The opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 had great significance in Australian society. The bridge, an architectural marvel, cemented Australia’s status as a rising nation, joined Sydney’s two shores, alleviated the effects of the great depression and the opening provided a stage for the theatrics of the semi-fascist New Guard. Nationally, the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge marked a huge step forward for Australia. The Bridge’s strong, impressive form gave an idea of strength and success the not only reflected well on Australia, but also gave credit to the motherland, England.
On the bridge’s 75th Anniversary Ceremony, Malcolm Turnball remarked “It immediately became to Sydney what the Eiffel Tower was to Paris and the Statue of Liberty to New York; an expression in steel of the energy, the confidence and the promise of a global city. ” The new bridge was Australia’s first internationally recognisable construction and it demonstrated to the rest of the world that Sydney, and Australia were prospering and successful, even if they were amongst the hardest hit by the great depression.
Although the bridge’s formal proposal was accepted in 1911, serious initiatives began after world war one, a time of great celebration and national pride. Australia was looking for a way to both celebrate the brave effort of the soldiers, and remember the men who never returned and it seemed the ‘north shore bridge’ was a great opportunity for such a tribute. John Bradfield, the engineer assigned to the bridge project remarked that ‘the bridge will typify the resourcefulness and idealism of our fallen men. Not only is the bridge a symbol of Australia patriotism, it also pays respect to those who lost their lives in the Great War. Although it was obviously not planned, by the time of the bridge’s opening there were sixteen other men to pay respect to, those who died whilst constructing the bridge. Technically, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was and still remains to be an amazing feat, a fusion of practicality with simple beauty, which was a concept that the project’s planners’ believed to be synonymous with Australian values. The Harbour bridge’s construction took eight years, with 1400 men employed.
Over that period 53, 000 tonnes of steel were used and six million rivets were hand driven. The Bridge was the tallest structure in Sydney well into the 1960s, and remains the world’s largest steel arch bridge. The Harbour Bridge was designed and constructed with many practical purposes in mind, one of the most eminent being the solution to the crippling division of Sydney by the vast harbour. The addition of a bridge to the Sydney skyline provided a unified traffic plan, and lessened the overwhelming demand for public transport.
Before the bridge’s opening travel between Sydney’s two shores relied on ferry services, which began around 1830. By the 1880s a railway line had been introduced, which drew great business. The issue was that people grew tired of public transport, which was often plagued by strikes and fare increases. The volume of traffic was enormous and the commute was long and inefficient and by 1900 t here was an increasing amount of public meetings calling for a ‘North shore bridge’.
When that bridge finally arrived, the process of travelling across the city grew exponentially easier, at a time where there was only a total 30000 vehicles on Sydney roads, all of Sydney’s people could have crossed it one afternoon. In its first year the Harbour Bridge saw an average 10 900 vehicles travel its length a day. By the early 2000’s over 150 000 cars crossed each day. The bridge’s timely opening made the daily commute of thousands exponentially faster and easier.
When construction began in 1923, the war had ended, business was booming and Australian society was flourishing, but by 1928 everything had changed. Economic depression had set in. Decreased demand led to the mass unemployment of Australians which hit its lowest point in 1932, the year of the Harbour Bridge’s Opening, at over 30%. Coupled with the expenses of the war effort, Australians were struggling to cope under all the financial strain. With so many men out of work, Public Works such as the bridge were ideal projects to provide well paying jobs to skilled Australian workers.
Dorman Long, the engineering company in charge of the Harbour Bridge project provided 1400 jobs a year in construction and many more supplying materials. Those extra jobs provided much-needed relief to struggling Australian families. In the months preceding the bridge’s official opening on the 19th of March 1932, the New South Wales was once again in the midst of political turmoil after the announcement that Jack Lang, the state’s controversial premier was to perform the official opening instead of the Governor, Phillip Game.
Perhaps most outraged by this decision was the New Guard a radical semi-fascist paramilitary group who deemed Lang to be someone ‘masquerading as premier’. On the day of the opening Francis De Groot, a member of the New Guard gate crashed the ceremony and managed to beat Jack Lang to cutting of the ribbon, which he slashed with his sword, whilst on horseback, donning military uniform.
This event was significant because it marked the most prominent act of resistance to the government by the New Guard, at a time filled disillusionment and disgust with party politics. The Harbour Bridge is not only a symbol of the Australian Spirit and an example of Australian ingenuity in engineering and but it also remains as a reminder of the turbulent times in which it was built, which were filled with political and economic uncertainty.
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