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The Sydney Harbour Bridge was one of the most ambitious engineering projects ever undertaken in Australia. Construction of the bridge took nine years and used over six million rivets. It has become a symbol of Australia and features in our collection in many different ways.

Sydney Harbour Bridge opens

Photo taken from the north shore showing the two sides of the arch under construction. They have yet to meet. Large cranes are perched on top of each end of the spans. A ferry can be seen in the foreground. - click to view larger image
Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction, 1930

The opening of Sydney Harbour Bridge was a Defining Moment in Australian History.

The bridge was first proposed by government architect Francis Greenway to Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1815. This means there was talk of a bridge crossing the harbour for 107 years before construction started.

In 1922 preparation began and in 1923 construction began in earnest. More than 250 stonemasons and their families were brought to Australia, mainly from Scotland and Italy, to quarry the granite used in the foundations and pylons of the bridge.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was built during the Great Depression and created more than 1,600 jobs during its nine years of construction. Unfortunately it was dangerous work, and 16 people died during the build.

On 19 March 1932 the bridge was finally opened to a crowd of more than 750,000 onlookers. Today, it is one of Australia's most recognisable landmarks.

Bridge boomerang

The National Museum holds in its collection a boomerang believed to be associated with the La Perouse mission in Sydney. It depicts the Sydney Harbour Bridge and native flora and fauna, which is symbolic of the La Perouse style.

Boomerang made of light-coloured wood, depicting the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the centre, with a possum to its left and a kookaburra to its right.
Boomerang, 1934

From the late 19th century, Indigenous Australians created artefacts that documented and reflected their experiences and interactions with European settlers. Many were sold to tourists.

The iconography on this boomerang reflects the changing livelihoods of the Indigenous Australians, brought about by European settlement.

Shellwork Sydney Harbour Bridge

Ornamental shellwork Sydney Harbour Bridge. Several kinds of small beige shells are glued in rows to form blocks on a red cotton fabric-covered formwork, which is shaped like the Sydney Harbour Bridge. - click to view larger image
Shellwork Sydney Harbour Bridge by Esme Timbery

This ornamental shellwork Sydney Harbour Bridge was made by Bidjigal woman Esme Timbery in 2006. It is a meeting of contemporary design with traditional techniques.

Shellwork artefacts have been produced by Indigenous communities since the 1880s. Timbery is from a family of renowned shellworkers at La Perouse, on the northern shores of Botany Bay.

The history of the production of artefacts by the La Perouse community has been deeply entangled with the development of La Perouse as a tourist destination.

Symbols of Australia audio

Stand-up comedian Rod Quantock led an enjoyable and thought-provoking discussion at the Museum on Australia’s best-loved symbols, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sit back and hear about the bridge starring in everything from tourism posters to an episode of Scooby Doo. Discover why symbols like the bridge resonate with us and learn what makes them, and us, Australian.

04 Jun 2010

Symbols of Australia public forum with Rod Quantock

Comedian Rod Quantock leads an entertaining and provocative look at Australia’s best-loved symbols – from the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, to the kangaroo, Rainbow Serpent, the billy and the cooee.
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Presenters: Melissa Harper, Shino Konishi, Rod Quantock, Peter Spearritt, Linda Thompson and Richard White

We’ll keep bringing objects, collections, exhibitions and programs from the vault as part of the Museum from Home experience. Stay tuned!

In our collection

Australian bicentennial commemorative medal depicting the Sydney Harbour BridgeA silver coloured metal commemorative medal depicting the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The front of the medal contains a depiction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the harbour with the text "The Sydney Harbour Bridge" and the date "1932" inscribed around the edge of the medal. The back contains text stating "Australia 200 years - A...
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