Sunday, March 18, 2007

Sydney: When the Harbour Bridge was built

(This is the 3rd article of 3 released about the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the 75th anniversary of its opening in 1932. This article is by Peter Harvey, National Nine News)

They say it just would not, could not be built today.
Plans for a 21st century above-ground harbour crossing would simply drown in objections and bureaucracy: environmentalists would oppose it, politicians would fight over it and residents would be outraged.
All of that's almost certainly true… but the bridge would still be built.

For a city split in half by a wide, meandering harbour and truncated by rivers, valleys and ridge lanes, a broad span carrying road and rail services makes even more sense now than it did at the turn of the 20th century, when the first serious plans for a harbour bridge were under active discussion.

Sunday celebrates much more than the bridge's diamond jubilee, its 75th birthday: it commemorates one of the most bitter political debates this country has ever seen and it marks an astonishing engineering achievement. It's also largely responsible for the face and nature of modern Sydney.

Convict architect Francis Greenway first proposed a bridge in 1815. His foresight was ignored until the dawn of the last century when the government of the day realised Sydney was destined to remain confined to the harbours south-eastern shore unless something was done.
The bridge was intended not to simply provide easy transport to the north shore of the harbour but to be a key link in the network of highways stretching into the interior of NSW and onto Queensland. The trade and business imperative was as much a driving force as the wish to make the trip to town easier for the folk in Neutral Bay.

The rest is, of course, history. Dr. J.J.C. Bradfield and his team of specialists from the now-vanished Department of Public Works came up with the general design — a vast single-span arch — and, in 1922, the English firm of Dorman Long won the contract.
Work began in 1924 with more than 800 residents of The Rocks and Dawes Point tossed out of their homes — with no compensation — so work could start on the southern approaches. The absentee owners of those properties were paid but there was nothing for the people who lived there.

By any standards, the eight years of construction were heroic — and staggering.
Sixteen workmen died: clambering on the high-iron without any safety equipment was always a recipe for disaster, and a blueprint for today's safety regulations.

53 thousand tonnes of steel was used, held together by six million rivets — but not ordinary rivets. One weighed 3.5 kilograms and was almost 400 millimetres long.

Smaller rivets were made red-hot in braziers suspended on the girders, and then tossed to workmen below who caught them in their hats.

As Sydney stood and stared, the giant arches crept towards each other supported by 95 thousand cubic meters of concrete poured into the holes left by 122 thousand cubic metres of excavated rock.

The construction was on a scale not equalled until the Americans built the enormous Hoover Dam on the Colorado River — the world's biggest dam.

Finally, the two spans met, exactly and precisely, 134 metres above sea level. A feat of mathematics and precision engineering so complex it defies comparison. Except to say it was all done by slide rule and building skill — no computer modelling then.

Sydneysiders cheered on that day and then again, massively, on March 19 1932 — the grand opening.

To ensure the bridge could handle anything thrown at it, 100 steam locomotives were parked buffer to buffer on the four sets of tracks — two on the west for railways, two on the east for trams.

The only aspect left unplanned: Colonel de Groot's ride to glory, or infamy, when he slashed the ribbon seconds before Premier Jack Lang was due to use a pair of golden scissors in the official opening. A monarchist, de Groot believed only a member of the British royal family should do the honours as the bridge was so important to all Australians.

But they simply re-tied the ribbon and Jack Lang snipped away.

Sydneysiders marched, danced, rode and paraded their way across the marvel of the age all day long. The bridge immediately became the focus of our first tourism campaigns: come to Sydney and see our wonderful bridge.

And they did. From all over Australia, and overseas. And it still goes on today.

The Opera House may have become a more instantly recognised symbol of this country, but it lies in the Sydney Harbour Bridge's shadow.
National Nine News.
I hope you have found these three articles about the Sydney Harbour Bridge, an Australian icon, interesting. You know, in the Global Village of our world, Sydney is in easy reach from wherever you may be.
Sue Bayliss. Cairns, Australia.

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