Sydney Harbour Bridge

Location: Sydney Harbour
One of the most remarkable feats of bridge construction in the world, at the time it was built and until recently it was the longest single span steel arch bridge in the world and is still in a general sense the largest.

Walk or Cycle Across the Bridge: the Sydney Harbour Bridge has a cycleway on the western side of the bridge and a footpath on the eastern (Opera House) side of the bridge. The cycleway begins under the bridge's southern approaches off Argyle Street and continues across the bridge to near Milsons Point Railway Station. To reach the footpath from The Rocks, climb Argyle Stairs from Argyle Street to Cumberland. Cross Cumberland Street and follow the signs to the Harbour Bridge and Cahill Freeway walkways.

Climbing the Harbour Bridge: the arch of the bridge can be climbed by groups of visitors with Bridgeclimb. The Bridgeclimb office is located at 3 Cumberland Street, The Rocks, Sydney. Entry fees apply.

Visiting the Pylon Lookout: the Sydney Harbour Bridge Pylon Lookout and historic display are accessed from the bridge walkway. Entry fees apply. Click on heading below for more information.

View from the Pylon Lookout

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Pylon Lookout

If climbing the arch of the bridge is a bit daunting, try visiting the bridge's eastern pylon. Access from The Rocks - proceed up Argyle Street away from the Harbour. Just before the bridge on the right hand side is Argyle Steps. Go to the top of the stairs, turn left, immediately cross the road and walk up a further flight of stairs to the Harbour Bridge road level. Turn right upon reaching the roadway - this pathway leads onto the bridge. The entrance to the Pylon Lookout is in the first bridge pylon you reach, which is in fact the south east pylon. As well as a lookout offering spectacular views of the city and harbour, the pylon has an exhibition telling the story of the building of the bridge.

The pylon was first opened as a museum when the bridge opened, featuring amusements such as a camera obscura, funhouse mirrors, a miniature railway, a Mother s Nook  for women to write letters, and a pashometer - a machine that rated one's sex appeal, as well as sightseeing telescopes. After closure during the second world war the pylon museum reopened with even more tourist attractions: a tearoom, the largest existing map of New South Wales, a post office, and a family of white cats that guarded a wishing well at the pylon lookout and had their own merry-go-round.

Today's pylon display is more museum than amusements gallery, although it displays some of the ephemera from its previous incarnations. One of the hand painted signs must have originally been on the stairs in the post-war pylon museum, its caption 'look behind you for the way to the top of the world'.
Open daily 10.00 am - 5.00 pm. Entry fees apply.
Building the Bridge

Plans for a bridge linking north and south had been mooted since the settlement of Sydney began. The diary of First Fleeter William Dawes refers to conversations he had with Governor Phillip about the need for a bridge linking the two shores. In 1815, government architect Francis Greenway, in a report to Governor Macquarie, proposed the building of a bridge from Dawes Point at the city's edge to the northern shore, however it was not until 1922 that legislation was passed and acted upon, authorising the construction of a bridge. Ninety nine years after Greenway presented his proposal to the Governmenmt of the day, Dr J.J.C. Bradfield, the NSW Government s Chief Engineer, was sent to Europe to investigate the latest engineering technology involved in bridge and underground railway construction. With an idea of what was required, he returned to Europe in 1922 to seek tenders for the construction of a harbour bridge. His plans and specifications allowed the alternatives of a cantilever bridge or an arch bridge.

Twenty proposals were received from six different companies for various types of design, including suspension bridges not covered by Dr Bradfield's specification. The tender of Dorman Long and Co. Ltd., of Middlesborough England for an arch bridge was accepted, the design being substantially in accordance with one of Dr Bradfield's proposals. The detailed design was carried out by the Contractor's Consulting Engineer, Sir Ralph Freeman, and the fabrication and construction were under the direct charge of Mr Lawrence Ennis, a director of the firm. The design and the construction of the bridge were supervised at all stages by Dr. Bradfield and his staff.

The first sod was ceremoniously turned on the site of the North Sydney Railway Station on 28th July 1923. The acquisition and demolition of buildings in the path of the new bridge and its approaches on both the northern and southern shores commenced on 28th July 1924. The excavations for the foundations of the main bearings and approach span piers commenced in January 1925. While the approach spans were being built, the foundations on either side of the harbour were prepared to take four steel bearings consisting of large hinge pins and massive steel bases for support of the arches.

