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Video clip synopsis – When right-wing agitator Francis De Groot upstaged the 1932 opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and sliced through the ceremonial ribbon, the antique sword he wielded cemented its place as an Australian national treasure.
Year of production - 2009
Duration - 5min 30sec
Tags - Australian cities, Australia's Heritage, class, conflict, Constructing Australia, creativity, culture, Great Depression, heroes and villains, icons, identity, modernisation, national identity, politics, see all tags


Francis De Groot’s Sword

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About the Video Clip


Francis De Groot’s Sword is an episode from the series Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor, produced in 2009.

Series Synopsis
Take a voyage of discovery with Chris Taylor as he reveals the secrets behind a fascinating mix of treasures from Australia’s National Heritage List. In the third season of five-minute documentaries in the National Treasures series, Taylor travels around Australia delivering historical snapshots of objects and places from the National Heritage List. He talks with experts and enthusiasts, revealing fascinating insights into our famous and not-so-famous past.

Australia’s Heritage – National Treasures with Chris Taylor is a Screen Australia National Documentary Program produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and made with the assistance of the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.

Curriculum Focus


Teachers and students should consult their state or territory’s curriculum and learning programs.

For information on state and territory curricula
Go to: State and territory curriculum – Curriculum Corporation

Background Information


The building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a transport facility linking the city with the north shore of the harbour was a major event in Australia’s history, and represented a pivotal step in the development of modern Sydney and one of Australia’s most important cities.
Convict architect Francis Greenway had proposed a bridge over Sydney Harbour to Governor Macquarie as early as 1815. Tenders in 1900 to design a bridge resulted in all 24 schemes being rejected. Eventually a design for an arched bridge was begun in 1912, completed in 1916, and construction began in 1923.
Completion of the bridge in 1932 coincided with the darkest days of the Depression and many of the bridge workers released from their construction tasks swelled the growing ranks of the unemployed. New South Wales Premier Jack Lang championed the workers’ cause. This, and Lang’s decision to snub British royalty at the bridge’s opening, over which he would preside instead, incurred the anger of the New Guard, a right wing militia organisation styling itself as a citizen’s army to assist the police maintain civil order in times of unrest.
Funded by the ‘establishment’ and drawing heavily on the veterans of the First World War, the New Guard, of which Captain Francis De Groot was a leading member, saw its role as defending the peace and keeping subdued any potential uprising by unionists, the unemployed and the working classes all of whom they viewed as communists. Lang with his support for the working classes and his defiance of the establishment’s subservience to the financial institutions of Britain was an anathema to the New Guard who viewed him as a danger to Australian society.
The events surrounding the opening of the bridge embodied all the political tensions of the time.

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the program on Francis De Groot’s Sword, discuss in class then write responses to the following:
    1. Explain why Francis De Groot upstaged the New South Wales Premier, Jack Lang, at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932.
    2. Comment on why De Groot was never jailed for his actions in interfering with the opening of the Bridge.
    3. What is the national significance of De Groot’s Sword? How and when did it find its way back from Ireland to Australia?
  2. In pairs carry out research then prepare a double-page spread as though for a history magazine aimed at the general public, about the rise and fall of both Premier Jack Lang and the New Guard (the right-wing organisation to which De Groot belonged), during the Great Depression. Include illustrations and photographs where relevant.
  3. Write a commentary on the historical, practical, social and cultural importance of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and speculate on how the city may have developed differently, and even whether the nation’s history may have altered, had not the bridge been constructed.

Further Resources


Frank Cain, Jack Lang and the Great Depression, Australian Scholarly, Melbourne, Vic, 2005

Richard Evans and Alex West, Constructing Australia: A Companion to the ABC TV Series, Miegunyah Press, Carlton, Vic, 2007

Andrew Moore, Francis De Groot: Irish Fascist Australian Legend, Federation Press, Annandale, NSW, 2005

Andrew Moore, The Secret Army and the Premier: Conservative Paramilitary Organisations in New South Wales 1930–32, New South Wales University Press, Kensington, NSW, 1989

Bede Nairn, The Big Fella: Jack Lang and the Australian Labor Party 1891–1949, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, Vic, revised and updated 1995

Documentary – Simon Nasht (director), Constructing Australia, Episode 1: The Bridge, Screen Australia, 2007

Go to: National Heritage: Sydney Harbour Bridge
Go to: Francis De Groot – Wikipedia
Go to: Jack Lang
Go to: New Guard discussion transcript
Go to: New Guard – Wikipedia