Symphony of Steel

Filed in Archive, Blog by on October 6, 2014 1 Comment

Symphony of Steel

Although the devil can lurk in detail, so can beauty. Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the best chance many of us will have to drink in the details of the world’s most famous coat hanger. Last Sunday it was my turn.

The views were great, the climb was easy, the organisation first class. But it was the close-up inspection of the precisely cut steel plates, countless rivets and mind-bending geometry that gave me a deeper appreciation of the bridge’s beauty.

Our guide spun stories about Dr Bradfield, the bridge’s visionary founder, and the daring of the workers without safety harnesses who hammered in white-hot rivets at dizzying heights. Sixteen men were killed during construction. One worker, who fell from near the top of the arch, hit the water with such force that a diver later found his body standing upright in mud at the bottom of the harbour.

Perhaps the most ingenious feats of 1920s engineering are the giant hinges at the bases of the arch, which allow the bridge to grow about 18 centimetres on hot days then contract when the temperature drops. This may partly explain why the construction company, Dorman Long and Co, gave a warranty on its work of only six months. There’s confidence in your product.

Before the bridge opened in 1932, tens of thousands of Sydney residents celebrated the completion of the main arch in 1930 by banging pots and pans. Hand clapping and cheering just weren’t enough.

This fervour, however, quickly turned to worry when newspapers voiced people’s doubts that vehicles might not make it up the steep grades of the arch. Yes, many locals actually thought they would have to drive or ride over the arch in order to cross the bridge. Dr Bradfield quickly began to suspend the flat roadway from the arch to allay the public’s fears. Belief was soon restored.

The nine years of the bridge’s construction provided arguably the greatest public performance of creative work in Australia’s history. The effect still resonates around the world as the nation’s most recognisable landmark.

So while savouring the bridge’s details during my climb last Sunday, the words that kept floating around my head were from a Melburnian friend who once described the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a “symphony of steel”. Climbing the arch, I heard the music.

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  1. Tracey says:

    Too high for me….

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