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Symbol of modern Australia

Black and white photograph showing two aeroplanes flying above Sydney Harbour and the the unjoined spans of Sydney Harbour Bridge. - click to view larger image
The Southern Cross flying over Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1931

The Sydney Harbour Bridge opened to traffic in 1932, effectively transforming Sydney into a 'modern' city.

This engineering marvel linked the northern and southern shores of Sydney Harbour in a single span.

For a nation long associated with the bush and its rural products, the bridge signified a new, progressive urban identity.

It quickly became a major symbol used to promote tourism and immigration to Australia.

Since 1998, Sydney's New Year's Eve celebrations have climaxed with fireworks displays from the bridge. Now shown around the world, these celebrations build on the international exposure the bridge, as an Australian symbol, received during the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

Bridging the gap between communities

The Sydney Harbour Bridge also became a symbolic bridge between black and white Australians when crossed by an estimated 250,000 people during the People's Walk for Reconciliation on 28 May 2000.

The bridge was closed to communters to allow people to walk across in a show of celebration and support for the continuing process of Aboriginal reconciliation. The Sydney walk was followed by bridge walks in cities and towns across Australia. These symbolic acts signified the willingness of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to work together to bridge the gap between their two communities.

Colour poster headed with the text 'Australia's 150th anniversay celebrations, Sydney, summer season, January to April 1938'. It shows a central image of a man's face and beckoning hand above the Sydney Harbour Bridge. - click to view larger image
Australia's 150th anniversary celebrations poster, 1938

A distinctive urban structure

Construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge spanned almost a decade from 1923 to 1932. It was formally opened on 19 March 1932 by New South Wales Labor Premier Jack Lang. Controversially, Francis de Groot, a member of the New Guard right-wing paramilitary group, rode his horse through the crowd and cut the ribbon first. The New Guard was opposed to Lang's socialist policies and resentful that King George V had not been invited to open the bridge.

On its completion the Sydney Harbour Bridge became a symbol of Australian progress, modernity and ingenuity. It was used to promote Australia's sesquicentenary celebrations and was a central feature of many Australian tourism and immigration campaigns.

The Harbour Bridge and the nearby Sydney Opera House are considered Australia's most distinctive urban structures.

Ironically, the bridge has also come to symbolise the frustrations of commuting in Sydney, with traffic congestion and road tolls now an established part of 'modern' life.

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