In addition to its beautiful natural harbour, Sydney boasts two instantly recognisable man made structures, the Sydney Opera House and the rather unimaginatively named Sydney Harbour Bridge – sometimes referred to as the ‘coat hanger.’
The 134 metres high steel arched bridge, in a design similar to New York’s smaller Hell Gate Bridge, was opened in 1932 and today carries 8 lanes of vehicular traffic, two train lines, a cycleway and a walk way. The Tyne Bridge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is a baby version of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It only has 777,124 rivets!
I won’t go into technical details and bore you with how many tonnes of steel or how many rivets there are in the Harbour Bridge. Ok, I know you want to know, there are 6 million rivets.
Rather, Dear Reader I will bore or entertain you (you decide which I have done!) with a lesser known detail relating to the bridge – one going back to its opening on the 19th March 1932.
The bridge opening ceremony was billed to be a spectacular affair with full pomp and circumstance appropriate to the day. Well almost, rather than a member of the Royal Family, the Governor-General or the State Governor being invited to do the honours and cut the ribbon to officially open the bridge, the left wing, socialist State Premier, Jack Lang, decided he would officially open the bridge himself.
Well, this was too much for arch royalist and member of the right wing paramilitary New Guard, General Francis De Groot, an Irish immigrant of Dutch heritage. De Groot decided to mount a personal protest against what he perceived to be an insult to the aristocracy and a communist push by Premier Lang.
Mounted on a steed and attired in his World War I military uniform, replete with the ceremonial sword he had been awarded during service with the 15th Hussars on the western front during that war, De Groot gate crashed the bridge opening ceremony which was attended by some 300,000 people. To evade being caught by hundreds of soldiers and other security, he joined in at the rear of the official mounted escort party of New South Wales Lancers and slowly made his way to the point where dignitaries, including Lang, had gathered for the ribbon cutting ceremony.
Just before Lang was due to cut the ribbon De Groot did the honours and sliced it in two with his sword at the same time declaring the bridge open “in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales”
While the two parts of the ribbon were rejoined and Lang proceeded with his opening of the bridge, De Groot was removed from his steed and arrested. His ceremonial sword was confiscated.
The fun continued.
De Groot was, later the same day, taken to the Lunatic Reception House at Darlinghurst where he was formally charged with ‘being insane and not under proper care and control.’ Over the next couple of days various medics found him to be totally sane.
Three charges were subsequently brought against him:
• Having maliciously damaged a ribbon which was the property of the Government of New South Wales to the value of £2;
• Having behaved in an offensive manner in a public place; and
• Having used threatening words to Inspector Stuart Robson in a public place.
The first and third charges were subsequently dismissed and he was fined the maximum penalty of £5 plus £4 costs for having behaved in an offensive manner. In terms of the first charge, De Groot’s lawyer successfully convinced the magistrate of the validity of an archaic law that said that any of His Majesty’s subjects was allowed to remove any object, even a ribbon, which barred progress on the King’s highway.
In an attempt calculated to embarrass Premier Lang, De Groot subsequently sued for wrongful arrest on the grounds that a police officer had no right to arrest an officer of the Hussars. Rather than face further public humiliation the government caved in and an out of court settlement was reached whereby De Groot received £68 – a tidy profit of £59. He also got his sword back. The sword is now in the hands of Paul Cave, the founder and chairman of Bridge Climb Sydney, the company that conducts the climbs I refer to later in this review.
De Groot had final victory – two months after opening the bridge, Jack Lang was sacked by the State Governor, Phillip Game.
For many years pranksters ‘doing a De Groot’ became a frequent accompaniment to the opening of roads and bridges in New South Wales.
Visiting the bridge today
In addition to viewing the bridge from a distance from any number of vantage points around, and indeed on, the harbour I encourage you to get up close and get under the bridge at either end (Dawes Point Park at The Rocks or Bradfield Park at Milsons Point) or via taking a ferry that passes under the bridge into the inner harbour.
In terms of accessing the bridge, I highly recommend a walk or cycle across it (1.2 kms) though good views can also be had from taking a train across to Milsons Point station if you are not up to the walk or ride.
There are two options in terms of climbing the bridge – either a climb up the south-east Pylon or the main bridge climb by which you can get to the top of the arch.
For more details on the Pylon climb, which I recommend over the main bridge climb, see my separate review – Harbour Bridge – Pylon Climb.
While I have no doubt the view from the top of the bridge would be spectacular I cannot recommend that you due it, principally due to what I consider to be the outrageous cost. I actually believe that this is one of the worlds greatest tourist traps – see my separate review – Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb.
Incidentally, it is cheaper to take a 30 minutes helicopter ride around the harbour and beyond than do the bridge climb. I know which I would pick should my Dear Reader wish to offer me either :-).
Address: Sydney Harbour
Directions: Take transport to Circular Quay (or Milsons Point for less visited north end of the bridge).