The Coathanger
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  Posted April 12th, 2012 by Zdenko  in Travel | 4 comments

Australia travel

By: Zdenko Kahlina

The Sydney Harbour Bridge
It is the most famous bridge in Australia. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is located opposite the Sydney Opera House and close to Circular Quay. You can certainly find the Sydney Harbour Bride on most postcards, souvenirs and any tourist guides. The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House are iconic images of both Sydney and Australia.

The Coathanger – Beautiful Sydney Harbour Bridge

Much of Sydney is built around this epic harbour lined with beaches and hidden coves and dotted with islands. Stretching 20 kms from the sea to the mouth of the Parramatta River, ferries, sailboats, and multi-million dollar yachts cross the harbour throughout the day.

Sydney is Australia’s largest city and perhaps, its most romanticized city. With a population of 4.2 million and a size equal to that of greater London, Sydney truly is a place to visit in Australia. Our first full day in touring the Sydney, began with a walk around the Sydney’s Darling harbour, we boarded the ‘Magistic’ cruise for a 2 hour trip around the bay and we walked around the amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge. We didn’t cross the bridge until few days later.

Arial view of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the bay

The Sydney Harbour Bridge, also affectionately known as the ‘Coathanger’, was opened on March 19th 1932 by Premier Jack Lang, after six years of construction. Made of steel the bridge contains 6 million hand driven rivets. The surface area that requires painting is equal to about the surface area of 60 sports fields. The Bridge has huge hinges to absorb the expansion caused by the hot Sydney sun. You will see them on either side of the bridge at the footings of the Pylons. The views and photo opportunities are fantastic. There is a great display on how the thing was built. It has a similar place in Sydney history to the Statue of Liberty in New York as far as many migrants to Australia go.

Walk across the Bridge
The bridge walk is about 1.5 km. We started at Milsons Point Railway Station, a short distance from the north end of the bridge. We left our car on a small parking lot, almost under the bridge. From the Broughton Street turn right and walk towards the city and up the stairs on the eastern footway of the bridge.

Ahead are the northern pylons with the southern pair in the distance. These granite faced concrete boxes serve no structural purpose. The Commissioner for Railways, James Fraser, recommended they be omitted to save the money. However, they stayed, because Bradfield’s view that they were an essential architectural feature of the bridge prevailed.

The northern pylons

These granite faced concrete pylons serve no structural purpose

The walk ends at the stairs leading down to Cumberland Street in the city, a short distance from Circular Quay and Wynyard Station. There are stairs leading to the footway at each end of the bridge. Allow two hours for the walk, including a visit to the pylon lookout and museum at the southern end of the bridge. You can have a close hand look while you are in Sydney by visiting the South Eastern Pylon. It is a walking trip and recommended for the fit only. It is a longish walk to get to the base of the Pylon and then there are 200 steps to the top. There is no charge to walk across the bridge by the footway, but there is a charge ($15 for adult) for the optional visit to the lookout and museum.

Immediately after leaving the pylon to continue our walk towards the city, look down at the shoreline below to see a rectangular ferry dock. Vehicular ferries and a horse-ferry for horse drawn transport used this dock up to the time the bridge was opened.

The southern pylons

Walking across the Bridge in the rain: Vera and Zdenko

When you reach the city end of the footway, look right to see the tunnel entrances down which the trams ran to and from Wynyard. The tunnels are now a car park. It was raining when we were there, so my pictures didn’t turn that well as I was expecting. But it rained most of our stay in Sydney, so we had no choice, but to be tourists even on rainy days like this.

Pylon lookout and museum at the southern end of the bridge.

After crossing the bridge we walked down the stairs to a tourist area called The Rocks, wandered around Circular Quay (which is more square than circular) and then ventured up the steps of the Sydney Opera House. It’s an amazing sight to see first hand, after only seeing it on the telly, and builds excitement for some of the other monuments we’ll visit in the next few days. We then walked down through the Botanic Gardens and down to the Sydney Aquarium. Having never visited an Aquarium (where have I been my whole live) I was pretty gob smacked. Rip out the Adelaide Zoo and replace it with one of these, it’s an absolutely amazing experience. The underwater tunnels where Sharks, Fish, Rays and Eels share a tank and swim right overhead is really something to see.

