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Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an Australian cultural icon

Scan of original 94-page document.
"Report on Tenders, 1924"

This site provides support for teachers and students who wish to explore aspects of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in their studies.

There are many opportunities at all levels of the curriculum and in many subjects to include a study of the Bridge. On this site, we focus principally on history and engineering studies, but it is planned to include materials covering more subject areas.

There are many opportunities in:

  • mathematics (measurement, space and geometry, building design)
  • science (built environments, applying models, theories and laws to situations involving energy, force and motion)
  • visual design (fireworks, places and spaces, architecture, modernist icons)
  • visual art (Grace Cossington Smith, Harold Cazneaux)
  • geography

Transport: the continuing problems of a growing harbour city

Milsons Point tram terminal.

Circular Quay 1902-17.
Source: Powerhouse Museum

Ferries have long been a feature of Sydney Harbour. By 1904 ferries were carrying 19 million passengers each year. By comparison 131 million passengers were carried by tram and 30 million by train. Until 1926, when the electrified rail line to St James station was opened, steam trains terminated at Sydney Central Station.

The use of ferries reached a peak in 1927, by then carrying 47 million passengers annually. With the opening of the Bridge, ferry traffic fell to 20 million.

By 1929, 612 private buses carried 90 million passengers annually. (Government buses were not introduced in Sydney until December 1932.)

The tram system carried 1,367,568 people in one day during the visit of the Royal Navy Fleet in 1924 and could move a Randwick Racecourse crowd of 92,300 people in half an hour.

The first cable trams in Sydney started in June 1885 on the North Shore; they ran from Ridge Street, North Sydney, to the Milsons Point ferry wharf. Electric trams eventually replaced the cable system in 1900. The trams terminated at the ferry wharf in an arc-shaped building.

Jeffrey Street vehicle ferry terminal, Milsons Point.

Milsons Point ferry wharf in the early 1920s.
Source: The Story of the Sydney
Harbour Bridge
, RTA.

Before the Bridge was built, travellers to the North Shore went by steam ferry. Two ferries operated, originally conveying horse-drawn vehicles and later motor cars. One ferry service went from Bennelong Point, where the Sydney Opera House now stands, to the Jeffrey Street terminal at Milsons Point on the northern side of the harbour, the other from Dawes Point to Blues Point on the northern side.

The original North Shore railway line opened on 1 January 1890 from Hornsby to St Leonards. From there, a horse bus conveyed passengers to the ferry at Milsons Point. The rail extension to Milsons Point came into service in May 1893; the station was located where the northern Bridge pylon is now.

Milsons Point operated as the ferry–train–tram interchange for the North Shore until the Sydney Harbour Bridge was constructed. To permit construction of the Bridge, the station and wharf were relocated to Lavender Bay in 1924, just north of where Luna Park is now located.

Milsons Point (Lavender Bay) station was the terminus for steam trains from Hornsby until electric trains began operating in late 1928. Electric train services ran from Sydney Central to Hornsby via North Sydney after the bridge opened in 1932.

Manly Beach ferry terminal with Royal Alfredo Steamer, 1880.

Manly Beach ferry terminal with Royal
Alfredo Steamer, 1880. Prior to the
construction of Sydney Harbour Bridge,
ferries were the main method of transport
around Sydney Harbour. By the end of
the nineteenth century they were
increasingly unable to cope
with the traffic. Source:

Since the earliest days of the Colony, proposals had been made to bridge the harbour. Numerous plans and proposals for a bridge had been put forward. In 1900 and 1903 the government invited tenders from private companies for the construction of a harbour crossing. In 1908 another commission recommended harbour subways, and in 1911 the government referred to a special inquiry by the Public Works Committee where John JC Bradfield was given permission to prepare counter-proposals. In 1916, after Bradfield's five years of investigation, a bill introduced in Parliament was defeated due to the priorities of the First World War. After a number of attempts the bill was finally enacted in 1922. Tenders were called in 1923 and awarded in 1924 to Dorman, Long & Co. Ltd. a steel manufacturer and bridge-building company in Middlesborough, England.

