ceremony on the bridge's northern side by North Sydney's mayor, Alderman Primrose, was carried out without incident. It was later discovered that Primrose was also a New Guard member, but his role in and knowledge of the de Groot incident, if any, are unclear.

A message from a primary school in Tottenham, 550 km away in rural NSW, arrived at the bridge on the day and was presented at the opening ceremony. It had been carried all the way from Tottenham to the bridge by relays of school children, with the final relay being run by two children from the nearby Fort Street Boys' and Girls' schools.

Other features of the opening ceremony included a vast display of floats and marching bands - one quite remarkable by Depression standards. The public was allowed to walk on the highway.

There had been numerous preparatory arrangements. On 14 March 1932, three postage stamps were issued to commemorate the imminent opening of the bridge. One of these stamps, with a face value of five shillings, is worth several hundred dollars today.

Several songs were also composed in advance for the occasion. These have now been largely lost or forgotten.

The bridge itself was regarded as a triumph over Depression times.

Since the opening

The bridge, with the ball hung up as part of New Year's Eve celebrations to mark the end of 2004

The bridge, with the ball hung up as part of New Year's Eve celebrations to mark the end of 2004
Since the opening, the bridge has been the focal point of much tourism and national pride. It is Sydney's focal point of New Year and Australia Day celebrations, with fireworks being set off from the arch. Tragically, it has also been the scene of about 40 suicides, many of which took place within months of the bridge's opening, during the Great Depression.

In 1958 tram services across the bridge were withdrawn and the tracks they had used were removed and replaced by two extra road lanes; these lanes are now the leftmost southbound lanes on the bridge and are still clearly distinguishable from the original six road lanes. They connect the bridge to the elevated Cahill Expressway that carries traffic to the Eastern Distributor.

In 1982, the bridge celebrated the 50th anniversary of its opening. Once again, the bridge was closed to vehicles and pedestrians allowed full access for the day. The celebrations were attended by Edward Judge, who represented Dorman Long. Australia's bicentennial celebrations on 26 January 1988 attracted large crowds in the bridge's vicinity.

Sydney Harbour Tunnel and recent years

Maintenance Crew Painting the Bridge
Maintenance Crew Painting the Bridge

Also in 1988, work began to build a tunnel to complement the bridge. It was determined that the bridge could no longer support the increased traffic flow of the 1980s. The Sydney Harbour Tunnel was completed in August 1992. It is intended only for use by motor vehicles. Before it was officially opened for use, the tunnel was made open for pedestrian access, with persons on that day able to walk down the tunnel's roadway.

In May 2000 the bridge was closed to vehicular access for a day to allow a special reconciliation march - the "Walk for Reconciliation" - to take place. This was part of a response to an Aboriginal "Stolen Generation" inquiry, which found widespread suffering had taken place amongst Australian Aboriginal children forcibly placed into the care of white parents in a little-publicised state government scheme. A large number of Australians walked the bridge in a symbolic gesture of crossing a divide.

During the Sydney 2000 Olympics in September and October 2000, the bridge was adorned with the Olympic Rings. It was included in the Olympic torch's route to the Olympic stadium. The men's and women's Olympic marathon events likewise included the bridge as part of their route to the Olympic stadium. A massive fireworks display at the end of the closing ceremony ended at the bridge. The East-facing side of the bridge has been used several times since as a framework from which to hang static fireworks, especially during the elaborate New Year's Eve displays.

The first complete repainting for many years is now underway. The task requires that each section being painted be sealed off and blasted to remove old paint which is vacuumed out. This process is required as the current layer is lead paint which must not be allowed to fall into the harbour. A reason for the repainting is the concern that wieght of the many layers of paint acquired over the years may have a destructive effect on the bridge's structure.

Security on the bridge has recently been introduced, due to the heightened risk of terrorist attack because of Australia's participation in the War on Terrorism.

"There the proud arch Colossus like bestride
Yon glittering streams and bound the strafing tide"

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) 
"I open this bridge in the name of the Majesty the King and all the decent citizens of NSW."

