On this day: Sydney Harbour Bridge opens

By Courtenay Rule 7 November 2013
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The ceremony was fraught with felony on the official birthday of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932.

Saturday, 19 March 1932: At last the day had come. After some 20 years of planning, eight years of building, 95,000 cubic metres of concrete, 17,000 cubic metres of granite, 52,800 tonnes of steelwork and approximately six million rivets, Sydney Harbour’s new bridge was ready for its official opening.

But before New South Wales Premier Jack Lang arrived to cut the ribbon, there was a sudden commotion as one Captain Francis de Groot rode forward on his horse. He was an active member of the New Guard, a strongly pro-monarchy political party, and believed that the bridge should be opened by a member of the Royal Family (or at least the Governor General, the King’s representative in Australia).

Slashing through the ribbon with his sword, de Groot declared the bridge open in the name of “the decent and respectable people of New South Wales”.

Sydney Harbour Bridge opens

De Groot was promptly arrested and removed from the scene, later to be fined five pounds and charged with offensive behaviour in a public place. Meanwhile, the ribbon was retied and, without further ado, Premier Lang gave it the official cut.

The sword of de Groot resurfaced for the Bridge’s birthday a few years back.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is only the fourth longest single-span steel arch bridge in the world, but at 134 metres high and 49 metres wide, it rates as the world’s largest and widest single-span bridge. Anyway, superlatives don’t matter — it’s unquestionably one of Australia’s most recognisable landmarks, a heart-warmingly familiar sight for Sydneysiders young and old, and, of course, Australia’s most spectacular backdrop for New Year’s fireworks.