At each end of the arch span of the bridge, and just behind the bearings, large abutment towers supporting the pylons were constructed. The abutment towers with the pylons are not a necessary structural feature of the bridge. They do not support the arch and were built principally to enhance the appearance of the structure. The approach spans were constructed from the inshore ends towards the harbour, and their ends rest on their respective abutment tower. The arch was constructed in two halves, holding each back with steel cables anchored in large U-shaped tunnels dug into the rock. After the approach spans and abutment towers had been constructed at deck level, work began on the main arch. Giant creeper cranes were built and assembled on temporary ramps on the abutment towers. As the first sections of the arch were built, the cranes moved across onto the sections and erected the second section, before creeping on and building the next section.

On 7th August 1930, the erection of the arch was completed and work began joining the two sections. The steel cables were slackened in a process that required round the clock supervision. At 10pm on 19th August the two halves were linked and the north and south were joined for the first time. The cables were removed after stress testing was carried out and thus the arch was converted to a two hinge structure. The deck, which is hung from the arc of the arch itself, was constructed from the centre of the bridge outwards. All steelwork for the deck was completed in May 1931. Two railway lines were laid on either side of the hangars, the vehicles lanes placed in the middle of the deck with footways located on the extreme outside. As the erection of the steelwork was proceeding, the approaches were being constructed, including Milsons Point and North Sydney railway stations, and roadway approaches on both sides of the harbour.

The bridge was opened to roadway, railway and pedestrian traffic by the then Premier of New South Wales, Mr J.T. Lang, on Saturday 19th March 1932. The time taken to complete the whole work, including bridge and approaches was eight years. The contract for the bridge construction provided for six months' maintenance by the contractors from the date of opening, after which maintenance became the responsibility of the State. Built at a cost of $20 million, it was only paid off in 1988, much of the cost being raised by tolls placed on vehicular traffic using the bridge. Tolls collected after the bridge was paid for has gone towards the cost of the construction of the harbour tunnel.

At the times of its construction, the Bridge was seen as a symbol of Australia's industrial maturity. It was the catalyst for the development of the North Shore. Along with the city underground railway system which was built simultaneously with it, the Bridge is the most important event in the development of Sydney's transport system and has been in continuous use as such for over 60 years. It is Dr J.J.C. Bradfield's crowning achievement, on which he spent more than half his working life. The credit for the realisation of the Bridge is also due to the contractors Dorman Long and to the English engineer Sir Ralph Freeman. It was Freeman's finest bridge but his contribution was marred by the famous dispute with Bradfield over who was the designer.

Although subsidiary to the bridge itself and of less engineering interest, the approaches are an integral part of the bridge construction, an achievement of outstanding, international significance. It was on the northern and southern approaches that the Bridge was officially opened, the largest crowd ever seen in Sydney assembled. The viaducts, tunnels and bridges incorporated into the approaches are essential components of the most important single event in the development of Sydney's transport system. They are a part of Bradfield's greatest achievement and, although less glamorous than the steelwork of the Bridge itself, they are the parts for which he was wholly and directly responsible.

The Bridge is an engineering design and technical achievement of international importance. It terms of its span it ranks third in the world but it's reputation as the world's greatest steel arch rests on its combination of span, width and load bearing capacity, and for the difficulties overcome in its erection. Bradfield's design of the arch and pylons was closely based on New York's Hell Gate Bridge from 1916. The span, however, was 205m greater than the American bridge and it contains the heaviest steelwork of its kind ever constructed.

Reinforced concrete technology in NSW was still in its infancy in the 1930's and the approach arches, slabs and retaining walls are important examples of its use. The urban viaducts formed by the Approaches are rare in NSW. The unpainted, rendered retaining walls, pilasters and parapets of the approaches are distinctive and intact examples of inter-war stripped classical design. They represent a continuation of the previous work on the electric railway using render instead of sandstone as a more economical facing material.

Historic photographs

Look-alike Bridges

Hell Gate Bridge

The Hell Gate Bridge over the East River in New York City is considered to be one of the world's most beautiful bridges. The crowning achievement of late 19th century bridge designer Gustav Lindenthal, the span was not only the world's heaviest and longest steel arch bridge when completed in 1917, it was the inspiration for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Tyne Bridge, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

The Tyne Bridge, the most famous of the ten bridges that cross between Newcastle and Gateshead in Britain, is strikingly similar to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, especially in this photograph. It was the largest single span in the world until the Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed four years later. Opened on 10th October 1928 by King George V, it was built by Dorman Long of Middlesbrough, the same company that built the Sydney Harbour Bridge. They used the Tyne Bridge as a 'test run' for the much larger Sydney bridge.