Francis de Groot 'opens' the Sydney Harbour Bridge, (1932). His organisation, the New Guard, had resented the fact that the King's representative in Australia, the Governor-General Sir Isaac Isaacs, hadn't been asked to open the bridge. 
"To get on in Australia, you must make two observations. Say, "You have the most beautiful bridge in the world" and "They tell me you trounced England again in the cricket." The first statement will be a lie. Sydney Bridge [sic] is big, utilitarian and the symbol of Australia, like the Statue of Liberty or the Eiffel Tower. But it is very ugly. No Australian will admit this."

James Michener assesses Sydney Harbour Bridge in his book 'Return to Paradise', (1951) 

Sydney Harbour Bridge as viewed from Kirribilli on the North Shore

See also
Hell Gate Bridge - The New York bridge that supposedly inspired Bradfield's design. 
List of arch bridges by length 

Guinness World Records (2004). Guinness World Records - Widest Bridge. Retrieved 4 May 2005. 
Four papers on the design and construction of the Bridge in volume 235 of the Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 1935 


Sydney Harbour Bridge walk

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Sydney Harbour Bridge walk... done! I slept very well and slept through most of the people in my dorm coming and going, but still felt a bit tired, even after a shower! I had a cheapo breakfast of cereals and toast in the cafe next to the hostel and got the train to Circular Quay, from where I walked to the office for the bridge walk. The office and organisation for this activity are a highly professional outfit. Having filled in the paperwork for liability and certificates, my group and I were fitted for the rather fetching jump suits they use, and shown how the safety harness and radio gear all works. We had a brief taster of the bridge ladders and steps on an indoor section and were made clear of their rules for the climb and then were off for the embarrasing part of the walk, along the street to the base of the bridge, all dressed like idiots... lol The girl that led the walk was good fun and had plenty of info about the bridge and surrounding area and sights to pass on. The walk is not a particularly tough undertaking, although the ladder sections were slower for some people. It is all extremely safe, with an in genius harness system that you attach to, that you simply cannot get back off of until you come back down the other side of the bridge. All the way up the bridge are fitted stairs to make it easy for the climb up. The views from the top were fantastic, and the guide remarked that it was one of the clearest days of the year and that she had never been able to see the Blue Mountains in the distance before on a climb, awesome! They take lots of pictures of you, which they later try to sell to you at extortionate rates, so I played along mostly for my own amusement, knowing full well that the cost of the climb itself was already enough money thank you very much! The whole thing, including 'training', takes about three and half hours and when you get back to the office you have to endure the cheesy, American style, round of applause for yourself on your special day... yee-fucking-haw! After getting back into our own gear, we each received a certificate and a complimentary group photo, and then went through to the shop to see the other photos at a stupid cost. After the bridge walk I went up to the Tower museum for a look, as you can climb the stone tower at the end of the bridge and are allowed to take your camera and take some shots from there, which affords a pretty good view of the harbour. I then went and had some lunch and then took a walk around the Royal Botanical Gardens behind the Opera house which were wuite nice and gave a superb view of the bridge and opera house from a different point in the harbour. I then took a ferry to Manly beach for a quick look there, before heading back to take in the view of the city approach at night, which was very cool. It was a bit cold though, mornings and evenings are a bit windy at the moment, and on the section near the open sea, it was very windy on the ferry... Off for more quality sleep as I'm getting up at 7am tomorrow for a day trip to the Blue Mountains... managed to doze off about midnight in the end...

Thanks to
Official site-

When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was opened by the Premier of New South Wales, Mr Jack Lang on the 19th March 1932, the Harbour Bridge was one of the greatest engineering masterpieces of its time. Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) had an impressive and instantly famous landmark made in a style that reflects the end of an industrial era.

The bridge joined the city of Sydney (at Dawes Point) to the North Shore (at Milsons Point) obviating the need to travel by ferry or make a substantial trip around the harbour foreshores towards Parramatta and back.

