Celebrating an icon: 90 years of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
The Sydney Harbour Bridge captured the imagination of Australians as a symbol of modernity and ingenuity when it opened 90 years ago, on 19 March 1932.
Many on the North Shore had been pushing for a harbour crossing since the 1830s, but the idea did not become viable until the area was more densely populated. North Shore residents welcomed the bridge’s commencement and followed its construction with keen interest.
However, such momentous work had a profound impact on the local community.
Work commenced on the northern approaches in 1923. The contractors Dorman Long and Co based their steel fabrication workshops at Milsons Point. North Sydney Council was quick to lobby for the employment of local men. Up to 1,400 people worked on the bridge. Sixteen men died, six of them in North Sydney.
As many as 500 homes and businesses in Milsons Point, Kirribilli and North Sydney were demolished to build the bridge’s pylons, its approaches, and the rail line from the new North Sydney station to Waverton. Most were modest terraces and shops along Blues, Alfred, Campbell, Fitzroy, and Junction Streets.
The resumptions began during a state-wide housing shortage and ended on the eve of the Great Depression. There was no scheme for re-housing. On top of these hardships, tenants received nothing for the loss of businesses or homes. Council protested their ‘unjust’ treatment, while tenants themselves wrote letters pleading for help. Neither the Conservative Nationalist government, nor the Labor administration that followed, acted. In the end ‘removal expenses’ were paid ‘to persuade tenants to quit’.
Despite the hardships, the opening of the bridge on 19 March 1932 was a huge affair involving official and locally organised events, which ran for nearly three weeks.
The bridge transformed North Sydney from a vital transport hub into a corridor through which people passed on their way to and from the city. By 1959 private vehicle use had surpassed public transport crossings. The Warringah Expressway was begun in 1960 to ease congestion. When the Expressway was completed in 1968, North Sydney had been cut in two.
Traffic troubles aside, for Sydneysiders on both sides of the harbour today, a view of the bridge is still one to be prized.