A nightime photo of the Sydney Harbour Bridge showing it all lit up. The bridge arch is blue with red lights at the top and bottom centre. The pylons are lit yellow. The water shows the reflections of the passing ferry and the Sydney Opera House.
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/collection/hero_image02-2017/sydney_harbour_bridge_cover_image.jpg

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

'The Coathanger', as the bridge is affectionately known, opened on 19 March 1932.

As well as providing a vital link between northern and southern Sydney across the harbour, it looms large in the consciousness of Australians. Taking eight years to construct, it was also nicknamed 'the Iron Lung' because of the 1,400 jobs it provided during The Great Depression.

This curated collection includes footage of the bridge being built and the controversial opening where Francis de Groot cut the ribbon instead of Premier Jack Lang. You can listen to songs about the bridge and hear the Queen Mother sing its praises. Paul Hogan uses it as a fabulous prop in his cheeky tourism ad, an eight-year-old boy stands on top of it without safety gear and there's a post-apocalyptic imagining of Sydney from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

Complements the Sydney Harbour Bridge online exhibition.

Sydney Harbour Bridge video
Year:
Year

This is a compilation of footage from the NFSA collection featuring the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

See more relating to the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the curated collection.

The cover image is from The Bridge, 2006 - Film Australia Collection © National Film and Sound Archive. Buy a copy at the NFSA shop.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Paul Hogan: Statue of Liberty
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
512094
Courtesy:
Paul Hogan and John Cornell
Year:
Year

Paul Hogan and the Sydney Harbour Bridge star in this cheeky ad produced for the Australian Tourism Commission promoting Australia as a tourist destination for Americans.

It's part of the same series as the famous 'slip an extra shrimp on the barbie' ad. The ads were produced from 1983-2001 and they're all held in the NFSA collection.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge: Asphalt and concrete
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
5214
Year:
Year

Workmen shovel hot asphalt onto a concrete bed to begin laying the roadway for the bridge. The asphalt is smoothed and compressed, rolled and pummelled. Two men walk along the main arch decking and troughing. The 57-foot wide roadway is concreted. Sleepers are prepared for the railway tracks. The footway at the side of the bridge is shown prior to concreting. Summary by Poppy De Souza.

The Bridge: eyewitnesses at the opening
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1053133
Year:
Year

Half the population of Sydney, which was 1.2 million at the time, came to witness the Sydney Harbour Bridge opening.

People who witnessed the opening of the bridge on 19 March 1932 when they were children talk about the splendid day of celebration. 

'I think it was the biggest thing to have ever happened in Sydney. We weren't just this little colony sitting out here with a few houses dotted around. We had this enormous structure, and we'd done it' - Hilarie Lindsay. 

Excerpt from The Bridge, 2006 - Film Australia Collection © National Film and Sound Archive. Buy a copy at the NFSA shop.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Aboriginal flag flies on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1115279
Courtesy:
Seven Network
Year:
Year

In this short clip Weekend Sunrise presenter Jessica Rowe does a round-up of events happening around Australia in connection with Australia Day.

This clip depicts the first time the Aboriginal flag was raised next to the Australian flag on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. You can read more about what this meant to proud Kamilaroi yinarr (woman), young entrepreneur and activist Cheree Toka in her article about the 50th anniversary of the flying of the Aboriginal flag.

This edition of Weekend Sunrise was broadcast live on 26 January 2013.

Notes by Beth Taylor

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Newscaf: The Bridge Walk for Reconciliation
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
523579
Courtesy:
Nine Network
Year:
Year

This news report is from National Nine News on 28 May 2000 and covers the historic Walk for Reconciliation that took place that day. The report shows thousands of people walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of the reconciliation process and includes interviews with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who took part in the walk. 

Notes by Mel Bondfield

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
Black and white photo of six female models dressed in fashion from 1964 posing underneath the Sydney Harbour Bridge
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Groovers underneath the Harbour Bridge
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1003445
Courtesy:
Channel Seven
Year:
Year

Still from a collection of approximately 900 black and white publicity and production shots from ATN-7.

Bridge of Our Dreams Come True
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
578185
Year:
Year

A jaunty number celebrating the Bridge written composed by Varney Monk while it was still under construction.

'We're building a bridge in Sydney. Over our harbour too. Where we can cross in safety and busy trains pass through. A wonderful thing of beauty. Arching the skies of blue. The best brains thought it. Brave men wrought it. Bridge of our dreams come true!'