As early as 1815 Francis Greenway proposed the building of a bridge from Dawes Point to the northern shore of Port Jackson, to Governor Macquarie.

Many years were to pass before the vision became a reality. Around the time of Federation there was a well-recognised need for a bridge crossing and design submissions were invited in 1900, all were deemed inappropriate or unsatisfactory for one reason or another and the momentum lapsed.

Serious initiatives started after the end of World War I. Tenders were called for in 1923 either an arch or a cantilever bridge would meet the requirements. Dr J.J.C. Bradfield was responsible for setting the parameters of the tendering process. He and his staff were to ultimately oversee the entire bridge design and building process. The Bradfield Highway, which is the paved section of the bridge and its approaches, still bears his name to this day.

The tender of Dorman Long and Co. Ltd., of Middlesborough England for an arch bridge was accepted. The Dorman Long and Co's Consulting Engineer, Sir Ralph Freeman, carried out the detailed design of the bridge. The design was similar to New York's Hell Gate Bridge built 1916. The Hell Gate Bridge was a little shorter in span but was much lighter in construction as it only carried four railway tracks.

Work first began on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1924, with construction of the bridge approaches and the approach spans. As many as 800 families living in its path were displaced without compensation.

During this time the foundations on either side of the harbour were prepared to take four steel thrust bearings. 
The foundations, which are 12 metres (39 feet) deep, are set in sandstone. Anchoring tunnels are 36 metres (118 feet) long and dug into the bedrock at each end. Large bolts and nuts are used to tie the thrust bearings onto their supports.

It is interesting to note that the four pylons are actually placed mainly for aesthetic reasons on each corner of the bridge. The pylons are about 90 metres above the average water level. The Sydney Harbour Bridge design had to perform functionally and be pleasing to the eye as well. The pylons are made of concrete that is covered by grey granite from Moruya on the south coast of New South Wales.

When the bridge was constructed the use of reinforced concrete was in its infancy. Today the Harbour Bridge ranks second or third in the world in terms of span but it is still considered to be the greatest of its type in the world because of its load bearing capacity and width of nearly 50 metres.

Known locally as the 'coat hanger' and now more commonly as 'the bridge', the bridge was manufactured in sections on a site on the western side of Milsons Point. About eighty percent of the steel came from England while the remaining twenty percent was manufactured here in Australia. The construction of the arch was begun from both sides of the harbour with cable support for the arches. In 1930 the two arches met. The construction of the deck then proceeded from the middle outwards towards each shore as this was easier than moving the construction cranes back to the Pylons.

In 1932, when it was opened, it was the longest single span steel arch bridge in the world. The main span is 503 meters (1,650 feet) across it consumed more than 52,800 tonnes of silicon based steel trusses. The plates of steel are held together by around 6 million steel rivets. It originally carried road transport, trains and pedestrians. From start to finish, the bridge and its approaches it took eight years to complete. This included a period of maintenance that extended for a six months after the opening. Maintenance after the completion became and still is, the responsibility of the New South Wales State Government.

The two eastern lanes were originally tram tracks . They were converted when Sydney abolished its trams in the 1950s. Today it carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad lines. One of the eastern lanes is now a dedicated bus lane. The bridge is often crowded, and in 1992 the Harbour Tunnel was opened to help carry the traffic load. The traffic levels were substantially reduced compared to the period before the tunnel opened.

In 1932, the original cost of the Bridge was several million Australian pounds. This debt was eventually paid off in 1988 but the toll was then used for maintenance.

Before the Harbour Bridge opened, it was completely packed with railway carriages, trams and buses to stress test its load bearing capacity. While it has had many traffic jams since and half a million people walked across it on its 50th anniversary it has probably never been asked to carry that much of a load since.

