LIVERPOOL MUSEUM | Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge now on display

The Sydney Harbour Bridge means many things to many people. The "coat-hanger" is certainly one of the most famous tourist icons in Australia, possibly the most recognisable. The building of the bridge, as recorded by photographer Henri Mallard, is currently featured in the current exhibition at Liverpool Regional Museum.

The bridge would've stood out a like a beacon for post-World War II migrants to Australia as their ship entered Sydney Harbour, an emotional jolt similar to what the thousands of immigrants felt the first time they saw the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour.

And it meant a lot to Sydney photographer Henri Mallard between 1928 and 1932. He challenged himself by taking hundreds of photos during the bridge’s construction, even documenting it with a moving-image camera.

His unique approach was to shoot the back-of-house workers -- engineers, dogmen, riveters and labourers, who literally flew by the seat of their pants on those lofty heights with little or no safety gear.

Mallard travelled daily to Circular Quay by ferry to capture monumental civil engineering in the years of the Great Depression. The sight of this magnificent bridge slowly rising out of the water must have been an exciting diversion for Sydney’s population in those tough years.

The sight of this magnificent bridge slowly rising out of the water must have been an exciting diversion for Sydney’s population in those tough years.


Born at Balmain in 1884 to French migrants, Mallard worked at Harrington’s photo-supplies store (later Kodak) on George Street. That was his only job until retirement in 1951. He died at Balmain in 1967.

A bridge across Sydney Harbour was initially proposed in 1815 by Francis Greenway but it wasn’t until 1912 that J.J.C. Bradfield was appointed Chief Engineer of Sydney Harbour Bridge & Metropolitan Railway Construction.

In 1922, after World War I, plans really began to get under way when English firm Dorman Long & Co was contracted to oversee the design and construction. The bridge opened with much fanfare on March 19, 1932 with the sight-seeing crowd estimated at more than 300,000.

The history of the bridge involved many highs and lows. Sadly, 16 men died during its construction. For many years there was a light-refreshments and telescope facility on the South Pylon that also had two white cats, Southern and Pylon.

In 1943 Flight Lieutenant Peter Isaacson famously flew a large four-engine Avro Lancaster bomber under the bridge. The aircraft came here to be used as a War Bonds fund-raiser attraction around Australia and later in New Zealand.

The bridge fly-under created massive publicity and ensured the fund-raising would be successful. Subsequently, over five million pounds was raised before the plane crash-landed at Evans Head in New South Wales.

A comprehensive selection of the photos plus the movie taken by Mallard is being presented in the free exhibition Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge, courtesy of the Australian Centre for Photography Touring Exhibition, at Liverpool Regional Museum, corner Congressional Drive and Hume Highway, to April 13. Hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 10am to 4pm (not public holidays).

This story LIVERPOOL MUSEUM | Building the bridge was more than just making ends meet first appeared on Liverpool City Champion.