The centenary of the start of construction on one of Australia’s most iconic landmarks has now passed.

Last Friday marked 100 years since the commencement of work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge – which today stands as a city and nation-defining landmark that remains essential to the city’s road transit system.

(First sod being turned on Sydney Harbour Bridge, July 28, 1923. Image source: NSW Archives, supplied)

Construction of the bridge began on July 28, 1923.

On that day, thousands of people gathered at the site of what is now North Sydney train station. They witnessed Richard Thomas Ball, NSW Minister for Public Works and Railways, sink a shovel into the dirt to signify the start of work on the northern approach to the Bridge.

(Sod turning ceremony, image supplied)

The project became known as the “iron lung” for providing essential jobs during the Depression.

The bridge provided a significant boost to the steelmaking industry of Newcastle.

It also created Granite Town near the south coast town of Moruya. the quarry that supplied all the granite to build the Bridge pylons.

Whilst construction was originally expected to take ten years, the bridge was in fact built in less than nine years and opened on 19 March, 1932.

Today, the bridge transports more than 200,000 vehicles each day and provides a critical road connection between the Sydney CBD and the northern suburbs.

The bridge is also a popular tourist attraction, with many pedestrians walking over the bridge.

For those seeking a more daring experience, the climb up to the top of the steel arches has become popular.

It is the tallest and largest steel arch bridge anywhere in the world and is also the sixth-longest steel arch bridge in the world.

The bridge is maintained by a team of about 120 people. This includes engineers, electricians, painters, carpenters and riggers. These people work on days, nights and weekends.

The team spends more than 19,000 labour hours each month carrying out maintenance work on the Bridge and in the Domain tunnel.

Maintenance tasks include:

  • Painting a total steel surface of 485,000m²
  • Maintaining over six million hand driven rivets
  • Paint replacement which requires four coats of paint. The final coat is Heritage-listed “Sydney Harbour Bridge grey”

The bridge, however, was not without personal cost or controversy.

All up, sixteen workers lost their lives on the bridge’s construction. This included fourteen on site and two at Granite Town in Moruya.

Many homes also needed to make way for the build.

(Sydney Harbour Bridge from Circular Quay at Night)


NSW Premier Chris Minns said the importance of the bridge should not be underestimated.

“The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an iconic landmark,” Minns said.

“Its construction created jobs at a time when work was scarce.

“It also forged a vital connection across the harbour that has made Sydney the great city that it is today.

“The sod-turning ceremony made global news in 1923.

“This event showed our state’s commitment to build what became the world’s largest steel arch bridge.

“The Bridge build project brought employment through the Depression, not only to Sydney but across NSW.

“It boosted the steelmaking industry of Newcastle, while Moruya played a pivotal role in the construction through the supply of granite for the pylons.”

NSW Roads Minister John Graham said the start of the bridge’s construction was a landmark moment for Sydney and Australia.

“The sod turn event for the Harbour Bridge was a pivotal moment for Sydney and the nation,” Graham said.

“What would Sydney be without our Bridge?

“Like all major projects, construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge came at a cost. It cost 14 lives of workers on site and two at Granite Town in Moruya, and it came at the cost of many homes that made way for the build.

“One hundred years on from this event, we appreciate the Bridge as a Sydney icon, a place at the heart of many celebrations – but also a vitally important piece of road and transport infrastructure that the system cannot do without.

“This anniversary is a chance to pay tribute to those workers who are ensuring the Bridge will be getting Sydney across the Harbour for another 100 years.”


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