Skip to content
  • 9am–5pm
  • Free general admission
  • Shop

This medal was awarded to Vincent Kelly who survived falling from the Sydney Harbour Bridge while working on its construction in October 1930.

The front and back of a medal awarded to Vince Kelly.  The front has an image of the Sydney Harbour Bridge with an inscription that reads: 'From L. Ennis. O.B.E. Director of Construction'. The inscription on the back reads: 'To Vincent R. Kelly. To mark his preservation from serious injury on falling into the harbour. A distance of 182 feet. 23rd. Oct. 1930.'
Survival medal awarded to Vincent Kelly, 1930
Circular medal awarded to V Kelly inscribed 'Sydney Harbour Bridge, arch locked, Aug 19, 1930.' - click to view larger image
Arch medal awarded to Vincent Kelly, 1930

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 below.

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 turned a somersault and steadied his body to enter the water feet first, before surfacing and swimming to safety.

Back to work

Kelly was lucky to escape the fall and, though he suffered shock and a few broken ribs, he was back at work a little over two weeks later.

His amazing survival was commemorated with the presentation of a watch by the Minister for Public Works, MA Davidson, and a medal from Lawrence Ennis, Director of Construction for Dorman, Long & Co, the British company contracted to build the bridge.

16 die during bridge construction

The building of Sydney Harbour Bridge had a huge social impact on the city of Sydney, providing hundreds of jobs during the Great Depression. Working conditions on the bridge were difficult and hazardous.

A man stands astride two sections of metal bridgework. He wars overalls and shoes without socks. Another man stands smiling while resting on another section of bridge at right. - click to view larger image
Workers high above Sydney Harbour, 1932

There were few safety barriers, no harnesses, and very little of the safety equipment that is standard on construction sites today. The top of the steel arch is 134 metres above sea level.

In all, 16 men died as a result of accidents that occurred during construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Many others suffered long-term health issues, such as hearing damage due to the constant noise and lack of ear protection.

Vincent Kelly

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.

The Museum's collection includes a medal awarded to Kelly to commemorate the joining of the Sydney Harbour Bridge's arches on 19 August 1930. There is also a medal presented to him by his friends from the Sydney suburb of Woolwich, as a token of esteem on his return from active service in 1918.

In our collection

Boomerang depicting the Sydney Harbour Bridge, stylistically attributed to La Perouse, SydneyA symmetrical timber boomerang featuring, on the obverse, a pokerwork image of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with blue coloured water underneath and a possum and a kookaburra on a branch on either side.
Return to Top