On 12 January 1932, after seven years of construction, Dorman, Long & Co. Ltd. handed the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the New South Wales Public Works Department.

These figures are from Chapter 7, The rise and fall of public transport: Sydney since the Twenties, Peter Spearritt, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney, 1978 (ISBN 0 908094 04 3)

The Sydney Harbour Bridge: a World Heritage site?

Diagram of creeper crane from Sydney Harbour Bridge
View from Aqua Dining restaurant, BOS NSW

The Sydney Harbour Bridge links Sydney's two major commercial centres and forms a daily orientation point for millions. It is a living landmark, a tourist experience and an essential transport line for Sydneysiders.

It is a cultural landscape that people actively experience: driving, walking, sailing, flying, cycling, ferry and train commuting, as well as passively observe – from the foreshores, from a distance, as a distinctive landmark – or examine in detail as a marvel of engineering technology.

For such a familiar icon, the extent of its cultural significance is tantalisingly obscure to locals; its accessibility is too often frustratingly mysterious to visitors, yet this is a site that has been included in a nomination for World Heritage listing with the Sydney Opera House in its harbour setting (1996).

Sydney Harbour Bridge Interpretation Plan, Draft Discussion Paper.
Report prepared for the Roads and Traffic Authority,
NSW September 2006 by Godden Mackay Logan Pty Ltd Heritage Consultants,
78 George St Redfern, 02 9319 4811

Students can further develop a fascination with, and enjoyment of, innovating and creating through making decisions and in their production of working solutions. They will experience a core of design processes and technological experiences. In the broader community, the application of this process can involve the consideration of factors relating to organisations, people, environments, sustainability, appropriateness, materials, machines and equipment, systems, communication infrastructures, social and ethical solutions.

The capacity to solve problems and generate ideas through the use of new conceptual approaches, models, drawings and information and communication technologies, and the ability to develop, produce and implement quality solutions are keys to technological competence. These know-why and know-how capabilities often distinguish leading companies, innovators and regions from their competitors.

From the Rationale of the Technology (mandatory) syllabus,
Years 7–8, NSW Board of Studies NSW, 2003

"Engineering Studies Stage 6 is directed towards the application and advancement of skills associated with mathematics, Science and technology and is integrated with business and management. It will procide students with skills, knowledge and understanding associated with a study of engineering". From the Rationale of the Engineering Studies Stage 6 Syllabus, years 11 and 12, NSW Board of Studies.

Industrial Technology Years 7–10 develops in students knowledge and understanding of materials and processes. Related knowledge and skills are developed through a specialised approach to the tools, materials and techniques employed in the planning, development, construction and evaluation of quality practical projects and processes.

Industrial Technology Years 7–10 leads students to an awareness of the relationship between technology, industry, society and the environment, and develops their ability to make value judgements about issues, decisions and consequences arising from this interaction. Students develop an awareness of the importance of environmental sustainability in relation to the use of materials and technologies and their effects on people and society.

From the Rationale of the Industrial Technology syllabus,
Years 7–10, NSW Board of Studies NSW, 2003

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Board of Studies NSW logo logo for Engineering Heritage Sydney logo for Engineers Australia

This site is built and managed in partnership with the Institution of Engineers Australia Sydney Division Heritage Committee. The committee's aim is to encourage the understanding of Engineering and Industrial Heritage in the Sydney and New South Wales region, and to record the significant achievements and social history that engineering has achieved in this country.

Through its Heritage Committees. Engineers Australia aims to promote and encourage the conservation of engineered items and industrial works.

Engineers Australia has produced a 45-minute DVD: “The Construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge” which extensively uses historic movie film shot by famous Sydney photographer Henri Mallard. The DVD can be purchased from some local museum shops or by contacting the Sydney Division office of Engineers Australia in Chatswood: (02) 9410 5633.

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