The initial toll charged for a car was 6 pence while a horse and rider was charged 3 pence. Today the toll costs $3.00 but is only charged when travelling to the South as an efficiency measure to speed up traffic flow. More than 160,000 vehicles cross the bridge each day, before the Harbour Tunnel was opened this figure was as high as 182,000 and would be much higher today if it were not for the Harbour Tunnel. 
Today it carries eight traffic lanes and two railroad lines. There is a pedestrian pathway on the eastern side of the bridge and a cycleway on the western side of the bridge. Pedestrians, horses and push bikes are not allowed on the bridge roadways. The roadway is about 51 meters above the water while the highest point of the arch is 135 meters above the average harbour water level.

Located in the south-eastern pylon (overlooking Circular Quay) is a lookout with 360 degree views and museum covering the history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. There are about 200 steps to get to the top but the views are some of the best in Sydney.

Special thanks to 



Sydney Harbour Bridge, circa 1932
Sydney Harbour Bridge, circa 1932
Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia
A6180, item 24/7/90/29

Flying under the Bridge

It is reported that in 1943 a flight of 24 RAAF Wirraways flew under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with one of the pilots changing his flight path at the last moment to go over the top of the Bridge only just clearing it in time.

There is another story of the Americans flying under the Harbour Bridge, with one Kittyhawk flying under in about February 1942 and two Kittyhawks in May 1942. Again in May 1942, the Dutch flew three aircraft of the 18 Squadron NEI-AF under the Bridge in formation and then circled back to do another flight under the Bridge in a single line.

On 22 October 1943, Flight Lieutenant Peter Isaacson and his crew flew the huge Australian Lancaster, Q for Queenie, under the Harbour Bridge during a tour around Australia to raise funds for the war effort.

Climbing the Bridge

BridgeClimb started in 1998 and attracts tourists and locals alike to climb the monument. After climbing through catwalks and up ladders and stairs, the view is absolutely breathtaking. There are day, twilight and night climbs and a group of twelve will leave for a climb every ten minutes. The safety precautions taken include a blood alcohol reading and a Climb Simulator, which shows Climbers the climbing conditions that might be experienced on the Bridge.

By all reports, BridgeClimb is fantastic and one of the 'must dos' while on a trip to Sydney with royals and celebrities such as Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark, Matt Damon, Hugo Weaving, Sarah Ferguson, Cathy Freeman, Kylie Minogue and Kostya Tszyu all having done the Climb.

The Pylon Lookout

The Pylon Lookout is at the southern eastern end of the Bridge (the Rocks end) and visitors can go and see an exhibition about the Bridge and well as see the spectacular 360° view from the top of the pylon.

Closing of the arch during construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1932
Closing of the arch during construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1932
Image courtesy of the National Archives of Australia
A6180, item 29/8/80/21

Did you know...

The top of the arch actually rises and falls about 180 mm due to changes in the temperature!

In 1932, 96 steam locomotives were positioned in various ways to test the load capacity of the Bridge.

One of Australia's well known celebrities, Paul Hogan, was one of the painters contracted to give the Bridge another 270,000 litre coat of paint.

When the Bridge opened, it cost a horse and rider three pence and a car six pence to cross. Now horse and riders cannot cross, you can bicycle across in a special lane and walk across the Bridge for free. Cars cost around A$3.30 for a southbound trip and it is free to go northbound.

In 1932, the average annual daily traffic was around 11,000 and now it is around 160,000 vehicles per day.

The Sydney Harbour Tunnel was built to cope with ever increasing harbour traffic problems and opened in August 1992 . It is 2.3 kilometres long and cost A$554 million to construct. It is strong enough to withstand the impact of eathquakes and sinking ships. It carries around 75,000 vehicles a day.

The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England is a much smaller version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, its length measuring 397 metres and the main span 161 metres. There is much controversy surrounding the two bridges and which one may have been a model for the other. Although the Tyne Bridge was opened in 1928 - four years before the Harbour Bridge was opened - the tender was submitted and contract signed for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in March 1924. The designs for the Harbour Bridge were put forward by Dr. J C Bradfield before this date. The tender for the Tyne Bridge was accepted and contract signed later that year in December 1924.