Detroit Superior Bridge

The Detroit Superior Bridge in Cleveland, Ohio, is one of what was known as the "Great King Bridges" built by the King Iron Bridge & Manufacturing Company of Cleveland (later the King Bridge Company). The company was founded by Zenas King in 1858. Many of the Company's bridges were used during America's expansion West in the late 1800 s and early 1900 s and some of these bridges are still standing today.

The bridge links Detroit Avenue on Cleveland's west side and Superior Avenue on Cleveland's east side, terminating west of Public Square. Construction by the King Bridge Company began in 1914 and completed in 1918, at a cost of $5.4 million. It was the first fixed high level bridge in Cleveland, and the third high level bridge above the Cuyahoga. At its completion, the bridge was the largest steel and concrete reinforced bridge in the world. The concrete piles used in the foundation work, if placed end to end, would extend a distance of 45 km. Each end of the structure has underground streetcar stations for the trams that operated on the bridge's lower deck. On 11th November 1989 (Veterans Day), the bridge was renamed the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Voyager Point Footbridge, East Hills

Looking like the Sydney Harbour Bridge's little brother, the Voyager Point Footbridge in Sydney's south replaced an earlier wooden structure across the Georges River, which allowed access to East Hills, its shops and railway station from Voyager Point. The earlier bridge was built by the US Army for its personnel who were stationed at Heathcote Road Defence facility during World War II. After the Americans went home the bridge was used first by Australian defence personnel living at East Hills Barracks, then by migrants during their stay at the East Hills Migrant Hostel. The bridge was closed in 2001 due to structural concerns, but it took some time to replace it with the present bridge because the state and federal governments couldn't agree on sharing the cost of it.

Dr. JCC Bradfield, who designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge, also designed Brisbane's Story Bridge. The steelwork of the approaches to the latter (above) closely resembles that of the approaches to the Sydney Harbour Bridge (below), though the bridges themselves are quite different.

Sydney's Miniature Harbour Bridge

A well known landmark on the Hume Highway near the Sydney suburb of Liverpool, a miniature version of Sydney's Harbour Bridge stands proudly at the entrance to the premises of motor dealer Peter Warren. First used in a display during half time at the 1987 Rugby League Grand Final at the Sydney Cricket Ground, it was built and assembled by apprentices from Garden Island.

Peter Warren, who was at the Grand Final, decided to purchase it and have it transported and erected at the front of his Warwick Farm motor dealership where it now stands. Numerous engineering modifications had to be carried out to comply with various statutory requirements, eg. road clearance to the bottom of the span to allow semi-trailers etc. to access the dealership under it.

The bridge was officially opened on Sunday 7th February 1988 and was Peter Warren's contribution to the Australian Bicentenary celebrations of 1988. Due to public response and the fat that it became such a recognisable landmark during 1988, permission was sought and eventually granted by all necessary authorities to allow the bridge to remain for perpetuity.

Harbour Bridge Wishing Well

Lilyfield's Callan Park has one of Australia's few Anzac war memorials to Aboriginal diggers. Built by Douglas Grant, an Aboriginal soldier who worked at the Callan Park Mental Asylum after the war, the memorial has a scale model of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above a circular wishing well. Sadly, it has fallen into disrepair, and only vigilant members of the Callan Park community are keeping it from disappearing.

Its creator - Douglas Grant - was born into a traditional Aboriginal community in the Bullenden Kerr Ranges of Northern Queensland in the early 1880s. The Grant family settled in Lithgow, New South Wales. Douglas, along with Robert's other son, Henry, attended Scots College in Sydney. There, he developed a love for Shakespeare and poetry, and his talent for drawing was encouraged. In 1897, while in his teens, he won first prize in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee exhibition for a coloured drawing of the Bust of Queen Victoria. After finishing school, Douglas pursued his interest in drawing, training as a mechanical draughtsman. He was still working in this role at Morts Dock when the First World War broke out in 1914.

Though Aboriginal men were excluded from military service, Douglas managed to enlist with the 34th Battalion in January 1916. As he was about to leave Australia however, the Aboriginies Protection Board intervened, noting that regulations prevented Aboriginals from leaving the country without Government approval. Undeterred, Douglas enlisted again, and this time successfully embarked with the 13th Battalion for France in August. He was now 30 years old, and was ready to serve his country.

