Did you know one worker survived a fall from the bridge?
Boilermaker Vincent Kelly was also an experienced diver and swam to safety after falling into the harbour.
Hazardous working conditions
Hundreds of people worked on the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the eight years of its construction. It created jobs and helped to boost morale during the Great Depression.
Working conditions on the bridge were difficult, with very little safety equipment. Sixteen men died during construction, including a number who fell to their death.
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Workers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, about 1930. National Museum of Australia.
The building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was very important to the city, not only because it provided a link between the two sides of the harbour. The Great Depression began in 1929, forcing many people out of work. The building of the bridge employed hundreds of people who otherwise might have been without work.
Working at height
A worker measures a post, high above the harbour, 1932. State Records New South Wales.
Working conditions on the bridge were difficult. Workers did not have safety harnesses and there were no nets or guardrails. The top of the steel arch is 134 metres above sea level.
Two workers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. National Museum of Australia.
Many of the safety regulations we have today had not been introduced in the 1920s. Apart from the danger of working with heavy materials at great heights, workers lacked hardhats, steel-capped boots and other basic safety equipment.
A worker on top of the bridge,1930. State Records New South Wales.
Bridge workers sometimes downed tools to demand better pay and working conditions. This slowed construction and drew attention to the dangerous conditions. Eventually, many were paid higher wages as compensation for working in dangerous and difficult conditions.
The bridge's arch was built in two separate halves, using two large 'creeper' cranes. National Museum of Australia.
Work started on either side of the harbour in October 1928. The cranes 'crept' along the two sections and were used to lift men and materials into place. This image, dated July 1930, was taken a month before the arches met in the middle.
Crane tracksWorkers adjust the track for a 'creeper' crane on the bridge, 1930. State Records New South Wales.
Once the arch was complete, the creeper cranes were used to help build the road deck. State Records New South Wales.
Building materials were lifted into place from barges on the harbour. The road deck, which also carried rails for trains and trams, sat 85 metres below the highest point of the bridge, and 49 metres above the harbour.
More than six million rivets were used in the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. National Museum of Australia.
Each rivet was heated in a mobile furnace on the bridge before being driven into place with a handheld pneumatic rivet gun.
Medal awarded to Vincent Kelly commemorating his survival after falling from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. National Museum of Australia. Photos: George Serras.
On 23 October 1930, boilermaker Vincent Kelly was using a heavy riveting gun on the bridge's road deck when he slipped and fell more than 55 metres into the harbour. Kelly was also an experienced diver and was able to position his body so that he landed feet first. Other workers looked on in amazement as Kelly hit the water, then surfaced and swam to safety. Kelly suffered shock and a few broken ribs, and was back at work 17 days later. He was presented with a watch and this medal on his return to work.
Medal awarded to Vincent Kelly commemorating the joining of the Sydney Harbour Bridge arch on 19 August 1930. National Museum of Australia. Photo: George Serras.
Vincent Kelly grew up in Sydney and was an apprentice boilermaker before joining the army and fighting in France during the First World War. After the war, Kelly completed his apprenticeship and was part of the construction team working on the Sydney Harbour Bridge when the arch was joined.
Trimming a granite block at Moruya, 1926, for use on the Sydney Harbour Bridge pylons. State Records New South Wales.
The pylons at either end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge offer no structural support. Their function is primarily to make the bridge look more attractive. They are made of concrete, with granite blocks on the outside. The granite was quarried near Moruya on the south coast of New South Wales.
A worker splits a granite block at Moruya, 1926. State Records New South Wales.
Stonemasons from Australia, Scotland and Italy cut each granite block to a specific design. The numbered blocks were then shipped to Sydney where they were laid in position on the pylons by the harbour.