Tourists on top of the bridge

Climbing the Bridge – Not worth the money charged
To be fair, we didn’t climb the bridge because my friend warned me that it was very expensive and not worth the money charged. I am not the ideal audience for the Bridge Climb anyways, as I am scared of heights, I hate touristy things, and I can think of a lot of things I would rather do with a few hundred dollars that don’t combine droves of tourists at heights. The only reason I would probable do it anyway, would be to take photos with my camera, from the top of the bridge. But picture taking is not allowed!!! It is especially painful to be parted from your camera, as there are fantastic views. I don’t understand their logic and reasoning behind this. They are saying that any objects like cameras, could be dropped, which could be fatal for someone below. They are prohibiting cameras, but they are selling their own photos. This would be OK if they were not so expensive. Eight pics run about 50 or 60 AUS dollars. That said, if you do the climb, I can just about guarantee you will be talking about it for a long time.

My friends and I walked the bridge instead – for free!! It was just as satisfying as climbing, but saved us significant amount of money, and we did it in less than 2 hours.

Group of tourists on top of the bridge – Impressive!

Here is how others described climbing the Sydney bridge event:
It was as expected. Lots of people in lines, putting on clothes that made the whole thing seem like a bigger deal than it was, then getting in other lines to slowly go across a bridge that was, even at that height, pretty boring. The views were nice, but certainly were not worth the price. We spent more time getting dressed, getting a safety briefing, waiting, getting undressed, and putting all of our equipment away, than we actually spent on the bridge.

We were not allowed to take anything with you at all. It’s quite energetic – over 1000 steps, so feel free to take it easy and don’t feel pressurized to keep up. I can be a bit afraid of heights, but as you are attached in a way that makes it impossible to disconnect yourself it didn’t worry me at all, even the steep ladders. However, it would theoretically be possible to fall down a ladder, though there are special guides to keep an eye on those bits in case anything did happen. There is a continuous stream of groups going through, so you can sometimes feel like going through a sausage machine!

View of the bridge and the city from northern side

Our docent was very accommodating and informative. It can be a bit exciting if you have issues with heights but most get over their fears pretty quickly. Safety is a priority – everything is well tied down so you can’t lose anything like hats, glasses, etc. And climbers are harnessed to secure cables on the railings at ALL times. I have two gripes, one minor, one a bit more significant. The first one (minor) is that it is a bit difficult finding start of the climb. It’s in a somewhat out of the way location.

The bigger one is photography. I understand their concern for safety but I think the bigger concern is revenue. They are moving a lot of groups through the tours close together so they need to keep people moving (which would leave little time for straggling photo hounds).

When you look at a photo of the bridge, look at where the flags are on top – that’s where we were! It felt like a real achievement until I realized that well over 2 million people have done it in around 10 years of the tour running. Oh well, at least the views were great. But a grand old bridge it is, and one you will remember it whenever you think of Sydney after your visit.

Moral of the story – if you have wanted to do this your entire life, then you will probably think it is awesome. If you don’t really want to go and think it sounds lame and overpriced, you will likely leave feeling violated.

My impression of Sydney is a big, busy place with layers of history and interesting stories underneath the more renowned cosmopolitan lifestyle. From an outsiders point of view it’s a beautiful city, its famous Harbour is alive with interesting activity and its city centre seems to hide many surprises such as old pubs, street markets and classic architecture. Sydney’s China town and Chinese Garden in the middle of the city are very impressive!

There seem to be more tourists in the city than actual Sydney-siders, but it’s nice to think they’re interested in Australia enough to visit. I can imagine living here would be quite exhausting, but to visit and relax around the place… and to be seen! Sydney is a pretty great place to spend your time.

Sydney Harbour Bridge – The Coathanger

Sydney Harbour Bridge History
The displaced peoples of Europe who came to Australia in the days of the grand ships can get very misty when you ask them what they felt when they saw this grand old arch on their arrival in Sydney from the aftermath of World War Two as they sailed up Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). The old Bridge has been replaced as “the” landmark of Sydney by the bold architecture of the Opera House.

When it opened it cost a car six pence to cross. A horse and rider was 3 pence. These days a return trip (for some reason the only kind) costs about $3-4 dollars. Price changes throughout the day. Horses and riders are banned, that’s the changing times. You can walk across free and you are allowed to bicycle in a special lane. Sydney Harbour Bridge is the world’s largest (but not longest as that’s the New River Gorge in the USA) steel arch bridge, and, in its beautiful harbour location, has become a renowned international symbol of Australia.

Its total length including approach spans is 1,149 meters and its arch span is 503 meters. The top of the arch is 134 meters above sea level and the clearance for shipping under the deck is a spacious 49 meters. The total steelwork weighs 52,800 tones, including 39,000 tones in the arch. The 49 meter wide deck makes Sydney Harbour Bridge the widest Longspan Bridge in the world. It now carries eight vehicle lanes, two train lines, a footway and a cycleway.

