Happy Birthday, Coathanger. You haven't aged a bit.
March 20, 2012 6:46 PM   Subscribe

The Sydney Harbour Bridge - the widest, although not the longest, long-span bridge in the world - has turned 80.

After six years of construction, the ribbon at the official opening was prematurely cut by Francis de Groot, a member of a right-wing paramilitiary organisation. In stereotypical laconic Aussie fashion, the ribbon was simply tied together and re-cut by the state Premier of the day, Jack Lang.

As she is ungalvanised, the Bridge requires constant painting to protect against corrosion. Painters with a fear of heights need not apply.

Occupational health and safety
wasn't a high priority in the old days.

Paul Hogan, Crocodile Dundee himself, worked as a bridge painter before finding fame as a comedian in the 70's.

Some more construction photos.

The south-east Pylon Lookout has had some famous visitors, including Basil Brush, Cookie Monster, Elmo and even Bob the Builder.

Fun fact: the colour of the paint is imaginatively called Bridge Grey.
posted by malibustacey9999 (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

What a great all-around post about a bridge I knew nothing about. Thanks!

Oh man, I bet Cookie Monster freaked when he discovered Tim Tams.
posted by not_on_display at 7:32 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Man on Wire, Phillipe Petit, walked between the pylons before he moved onto the WTC walk.
posted by notseamus at 7:43 PM on March 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

The article doesn't say how wide the bridge is. Apparently it's 49 m wide.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:45 PM on March 20, 2012

Is it common in Australia to refer to bridges as female?
posted by phliar at 7:46 PM on March 20, 2012

Only if you LOVE them.
posted by claudius at 7:49 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Phliar, for some unknown reason, I've always harboured (groan, see what I did there?) the vague idea that our bridge was referred to as the Grey Lady at some stage... I must have decided then that she was female. I couldn't find an online reference to that, though.

And thanks for the extra links, unliteral and notseamus.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 8:22 PM on March 20, 2012

Is it common in Australia to refer to bridges as female?

"Sheila" is also acceptable.

The sandstone pylons, by the way, are entirely decorative and serve no structural function.
posted by smithsmith at 8:47 PM on March 20, 2012

I read it three times to check, but the first link says it's the widest long-span bridge, but doesn't say how wide it is!

It's 161' (49m) wide and carries 8 lanes of traffic.
posted by aubilenon at 9:53 PM on March 20, 2012

and carries 8 lanes of traffic

Four of which will be full of frustrated people from out of town, crossing for the third time that day, trapped in a sort of demonic traffic maelstrom.
posted by pompomtom at 10:33 PM on March 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just to note: the Wikipedia link - unfortunately attached to the Paul Hogan bit, sorry about that - has stats down the right-hand side. Width, length, height etc are there.

And yes, pompomtom, this out-of-towner has spent many a frustrated drive frantically trying to swap into the right lane at the last minute in the hope that she will get somewhere she actually wants to go, instead of doing laps in an infernal loop. The concept of advance-warning signage is, um, less than perfect.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 10:42 PM on March 20, 2012

and carries 8 lanes of traffic

And if Tony Abbott had been Leader of the Opposition back in 1932, he would have declared this piece of forward-looking infrastructure an unnecessary "Rolls Royce" waste of money - 2 lanes should be enough for anyone!
posted by Jimbob at 10:54 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey, my dad climbed to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge last week! (Climbed as in stairs—my dad is not terribly athletic.)

We were geeking out over the fact that one of the main inspirations for the SHB is the Hell Gate Bridge, here in New York, which happens to be one of my favorite bridges, despite it's ridiculously bad paint job.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:01 PM on March 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

My dad worked on the building of this bridge. Something to do with making the nuts and then screwing them on. According to him, he always had his nuts screwed on right.
posted by Kerasia at 11:48 PM on March 20, 2012

Happy Birthday old girl. I used to love watching your NYE fireworks from my loungeroom window. Now I just cry about the price of real estate in Sydney.
posted by taff at 12:32 AM on March 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Interesting fact no. 2. The smaller and much colder Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, UK had its design based on the Sydney Harbour bridge. But the SHB had its design based on the Hell Gate Bridge in New York. No respect for IP in the bridge world.
posted by rhymer at 1:54 AM on March 21, 2012

My grandfather was an apprentice jeweller in the depression, and worked in Sydney cutting and polishing gems, as well as hand making rings and brooches and other knicknacks. He used to catch the tram in from Bondi Junction in the mornings, but walk home as he couldn't justify the penny or threepence or whatever out of his meager wage.
While the bridge was being constructed he would occasionally wander down and collect a bucket full of stone chips from the pylon workings, then polish them smooth and set them in cheap silver settings to sell to the tourists and locals.
So there are bits of the bridge in jewellery boxes around the country, including my Mum's I think.
posted by bystander at 2:11 AM on March 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

I would kill to have a piece of your grandfather's work, bystander. What a lovely, original piece of history.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:49 AM on March 21, 2012

Is it common in Australia to refer to bridges as female?

It's because the bridge is also known as 'the coathanger'.

But who hangs your coat when you get home from work? Your woman, of course. So the coathanger is female.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:39 AM on March 21, 2012

Great post, malibustacey9999, but your list of famous visitors to the Lookout is incomplete. I was there in the summer of 1997, for the sake of thoroughness. :-)
posted by wintermind at 4:55 AM on March 21, 2012

Ubu, to your bedroom now! Don't make me come and spank you.
posted by taff at 6:23 AM on March 21, 2012

Happy birthday, dear. I walked across you when I visited Sydney, and took an entire SD card's worth of photos of you against the backdrop of your neighbor, Opera House, and vice versa. We had marvelous views of your underside (*blush*) from the rooftop of the Australian Hotel.

My favorite SHB factoid is that it was intended to be the longest single bridge span, but was beaten out by the Bayonne Bridge, in New Jersey, which was deliberately built with a three feet longer span to take the record. Bayonne was a much smaller bridge, i.e., narrower, and took much less time to build. Sydney Harbour is nonetheless widely regarded as being a slightly more attractive setting for a bridge than Bayonne!
posted by Fnarf at 12:22 PM on March 21, 2012

Here's the special commemorative souvenir edition of the Google doodle.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:30 PM on March 21, 2012

Last night on In Gordon Street Tonight, Adam Hills called for Dame Edna glasses to be placed on the bridge in honour of Barry Humphries retirement tour. After all, if an 'O' could be put there for Oprah Winfrey, why not something fitting for someone far more significant in Australian culture?
posted by wilful at 7:44 PM on March 21, 2012

Happy birthday, SHB! Let me tell my story of climbing you again.

I went to visit a Sydneysider friend in 2000. Before I arrived, she signed us up for the bridge climb for the first morning I was to wake up there. She reassured me that her boyfriend's parents had done it.

She failed to tell me that they were adventure travelers.

Anyway, when she suggested it, I assumed we'd be climbing up a bunch of stairs in one of the bridge pillars...something akin to trekking up the steps inside the Washington Monument or the Statue of Liberty. Not so. You traverse a series of gratings and ladders, and eventually climb along the arch of the bridge, traverse the top, and come down the arch on the other side.

Not only am I absolutely petrified of heights, but I get furious vertigo merely standing near a sealed window on an upper floor of a tallish building, and open space below my feet magnifies it about a hundredfold. So this excursion seemed purpose-built to extract the maximum amount of terror from me at every turn.

I did survive the experience, obviously. And I have a lovely keepsake photograph of me and my friend at the top of the bridge...with my hands around her throat.

It was the only point during the whole ordeal that I let go of the railings.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:14 PM on March 23, 2012

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