The performers are Gil Dech and His Syncopators, and Len Maurice. Cover image is from Sydney's Harbour Bridge (1933). 

Notes by Beth Taylor

Children walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge prior to opening
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
256088
Year:
Year

'Nearly 60,000 school children are being given the privilege of crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge before its opening' in March 1932.

Eight-year-old Kenneth Jones stands atop one of the arches (without any apparent safety precautions taken!) and speaks to camera: 'They look like ants down there.' 

Intertitle reads: 'Rain fails to damp ardor of school children as they stream across bridge on their special day'. 

From a Melbourne Herald Newsreel. This item is part of the Roger McKenzie collection.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Bridge Riggers Have Nerves Of Steel
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
67378
Year:
Year

The riggers who have to continually paint the bridge year round presumably take more safety precautions now than they did when this film was made. Number 89 of the Australian Diary series made by the National Film Board 1956. Filmed by Frank McKechnie. © NFSA. All Rights Reserved.

A crew member pushes a crane next to a model set of post-apocalyptic Sydney in some sand dunes. The buildings are about the size of the person. An arch of the destroyed Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House is visible.
https://www.nfsa.gov.au/sites/default/files/02-2017/mad_max_beyond_thunderdome_1072868_05.jpg
Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1072868
Year:
Year

A crew member pushes a crane next to a model set of post-apocalyptic Sydney, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House for Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (George Miller and George Ogilvie, Australia, 1985).

Notes by Beth Taylor

Harbour Bridge Hotel in 'Starstruck'
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
34987
Year:
Year

Jackie (Jo Kennedy) returns home as a celebrity, having made the news as a tightrope walker, in a stunt set up by her cousin Angus (Ross O’Donovan). She entertains the bar at the Harbour View Hotel with a song, accompanied by her new friends, a band called The Wombats. Their smitten guitarist Robbie (Ned Lander) dances on the bar with her.

Note the Sydney Harbour Bridge iconography in the pub decor. This song was one of the most popular on the soundtrack. The Harbour View Hotel was a real Sydney pub, and remains so in a spectacular location in The Rocks.

Summary by Paul Byrnes.

This film was digitally restored and preserved as part of the NFSA Restores program.

Large group pf people, in assorted costumes, on a stage in front of a small replica bridge. There are dancing ladies on top of the bridge and a line of men, in uniforms and suits, in the foreground holding flags.
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Sydney Harbour Bridge Commemoration
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1470774
Year:
Year

Large group pf people, in assorted costumes, on a stage in front of a small replica bridge. There are dancing ladies on top of the bridge and a line of men, in uniforms and suits, in the foreground holding flags.

Notes by Beth Taylor

John Henry comedy sketch about Sydney Harbour Bridge
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
578496
Year:
Year

'Although the bridge is held together by a rivet, it'll have to be kept up by a tax' - a humorous talk given by comedian John Henry about the Sydney Harbour Bridge opening, circa 1932. Cover image is from Sydney's Harbour Bridge (1933). 

Notes by Beth Taylor

Ticket To Sydney. Australian Colour Diary 39
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
12733
Year:
Year

Travelling around Sydney using a variety of public transport. Examines the morning traffic build-up to peak hour as workers in Sydney set out by train, ferry, bus and car for their daily work. 

Made by The Commonwealth Film Unit 1971. Directed by Brian Hannant. Film Australia Collection © NFSA

Closing the Harbour Bridge arch
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
76602
Year:
Year

Amateur footage documenting aspects of the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The closing of the arch on the 19th of August, 1930 is shown.

A worker puts in rivets while another tightens nuts with a huge spanner. A ferry passes underneath the bridge and an intertitle explains this is 'The ill-fated Tahiti passing under for the last time'. Workmen climb into an open-air lift.

An intertitle reads: 'Standing room only- and 450 feet drop to the bottom.' A view of the span from the lift is shown as it descends. The men alight when it arrives at the bottom.

An intertitle reads: 'The 550 ton creeper crane. Lifting capacity 122 tons'. Crane driver shown sitting in cab of his crane talking on a telephone. Erection of last diagonal member on South side is shown with the intertitle '28,000 tons of steel being lowered into position'.