After inviting worldwide tenders in 1922, the New South Wales Government received twenty proposals from six companies and on 24 March 1924; the contract (for Australian 4,217,721 pounds 11 shillings and 10 pence!) was let to the English firm Dorman Long and Co of Middlesbrough.

The general design was prepared by Dr J.J.C Bradfield and officers of the NSW Department of Public Works, while the detailed design and crucial erection process were undertaken by the contractors consulting engineer Mr (later Sir) Ralph Freeman of Sir Douglas Fox and Partners and his associate Mr. G.C Imbault. Some other designs that where not chosen can be found here. As Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Metropolitan Railway Construction from 1912, Dr Bradfield is regarded as the “father” of the Bridge as it was his vision, enthusiasm, engineering expertise and detailed supervision of all aspects of its construction which brought Sydney’s long held dream into reality.

The contractors, under Director of Construction, Lawrence Ennis, set up two workshops at Milsons Point on the North Shore. Here, the steel (79% imported from England, 21% from Australian sources) was fabricated into girders etc. The foundations for the four main bearings, which carry the full weight of the main span were dug to a depth of 12.2 metres and filled with special reinforced high-grade concrete laid in hexagonal formations.

The four impressive, decorative 89 meter high pylons are made of concrete, faced with granite, quarried near Moruya, where about 250 Australian, Scottish and Italian stonemasons and their families lived in a temporary settlement. Three ships were specifically built to carry the 18,000 cubic meters of cut, dressed and numbered granite blocks, 300km north to Sydney.

After the approach spans were erected, work began on the main arch. Two half-arches were built out progressively from each shore, each held back by 128 cables anchored underground through U-shaped tunnels. Steel members were fabricated in the workshops, placed onto barges, towed into position on the harbour and lifted up by two 580 tone electrically operated creeper cranes, which erected the half-arches before them as they traveled forward.

There was great excitement on 20 August 1930 after the arch was successfully joined at 10pm the night before. The steel decking was then hung from the arch and was all in place within nine months, being built from the centre outwards to save time moving the cranes. As the project neared completion, the last of approximately six million Australian made rivets were driven through the deck on 21 January 1932. In February 1932 the Bridge was test loaded using up to 96 steam locomotives placed in various configurations.

The official opening day on Saturday 19 March 1932

Traffic on the bridge in 1956

The official opening day on Saturday 19 March 1932 was a momentous occasion, drawing remarkable crowds (estimated between 300,000 and one million people) to the city and around the harbour foreshores. The NSW Premier, the Hon. John T. Lang, officially declared the Bridge open. However, the Premier enlivened proceedings when Captain Francis De Groot of the para-military group, the New Guard, slashed the ribbon prematurely with his sword, prior to the official cutting. This incident caused both amusement and dismay on the day and has since become part of Australian folklore. The opening celebrations included a vast cavalcade of decorated floats, marching groups and bands proceeding through the city streets and across the deck in a pageant of surprising size and quality, considering the economic depression.

The celebrations continued with a gun-salute, a procession of passenger ships under the Bridge, a ‘venetian’ carnival, a fly-past, fireworks, sports carnivals and exhibitions. After the pageant the public was allowed to walk across the deck…an event not repeated until the 50th anniversary of the Bridge in 1982. Some enthusiastic ones celebrated by unofficially climbing up the arch.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an essential artery feeding traffic to and from Sydney.

I was glad to be there, see the bridge and experience city of Sydney!



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4 comments to “The Coathanger”

  1. Comment by Adriana:

    thanks for sharing this. it was really an interesting and informative article. pretty cool post… i have to thank you for writing something like this… it really helps tourists…

  2. Comment by Veronica:

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  3. Comment by Veronica:

    It’s like you read my mind! You appear to know so much about this, such as like you wrote the guide about it or something. Gold Coast is a beautiful place in the world… wish more people would see it. This is fantastic blog. A great read. I’ll certainly be back.

  4. Comment by Steven Ballango:

    A great projection of the topic, that we Australians take for granted. Trough my 44 years in Sydney, I traveled the bridge often, sometimes 2-4 times daily. Quiet a few times, I walked across. Every time, it is an experience. Today, many “Express-ways are built, for purely political reasons, with 2 lines in each direction, they get clogged in peak hour, and often aren’t functional.

    The Coathanger was built in 1930′s, with a vision. Then, there were a few cars, a few coaches crossing the harbour. Today, The bridge is still functional. As a trivial info, The Coathanger is painted constantly, by a team of 50-80 workers, and the saying is ” ..It’s like painting the Bridge, when you finish at one end, you start on the other again”!

    Bravo Zdenko, with many thanks!

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