Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sydney: Thousands mark bridge's 75th birthday

(The article below is the second in this group of articles released by the AAP)
It was enough to make Francis De Groot, the perpetrator of one of Australia's most famous political protests, rest contentedly in his grave forever.
NSW Governor Marie Bashir snipped a silver ceremonial ribbon to signal the start of celebrations marking the Sydney Harbour Bridge's 75th birthday. She used the same ornate pair of golden, opal-studded scissors that Premier Jack Lang had employed at the original opening.

The rabid monarchist stole Lang's thunder by riding forward on horseback and slashing the ribbon with his sword, complaining that the bridge should have been opened by the king or his representative rather than the premier. It cost him a five pound fine but earned him a place in folklore.

The present-day premier of NSW, Morris Iemma, was happy to play second fiddle to the governor as he joined an estimated half a million people toasting Australia's first internationally iconic structure. Mr Iemma said it was appropriate that the governor should do the honours, and not only because he was approaching an election. "Unlike 1932, the role of governor is now an authentically Australian office, chosen from among us and chosen to reflect us," Mr Iemma said. "No longer are our governors minor English aristocrats or soldiers."
The premier and his photogenic young family then led around 200,000 people across the bridge as planes flew in formation overhead, ferries tooted their horns and generations recalled the great grey span's place in their lives. They ranged from babies in prams to grannies in wheelchairs, from those who were born on the bridge to those touched by deaths there, from the descendants of Premier Lang to the descendants of the bridge's chief engineer John Bradfield.

The youngest person to walk across the bridge in 1932 was back to do it all again.
"I can remember the crowd of people, I can remember the elation of it all," said Bruce Boddington, 79, from Bathurst, who was four years old when he made his first crossing.
"There was a lot of publicity around and all the adults were talking about it."

The oldest person making the crossing on Sunday, Jean Martin, 99, of Sydney's Lane Cove, did so in a wheelchair but she, too, walked on opening day in 1932. She recalled paying sixpence to buy a fruit box so she could see over the heads of the crowd, and the "buzz" when Francis De Groot slashed the ribbon. "I felt so privileged to cross the bridge on opening day," she said.
"And I still feel privileged to think I'm crossing again 75 years later."

Elaine Beavis, 68, from the NSW north coast, accepted a proposal of marriage on the bridge's northern Pylon 49 years ago. "Every year I watch the new year's eve fireworks and remember my own fireworks," she said. Not all of the tears shed were joyful.

Mr Iemma unveiled a plaque to the 16 workmen killed during construction of the 52,000 tonne giant, which took 1,600 men eight years to build during a severe depression. Olive Kerr, from northern NSW, wept for the father she lost as a three-year-old, Alexander Faulkner. He survived the horrors of World War I on the western front but died after being crushed by a falling girder while building the bridge. "I can burst into tears any tick of the clock," said Mrs Kerr. "Every time I see a photo of the bridge I think of dad. "He was a lovely man." Mrs Kerr joined her sister and two brothers in a family reunion as Mr Iemma noted that workers 75 years ago wore no safety harnesses, helmets or protective clothing. "Today such a loss of life would seem appalling," he said. "We know who we have to thank (for improved conditions) - a strong, vigilant, democratic trade union movement."

The federal government used the milestone to add the bridge to the National Heritage List. "To create this extraordinary bridge right in the centre of our most important gateway city was like an adrenaline shot of confidence for a nation that had been on its knees," Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said. Governor Marie Bashir described the bridge as a "sermon in steel" which showed what Australia could do. "It will never date, never grow old," she said. "It has become a structure for all time."
©AAP 2007
Sue Bayliss. Cairns, Australia.

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