However, his service was to be short-lived. On 11 April 1917, just two months after arriving in France, Douglas was wounded and captured during the first battle of Bullecourt. In this battle at least 3,300 men were killed or wounded and a further 1,170 were taken prisoner. After his capture, Douglas spent two months in France with the other Bullecourt prisoners, who were used as forced labourers for the German Army.

After 22 months Douglas was repatriated. On his return to Australia he resumed his job as a draughtsman before moving on to work as a labourer in a paper factory and then a small arms factory. He was active in returned servicemen's affairs in this period and conducted a 'Diggers session' on the local radio station. In the early 1930s he returned to Sydney and worked as a clerk at the Callan Park Mental Asylum and lived there, constructing in his spare time a large ornamental pond spanned by the replica of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. After World War II he lived at the Salvation Army's old men's quarters in Sydney and after 1949 at La Perouse. He died in Prince Henry Hospital, Little Bay, on 4th December 1951 and was buried in Botany cemetery.

Paul Hogan, bridge rigger

Paul Hogan

Comedian Paul Hogan is the Sydney Harbour Bridge's most famous rigger. Paul's life working on the bridge inadvertently inspired his acting career, after jokes with his co-workers in the 1970s led to him appearing on the television talent show, New Faces, and then going on to be a tv and movie star. Bridge riggers at the time needed nerves of steel, working high on the bridge maintaining it with jobs such as riveting the red-hot rivets and securing its safety. Hogan drew on his real life experiences of stopping people from jumping to their deaths on the bridge in the 1970's to film the famous ledge scene in his movie, Crocodile Dundee II.

About the Bridge
The bridge is a two hinged steel arch, with a steel deck hanging from the arch and five steel truss approach spans leading to the arch. The arch is hinged at the base on each side of the harbour, the hinges allowing expansion and contraction and take the full weight of the bridge through large solid sandstone skewbacks. 63% of the steelwork of the arch is needed to support the deadweight of the bridge itself, 25% for the live load, 5% for wind pressure (it can withstand winds up to 200 km/hour), 5% for the effect of temperature (it can stand temperature variations of 49 degrees Celsius) and 2% for the braking of trains.

Moruya granite quarry

15,300 cubic metres of masonry was required to line the bridge supports and pylons. This was quarried at Moruya, 30km south of Sydney. The quarry still exists today, complete with pieces of granite cut and partly trimmed, still awaiting collection if needed. 42,000 cubic metres of rock and dirt were excavated just to make way for the Bridge Fabrication Shops. The bridge was constructed by four x 25 tonne creeping cranes. The concrete footings for the four bearings upon which the Bridge sits are 12 metres deep. The bearings weigh 300 tonnes each. 105 sliding bearings and six million rivets were used in building the bridge. It was designed to handle a maximum traffic flow of 6,000 motor vehicles per hour. During today's rush hours, the bridge handles up to 15,000 vehicles per hour.

52,000 tonnes of steel were used in the building of the Bridge. At any given time during the seven years it took to build, 1,400 people were employed in its construction. During the eight years of construction, 16 workers were killed on the job or died later as a result of their injuries. Their details are recorded in the Pylon Honour Roll.

33,600 litres of paint are needed to give the bridge one coat. It is in the continual process of being painted in order to combat corrosion. The reality is that there are sections of the 52,000-tonne structure that have not felt a paint brush for up to 30 years. With close to 500,000sqm of steelwork to be painted and kept free of rust, a crew of 15 workers is needed to keep what its builder, John Bradfield, called the "Blue arch of Heaven" looking her best. The bridge's owners, Roads and Maritime Services, even use two robots to blast away the old lead paint from internal sections of the Bridge. Its exposed surfaces need to be repainted every five years while others last 30 years without a new coat. The structure has an annual maintenance budget of $20 million.

One of the four steel bearings consisting of large hinge pins and massive steel bases which support of the arch of the bridge.

Facts and Figures

Highest point is 134m above sea level

Arch is 503m long

Main deck is 49m wide

There is 49m clearance underneath for shipping

Pylons are 89m high, and its total length (including approaches) is 1149m

Road surface is replaced every 10 years

Flags on top of the bridge are replaced every four to six months

The Bridge took almost nine years to build at a cost of close to £10 million ($300,000,000 in today's money)

1400 workers involved in building the bridge

It is made up of 52,800 tonnes of steel

It has 6,000,000 rivets weighing 3200 tonnes

There is 95,000m3 of concrete

272,000 litres of paint was used to give the bridge its first three coats

The arch can rise or fall as much as 18cm due to heating and cooling

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