BY BETH TAYLOR

On 19 March 1932, Sydney was humming with excitement. Having watched with awe as the bridge was built over the past eight years, 600,000 people gathered to witness the opening (half of Sydney's population at the time).

The new bridge had attracted its share of controversy - from design tussles to political power struggles and concerns over its cost. But the bridge’s most famous scandal unfolded on the day of the opening, and the Cinesound Productions newsreel got the scoop.

Right-wing paramilitary group the New Guard had been vocal in its opposition to fiery Premier Jack Lang dispensing with tradition and opening the bridge himself instead of sending for a representative of the British royal family.

A still from a newsreel showing Major Francis De Groot on horseback with his sword aloft having just cut the ribbon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Francis De Groot brandishing his sword after cutting the ribbon. Source: The Bridge, 2006 - Film Australia Collection © National Film and Sound Archive.

 

Major Francis De Groot (pictured) - a leader of the New Guard - had secreted himself behind the Cinesound newsreel van on his horse. Before Lang had a chance to cut the ribbon he rode out and slashed it with his sword, shouting ‘In the name of common decency I declare this bridge open!’.

Cinesound Productions got the footage of De Groot, with a rival newsreel produced by Paramount Film Services not even mentioning the surprise upset.

Ken G Hall, head of Cinesound, recalls with glee in his autobiography:

Portrait of Ken G Hall with his hands crossed over each other.

I've never seen anything quite as funny as those press boys falling, scrambling, jumping out of that box, dropping their cameras, yelling abuse, swearing dreadfully, but getting there too late. We had the only pictures and the newspapers and wire services came smartly knocking on our door. We made duplicates and gave them out for free.

Ken G Hall, head of Cinesound Productions

We're celebrating 85 years since the opening of the bridge with a curated collection and online exhibition.

Explore them and you can see footage of the construction of the bridge, newsreels capturing the opening and home movie footage of a walk across the bridge in 1932. There are songs about the bridge from the 1930s and news footage about Bridge Climb and the Olympic torch run in 2000. 

The crew that captured the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge outside the Cinesound Productions studio.