Climbing the giant coathanger, Sydney Harbour Bridge

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It was a late winters’ afternoon, as we stepped out into the daylight, onto the criss-crossing girders of the arch of the bridge, the rays of the sun were radiating like a fan, through the white clouds, spreading its rays over the Gladesville Bridge and Parramatta in the distance. Standing on top of Sydney Harbour Bridge, the waters of the harbour were silver and the gentle shafts of sunlight painted a moving masterpiece on this magnificent harbour and the suburbs lining its shores.

The scene before us was spectacular. Looking into the late afternoon sun, the suburbs were in shadow and the bright silver water of the harbour snaked its way in all directions like the tenticles of giant octopus.

 

 

 

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We had had lunch at the Walsh Bay Pier Café and watched the ferries, and small craft sailing beneath this beautiful “Giant Coathanger” that Sydneysiders lovingly call the Sydney Harbour Bridge. From a distance we could see the climbers in single file on the bridge, looking like a line of ants heading to their nest. 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb as a tourist attraction has been operating for 17 years and it had been on our bucket list for quite some time.  Together with four of our friends, we made a booking for mid-afternoon that would take us into the twilight hours as we climbed the bridge. 

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We spent an hour getting our kit on, jumpsuit, radio and head phones so we could hear our directions and commentary from Chloe our leader. We also were given a rain jacket, a warm jacket, and  we needed to leave behind in lockers, cameras, phones, watches, rings, earrings and anything that we could drop down onto the traffic below. For safety, our attachment lead around our waists was to be hooked up to a steel rope that trails our route on our journey.

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The most difficult part of the climb, is the ladders which take us from underneath up to the beginning of the arch. As we step out onto the east side of the arch, the view of the harbour and city is spectacular. The Opera House with its sets of sails looking out of the Harbour is below us and we watch as the ferries berth at Circular Quay.  Chloe our tour guide, points out Kirribilli House, the Sydney home of the Governor General. The Sea Princess cruise ship sails below us out through the Heads, on her journey north. What an experience as a “Tall Ship” sails into the harbour and passes beneath us, all the while helicopters are flying above us.

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Sunlight gradually dipped into twilight as we climbed in single file up the east side of the arch. With the multi storey buildings of the city and north shore, turning on their lights, and the vehicle lights of the traffic below us, creating a fairy tale scene. Climbing steadily, the higher we climb, the noise of the traffic and city fade into the background, leaving us in a peaceful, surreal space. We stop regularly to have our photo taken and enjoy the experience. Chloe is giving us a regular commentary, about the history of the building of the bridge.

 

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Photo by Henry Mallard

 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is the largest and heaviest single span steel bridge in the world, designed by John Bradfield. It is being maintained regularly and today we need to cross through the middle of the arch to the western side to avoid the crews and their machines and tools. As we cross we get a better view of the middle of the arch and it looks like a meccano masterpiece of interlocking girders of heavy steel in geometric patterns, linking the east with the west side of the arch and holding the top of the arch in place above the roadway and rail line below us. 

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Photo by Henry Mallard

 


We can see Luna Park, with its famous “giant mouth” opening and its ferris wheel rising up to meet us. Now with its lights on, welcoming its guests to spend the evening in sideshow alley, riding the show rides and having a fantastic time.


It is now dark, and we are alone on top of the world. Looking out to the horizon through Sydney Heads into the last vestiges of twilight, I can hear and see the riggers hammering the rivets until they are white hot, their muscular bodies, heavy with sweat, dropping each burning rivet into a bucket of sand below, his mate picking it up and placing it between two girders of steel and then hammering into position. Without guard rails or harnesses, hearing muffs, or any protective glasses, their overalls being torn to shreds in a matter of weeks, from the shards of metal, they stand on the girders, in the fresh air, come rain or shine, as they build the masterpiece below them. Only 16 men perished over the eight years during the construction of the bridge, with an amazing eight from the bridge itself. What an incredible achievement for these men, with only the basics of machinery and tools. The bridge was complete in 1932.

Three and a half hours after we entered the induction room, we were back taking off our gear, an incredible experience, if you can take four hours out of  your travel time in Sydney the Sydney Harbour Bridge climb is well worth the spend of  AU$318.

 

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