Sydney Harbour Bridge was formally opened on this date in 1932. Amongst those who attended and gave speeches were the Governor of New South Wales, Sir Philip Game, and the Minister for Public Works, Lawrence Ennis. The premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, was to open the bridge by cutting a ribbon at its southern end. However, just as Lang was about to cut the ribbon, a man in military uniform rode up on a horse, slashing the ribbon with his sword and opening the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the name of the people of New South Wales before the official ceremony began.
He was promptly arrested. The ribbon was hurriedly retied and Lang performed the official opening ceremony and Game thereafter inaugurated the name of the bridge as ‘Sydney Harbour Bridge’ and the associated roadway as the ‘Bradfield Highway’. After they did so, there was a 21-gun salute and an RAAF flypast. The intruder was identified as Francis de Groot. He was convicted of offensive behavior and fined £5 after a psychiatric test proved he was sane, but this verdict was reversed on appeal. De Groot then successfully sued the Commissioner of Police for wrongful arrest, and was awarded an undisclosed out of court settlement. De Groot was a member of a right-wing paramilitary group called the New Guard, opposed to Lang’s leftist policies and resentful of the fact that a member of the Royal Family had not been asked to open the bridge. De Groot was not a member of the regular army, but his uniform allowed him to blend in with the real cavalry.
Despite the bridge opening in the midst of the Great Depression, opening celebrations were organized by the Citizens of Sydney Organising Committee, an influential body of prominent citizens and politicians that formed in 1931 under the chairmanship of the Lord Mayor to oversee the festivities. The celebrations included an array of decorated floats, a procession of passenger ships sailing below the bridge, and a Venetian Carnival A message from a primary school in Tottenham, 515 km (320 mi) away in rural New South Wales, 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. After the official ceremonies, the public was allowed to walk across the bridge on the deck, something that would not be repeated until the 50th anniversary celebrations. Estimates suggest that between 300,000 and one million people took part in the opening festivities, a phenomenal number given that the entire population of Sydney at the time was estimated to be 1,256,000.
The bridge itself was regarded as a triumph over Depression times, earning the nickname “the Iron Lung”, as it kept many Depression-era workers employed. Sydney Harbour Bridge is as iconic as Big Ben or the Eiffel Tower although the design is not especially original to Sydney. If you know Newcastle-on-Tyne or New York City at all well you will know of older bridges of the same design.
There had been plans to build a bridge as early as 1815, when convict and noted architect Francis Greenway reputedly proposed to Governor Lachlan Macquarie that a bridge be built from the northern to the southern shore of the harbor. In 1825, Greenway wrote a letter to the then The Australian newspaper stating that such a bridge would “give an idea of strength and magnificence that would reflect credit and glory on the colony and the Mother Country.” Nothing came of Greenway’s suggestions, but the idea remained alive, and many further suggestions were made during the 19th century. In 1840, naval architect Robert Brindley proposed that a floating bridge be built. Engineer Peter Henderson produced one of the earliest known drawings of a bridge across the harbor around 1857. A suggestion for a truss bridge was made in 1879, and in 1880 a high-level bridge estimated at $850,000 was proposed.
In 1900, the Lyne government committed to building a new Central railway station and organized a worldwide competition for the design and construction of a harbor bridge. Local engineer Norman Selfe submitted a design for a suspension bridge and won the second prize of £500. In 1902, when the outcome of the first competition became mired in controversy, Selfe won a second competition outright, with a design for a steel cantilever bridge. The selection board were unanimous, commenting that, “The structural lines are correct and in true proportion, and… the outline is graceful.” However due to an economic downturn and a change of government at the 1904 NSW State election construction never began.
A three-span bridge was proposed in 1922 by Ernest Stowe with connections at Balls Head, Millers Point, and Balmain with a memorial tower and hub on Goat Island.
In 1914 John Bradfield was appointed “Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway Construction”, and his work on the project over many years earned him the legacy as the “father” of the bridge. Bradfield’s preference at the time was for a cantilever bridge without piers, and in 1916 the NSW Legislative Assembly passed a bill for such a construction, however it did not proceed as the Legislative Council rejected the legislation on the basis that the money would be better spent on the war effort.
Following World War I, plans to build the bridge again built momentum. Bradfield persevered with the project, fleshing out the details of the specifications and financing for his cantilever bridge proposal, and in 1921 he travelled overseas to investigate tenders. On return from his travels Bradfield decided that an arch design would also be suitable and he and officers of the NSW Department of Public Works prepared a general design for a single-arch bridge based upon New York City’s Hell Gate Bridge. In 1922 the government passed the Sydney Harbour Bridge Act No. 28, specifying the construction of a high-level cantilever or arch bridge across the harbor between Dawes Point and Milsons Point, along with construction of necessary approaches and electric railway lines, and worldwide tenders were invited for the project.
