Who doesn’t like to start things off with a little chuckle? I do and here is one I want to share. If you are Australian and were born in 1932, and you are named Archie or Bridget, the reason is obvious. That’s the year the Sydney Harbor Bridge opened and there was a sharp increase in Baby Archies and Baby Bridgets as newborns were given those names in honor of the new bridge. I mean, think about it: who among us hasn’t wanted to name a child after a road or bridge or dam? Seriously, Australians wanted to mark two momentous occasions in their lives and naming their new baby after a new bridge was a perfect way to do just that. Both were life changing events for the people in Sydney. Building the bridge took nine years, 1,400 workers, and in today’s money, over one billion dollars. Building a baby takes nine months and only two workers, but the billion dollar price tag sounds about right.
It’s an undeniable fact that famous cities of the world have icons that are imprinted on our brains. Take Paris. Nobody ever guessed the wrong city when shown a picture of the Eiffel Tower. Same with the Statue of Liberty. Without a doubt, Sydney’s iconic structures are the Sydney Opera House and the Harbor Bridge, but to me, they are a sort of package deal. I do think the opera house is a remarkable iconic structure, but the bridge almost needs to be seen along with the opera house to really shine. But that is just my opinion and I am aware that others disagree. Jan Morris said, in her 1982 book entitled Sydney, “. . . in a gesture of anomalous exhilaration, at the worst time of the depression Sydney opened its Harbor Bridge, one of the talismanic structures of the earth, and by far the most striking thing ever built in Australia. At that moment, I think, contemporary Sydney began, perhaps definitive Sydney.” Author Bill Bryson also comes down on the side of the bridge:
“The Opera House is a splendid edifice, and I wish to take nothing away from it, but my heart belongs to the Harbor Bridge. It’s not as festive, but it far more dominant – you can see if from every corner of the city, creeping into frame from the oddest angles, like an uncle who wants to get into every snapshot. From a distance it has a kind of gallant, majestic but not assertive, but up close it is all might. It soars above you, so high that you could pass a ten-storey building beneath it, and looks like the heaviest thing on earth. Everything that is in it – the stone blocks in its four towers, the latticework of girders, the metal plates, the six million rivets (with heads like halved apples) – is the biggest of its type you have ever seen. This is a bridge built by people who have had an Industrial Revolution, people with mountains of coal and ovens in which you could melt down a battleship. The arch alone weights 30,000 tons. This is a great bridge.”
The idea of building a bridge over the Sydney Harbor was first floated around 1814. It was suggested to Governor Lachlan Macquarie by Francis Greenway, an architect who was a convict sent to Australia from England for forgery, but the idea never got any further than that stage for various reasons. Until the bridge was constructed, a citizen of Sydney had to take a ferry or else hopscotch over five separate bridges to get to the other side. Building the Harbor Bridge was first seriously conceived in 1912 by a civil engineer employed by the Public Works Department of New South Wales (NSW), but it was two decades before the grand opening ceremony was held. The Sydney Harbor Bridge was modeled roughly on New York City’s Hell Gate Bridge. There were the usual money concerns, plus politics and World War I were obstacles, too. The construction got underway with the official “turning of the first sod” ceremony (we would call that a “ground breaking”) which was held in 1923. The official grand opening was held in 1932 and even to this day, the bridge is still the world’s tallest steel arch bridge. However, on really hot days, it can grow even taller, gaining as much as 7-8 inches in height due to expansion of the steel.
Today the bridge has eight traffic lanes with a dedicated bus lane, a bike lane, a pedestrian lane, and two train lines. They reverse lanes as needed to accommodate incoming and outgoing rush hour traffic. They call it “tidal flow operation.” In 2021, the average daily vehicle count was 208,000; it surged for some reason unknown to me on Thursdays, but I understand the decrease on Sundays when not as many people are going to work. The bridge connects the CBD with the North Shore. I immediately did a double take thinking this had something to do with a pot shop, but then realized that CBD didn’t stand for cannabidiol as in marijuana, but as in Central Business District. The bridge alone could not handle all the traffic so they built a tunnel that took much of the congestion off the bridge. There are actually two tunnels in operation now. We had hoped to make the BridgeClimb, but the bridge was closed to the climbing operation while the bridge was being prepped for New Year’s Eve and we just could not make it work with our schedule after New Year’s Eve. However, we did walk across the bridge at street level on our first day in Sydney. It was fun to see the opera house from the bridge and below is one of many photos we took.
The Sydney Opera House wins top honors from me when it comes to the icons of Sydney. It is probably one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. You really have to give the Aussies credit for dreaming big. That opera house is as unique as it is massive. The Concert Hall seats 2,679 people and then there are the other venues and theaters of various sizes and shapes for any type of performance imaginable. If you go to the website, you will be astounded at the different types and the number of performances that are held there; apparently, the opera house venues host over 1,500 performances annually and around 1.2 million people pass through the doors each year.
Construction began in 1959 after the architects sifted through over 230 designs submitted from architects representing 30 countries. The winning submission was from a Danish architect. Jørn Utzon immediately became world famous. Construction was rife with obstacles and complex problems because of the unique design; it took a full three years just to develop the tiles for the roof. The design is described as “modern expressionist.” (Who would argue with that?) The structure actually made the list of finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World. Because of all the difficulties, the structure was over budget by 1,357 percent and completion took ten years longer than originally estimated. But all’s well that ends well, right? The Sydney Opera House celebrated its 5oth anniversary in 2023. I really like the logo for the anniversary celebration. But I really love looking at the Sydney Opera House. I know it sounds silly, but it makes me feel proud to be human. As you gaze upon it, you can’t help but feel impressed by the handiwork of mere mortals and it makes me proud that I at least dog paddle around in the same gene pool.