Shows the process of closing the arches using hydraulic jacks. Two men stand on the plate joining the arches. A Union Jack and an Australian flag fly from the top of the bridge.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Bridge Climb opens
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
387252
Courtesy:
Network Ten
Year:
Year

People can now climb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Bridge Climb sell the tickets for $98 for a view once reserved only for maintenance workers.

This Ten News Townsville story, broadcast on 16 March 1998, is held in the NFSA television collection.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Queen Mother loves the Harbour Bridge
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
706842
Year:
Year

'One of the wonders of our time. A magnificent monument to your progress.' The Queen Mother, in a speech upon her arrival to Australia in 1958 says that the Sydney Harbour Bridge is 'perhaps the perfect example of all that you've achieved' since her last visit.

The Queen Mother delivers a poetic tribute to the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of her speech, showing the place of awe that the Bridge took up (and still takes up today) in the consciousness of Australians and also internationally. She begins this excerpt of a longer speech by saying 'From where I'm speaking I can see the Sydney Harbour Bridge sweeping its great arch across the sky.' 

It would have meant a lot to Australians to have our Herculean efforts in building the bridge acknowledged by The Queen Mother. 

The cover image for this sound recording is a lobby card from Welcome Your Majesty (1958), produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit and a part of the Film Australia Collection. © NFSA. All Rights Reserved.

Notes by Beth Taylor

A Year to Remember 1932: Harbour Bridge opening controversy
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
6811
Courtesy:
Cinesound Movietone Productions
Year:
Year

A Cinesound Movietone newsreel summary of the year of 1932. This excerpt mentions the Great Depression and covers the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge opening with NSW Governor Sir Phillip Game and NSW Premier Jack Lang.

It shows footage of Francis de Groot cutting the ribbon and the official opening by Lang after the ribbon was retied. Horse-drawn floats carry a procession of Harbour Bridge workers and other themed floats.

The voice-over notes the 'good sorts and good sports' in the surfing carnival procession.

It is estimated that over 300,000 men, women and children crossed the bridge that day. People and cars cross the bridge after the opening.

Toll collectors in uniform stand out in the open collecting tolls.

Scenes from outside the Sydney's central police court where Francis de Groot appears and is fine five pounds for offensive behaviour. Colonel Campbell - one of the founders of the far-right paramilitary group the New Guard of which de Groot was a member - appears outside the court.

There are noisy demonstrations from both supporters and detractors of the New Guard.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge: Constructing the arch
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
5214
Year:
Year

A view of the main bearing and arch ribs shows the two sides of the cantilever arches almost meeting. The bottom chord of one of the bridge panels is erected, weighing 61 tonnes. The panel is lifted by crane and a worker can be seen standing on it. Workmen rivet a chord joint. The panel is lifted. Summary by Poppy De Souza.

 

Farey: View from bridge
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
307885
Year:
Year

Leslie Francis Farey films his first walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 and the panoramic view he enjoyed of Sydney Harbour. Farey has captured other curious pedestrians inspecting the newly-built bridge, the tramlines and Sydney Harbour from Kirribilli to Circular Quay. Summary by Elizabeth Taggart-Speers.

Olympic Torch crosses bridge
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
470934
Courtesy:
Network Ten
Year:
Year

Sydney Mayor Frank Sartor and golfer Greg Norman carry the Olympic torch across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the morning of 15 September 2000 as crowds of people gather to cheer them on.

This Ten News story is held in the NFSA television collection.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Maintenance of Harbour Bridge Never Ending Job
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1424
Year:
Year

'Rust is the enemy and paint the ally.' 

Australian Diary 13 from the Film Australia Collection. Made by the National Film Board 1947. Follows the crew of painters who continually painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge as part of its maintenance program. It says they use 140 tonnes of paint to paint the bridge from end to end. 

Notes by Beth Taylor

Sydney's Harbour Bridge
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
14167
Year:
Year

This short film documents the construction of one of the world's great landmarks in its various stages, and provides a fascinating glimpse of life around Sydney Harbour and Circular Quay in the 1920s and 30s.

Officially opened on 19 March 1932, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was a massive engineering undertaking that transformed the city.

The Cinema Branch regularly filmed events of special interest to the nation. There were at least three different films on the progress of the bridge.

Sydney's Harbour Bridge was filmed over several years and edited to celebrate the opening.