As a result of the tendering process, the government received twenty proposals from six companies; on 24 March 1924 the contract was awarded to British firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd, of Middlesbrough well known as the contractors who built the similar Tyne Bridge of Newcastle Upon Tyne, for an arch bridge at a quoted price of AU£4,217,721 11s 10d. The arch design was cheaper than alternative cantilever and suspension bridge proposals, and also provided greater rigidity making it better suited for the heavy loads expected.
One curious aspect of the bridge’s architecture are the pylons which are purely for aesthetics. At each end of the arch stands a pair of 89 m (292 ft) high concrete pylons, faced with granite. The pylons were designed by the Scottish architect Thomas S. Tait, a partner in the architectural firm John Burnet & Partners. About 250 Australian, Scottish, and Italian stonemasons and their families relocated to a temporary settlement at Moruya, NSW, 300 km (186 mi) south of Sydney, where they quarried around 18,000 m3 (635,664 cu ft) of granite for the bridge pylons. The stonemasons cut, dressed, and numbered the blocks, which were then transported to Sydney on three ships built specifically for this purpose. The Moruya quarry was managed by John Gilmore, a Scottish stonemason who emigrated, with his young family to Australia in 1924, at the request of the project managers. The concrete used was also Australian-made and supplied from Devonport, Tasmania and shipped to Sydney on a ship named Goliath.
Abutments at the base of the pylons are essential to support the loads from the arch and hold its span firmly in place, but the pylons themselves have no structural purpose. They were included to provide a frame for the arch panels and to give better visual balance to the bridge. The pylons were not part of the original design, and were only added to allay public concern about the structural integrity of the bridge. Although originally added to the bridge solely for their aesthetic value, all four pylons have now been put to use. The south-eastern pylon contains a museum and tourist center, with a 360° lookout at the top providing views across the harbour and city. The south-western pylon is used by the New South Wales Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) to support its CCTV cameras overlooking the bridge and the roads around that area. The two pylons on the north shore include venting chimneys for fumes from the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, with the base of the southern pylon containing the RMS maintenance shed for the bridge, and the base of the northern pylon containing the traffic management shed for tow trucks and safety vehicles used on the bridge. In 1942 the pylons were modified to include parapets and anti-aircraft guns designed to assist in both Australia’s defense and general war effort. The top level of stonework was never removed.
There had also been numerous preparatory arrangements. On 14 March 1932, three postage stamps were issued to commemorate the imminent opening of the bridge. Several songs were composed for the occasion.
Australia always presents me with a culinary challenge, but for Sydney Harbour Bridge I have created a dish using local ingredients. John Dory is commonly found in Australian waters including Sydney Harbour and is a popular fish variety in local cuisine. It can be battered and fried and served with chips, or pan-fried with herbed oil on a bed of mashed potato with salad, and is popular in Australia. John Dory fillets are mentioned by both Eliza Acton in Modern Cookery for Private Families (1845) and Mrs Beeton in her Book of Household Management (1861). Both compare the John Dory to turbot and give recipes that can serve for either. They are very plain recipes calling for boiling or baking as in this example from Mrs Beeton
- INGREDIENTS.—1/4 lb. of salt to each gallon of water.
Mode.—This fish, which is esteemed by most people a great delicacy, is dressed in the same way as a turbot, which it resembles in firmness, but not in richness. Cleanse it thoroughly and cut off the fins; lay it in a fish-kettle, cover with cold water, and add salt in the above proportion. Bring it gradually to a boil, and simmer gently for 1/4 hour, or rather longer, should the fish be very large. Serve on a hot napkin, and garnish with cut lemon and parsley. Lobster, anchovy, or shrimp sauce, and plain melted butter, should be sent to table with it.
Time.—After the water boils, 1/4 to 1/2 hour, according to size.
Average cost, 3s. to 5s. Seasonable all the year, but best from September to January.
Note.—Small John Dory are very good, baked.
We can do better than that by adding another ingredient from NSW, the macadamia nut. Macadamia nuts are indigenous to eastern Australia although they are not found quite as far south as Sydney. You have to go north to Byron Bay where they are plentiful. Here is my macadamia-crusted John Dory.
©Macadamia-Crusted John Dory
4 skinless John Dory fillets (about 6 oz/180 gm each)
2 cups (300 gm) unsalted macadamias
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
grated zest and juice of 1 lemon (plus wedges to serve)
1 tbspn extra virgin olive oil
1 tbspn flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbspn chives, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.
Place the macadamia nuts, garlic, lemon zest, half the lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a food processor and pulse to make a coarse paste. Do not process too finely, the paste should be a little chunky. Add in the parsley and chives and stir to mix.
Place the fish on a greased baking tray and press the nut mixture into the top of each fillet.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until the crust is golden and the fish is cooked through.
Serve with lemon wedges on a bed of salad greens sprinkled with the remaining lemon juice and some extra olive oil.