The ‘world-famous’ cats that once lived in the Sydney Harbour Bridge

By Australian Geographic 21 August 2019
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Did you ever see the ‘world-famous’ white cats living in the south-east pylon of the Sydney Harbour Bridge?

WORLD FAMOUS WHITE CATS. A joy for the kiddies and a delight for adults. They are unique; they even have their own merry-go-round.

George, a white cat who lives at the top of one of the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, keeps a watchful eye on the city through a pair of binoculars, January 1957. (Image credit; Dennis Rowe/Getty Images)

This extract from a Sydney tourism brochure dating back to the 1960s alludes to a bizarre moment in the history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge: when cats were a main attraction.

These white cats could be seen roaming around the south-east pylon lookout – the one closest to the Sydney Opera House. Inside, they cosied up to their owner Yvonne Rentoul.

Yvonne Rentoul was an ex-servicewoman turned astute businesswoman who successfully convinced the Department of Main Roads (now the Roads and Maritime Services) to lease her the spot.

According to a 1954 report by The Daily Telegraph, Yvonne was a “soft-spoken, vivacious brunette, who thought it outrageous to let a spot like the pylon go to waste.”

Read more: The life of a rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge

In December 1948, Yvonne officially opened the Pylon Lookout, which housed an ‘All-Australian exhibition’ made up of dioramas, maps and souvenirs, to tourists.

The cats that lived in the pylon were a major attraction. There was George (pictured above) and then a set of twin cats named Bridget and Pylon, as reported by The Sunday Telegraph (1951):

“If one cat wants to pass the other, she risks death by leaping over her twin’s back.

“Since they took up residence on top of the pylon, one of the twins, Pylon, has never been downstairs. Bridget was once carried down but as soon as she was released she raced up again and has stayed there ever since.”

A cattery was installed in the roof of the pylon, which comfortably housed the cats at night, while they were allowed to wander during the day, which made for some iconic photographs of the white cats set against the Sydney Harbour backdrop.

Yvonne’s lease ended in 1971 at which time she and her cats moved out and prepared for retirement. The Pylon Lookout wouldn’t be open to the public for another decade.