Made by the Cinema Branch, 1933. Directed by Lyn T Maplestone.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Colonel Campbell and Mister Lang
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
191096
Year:
Year

This song was considered very risque at the time of release. The lyrics refer to the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the political controversy between Colonel Campbell (head of the right-wing paramilitary group the New Guard) and NSW Premier Jack Lang. Francis de Groot, who rode up on a horse and slashed the official opening ribbon for the bridge was a member of the New Guard. 

Composer Jack O'Hagan did not want his name to be associated with it and used the pseudonym John Quinlan. Len Maurice and Jack Lumsdaine who sung the song used the pseudonyms Quip and Quirk. When sold in stores it was from 'under the counter'.

Lyrics include 'Oh Colonel Campbell, why don't you scramble your precious gang? They have been a source of worry since we opened up the bridge, and the way they cut that ribbon was a downright sacrilege.' 

Cover image is from Sydney's Harbour Bridge (1933). 

Notes by Beth Taylor

The Bridge We've Been Waiting For
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
186123
Year:
Year

Composed by Jack Lumsdaine to celebrate the opening of the much-awaited Sydney Harbour Bridge, and performed by Len Maurice. 

Includes lines from 'Advance Australian Fair'.

'Folks from Manly gay, or over Mosman way. Now they can take a stroll across to Double Bay! If you miss the midnight ferry, there's a path from shore to shore. Australian sons let us rejoice - it's the bridge we've been waiting for!'

Notes by Beth Taylor

The Opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge: Official ceremony
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
4583
Year:
Year

From an elevated position, the camera pans over the gathered crowds in attendance for the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge celebrations. Commentator John Harper begins an enthusiastic commentary which conveys the thrill and excitement of the event.

NSW Governor Sir Philip Game gives a speech congratulating people on the completion of the Bridge. As the Governor speaks, a mother grapples with her active son as he fidgets in the background. Summary by Poppy De Souza.

 

The Opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge: Cutting the ribbon
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
4583
Year:
Year

The Premier of NSW, Jack Lang, and a large party of officials, walk towards the ribbon at the approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. As the ribbon is cut, the commentator John Harper remarks on the crowd who are clapping and yelling, ‘they’re that excited’.

A view back towards the bridge captures the crowd, and three planes can be seen in the sky overhead. The parade begins as they approach the bridge to walk across it for the first time. The Sydney Harbour Bridge Workers – the ‘greatest men in the world’ according to Harper – are one of the first groups in the parade. The camera captures other floats parading towards the bridge. Summary by Poppy De Souza.

The Bridge: construction
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1053133
Year:
Year

Construction began in 1923 and the Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed in January 1932.

The greatest engineering challenge of its day anywhere on Earth, Peter Lalor, author of the book The Bridge says 'Everything associated with the project was without precedent, right down to the rivet sizes. Nobody had used rivets that large. Nobody had used that construction method on a bridge that large. Nobody had used steel pieces that large. So it was putting a man on the moon basically.' 

Excerpt from The Bridge, 2006 - Film Australia Collection © National Film and Sound Archive. Buy a copy at the NFSA shop.

Notes by Beth Taylor

Francis De Groot's Sword
NFSA-ID:
NFSA ID
1480923
Year:
Year

When right-wing agitator Francis De Groot upstaged the 1932 opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and sliced through the ceremonial ribbon, the antique sword he wielded cemented its place as an Australian national treasure.

Part of a monarchist militia called the New Guard, Irish-born De Groot was protesting about a perceived communist push led by working-class hero and nationalist NSW Premier Jack Lang.

The ribbon was retied and cut by Lang, but the story didn’t end there. A lengthy court battle followed, which resulted in De Groot being found guilty and fined £5 for trespassing. He immediately counter-sued for wrongful arrest and was awarded compensation.

The legal battle established that De Groot, not Lang, had legally opened the bridge, which is now included in the National Heritage List. His sword is held by a private collector.

Did you know:

  • Francis De Groot, the man who gatecrashed the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, was an Irish immigrant and successful antiques dealer.
  • When Jack Lang, the Premier of New South Wales, announced that he, rather than Australia’s Governor-General, would officially open the new Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932, the right-wing monarchist group calling itself the New Guard planned to kidnap him.

Australia's Heritage: National Treasures with Chris Taylor is also available for purchase from the NFSA Online Shop.

Notes by Beth Taylor