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Building the Bridge

Video clip synopsis – In 2007 Australia celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a giant steel arch resembling a coat hanger that has became one of world's most recognised structures and an engineering triumph.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 3min 59sec
Tags - architecture, Australian History, British Empire, cities, colonisation, Constructing Australia, design, icons, identity, national identity, pioneers, worker's rights, see all tags


Building the Bridge

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About the Video Clip


Building the Bridge is an excerpt from the film The Bridge (55 mins), the first episode of the three-part series entitled Constructing Australia, produced in 2007.

Constructing Australia
Politics, tragedy and conquest combine in stories behind the building of Australia. The Bridge, Pipe Dreams, and A Wire Through the Heart, combine rare archival images with dramatic storytelling in showcasing three landmark events that would allow Australia to mark its place in the world. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Kalgoorlie Pipeline and the Overland Telegraph line were engineering triumphs, but the human drama in constructing Australia is even more fascinating.

The Bridge
Celebrating the 75th anniversary of one of Australia’s most loved icons, this is the definitive story of the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the vision of those who made it happen, despite their personal conflicts and political intrigues.

The Bridge was developed with the assistance of the New South Wales Film and Television Office. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. A Film Australia Making History Production in association with Real Pictures.

Curriculum Focus


Historic knowledge and understanding
Historic reasoning and interpretation

In Level 6 History, students have the opportunity to

  • Consider how the past is a great narrative of people’s lives, events both trivial and major, ideas and ways of thinking.
  • Develop perspectives on our nation, our region and our world.
  • Enhance their historical skills by using a range of sources and the higher order thinking skills of reasoning and interpretation.
  • Actively engage with a number of key historical concepts.

Other Links to VELS
Physical, Personal and Social Learning
Interpersonal Development

  • working and learning in teams
  • values as social constructs
  • resolving conflicts

Personal learning

  • ethical considerations
  • manage own learning

Interdisciplinary Learning – Opportunities for enhancing

  • Communication skills
  • ICT skills
  • Higher order thinking skills
This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


Massive, majestic and breathtaking, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was the greatest engineering challenge of its day anywhere on earth. Nothing like it had ever been attempted in Australia. It not only altered the life of a city forever, it became a symbol of a bold young nation and a changing world.

At a time when there were only 30,000 cars and trucks in the entire city, the Bridge could carry 6000 vehicles and 160 trains every hour and all of Sydney’s people could have easily crossed it in a single afternoon. With its graceful arch rising high above the famous harbour, it remained the tallest structure in the city until the late 1960s.

The building of the bridge provides the backdrop for a particularly turbulent period of both national and state politics.

The advent of the Great Depression found governments having to rapidly adjust from boom times to massive unemployment. NSW Premier Jack Lang believed that government had the responsibility to protect its constituents, and was prepared to default on World War 1 loan payments due to Britain to maintain government spending and to keep people employed. Lang’s social welfare policies, which supported the working class over the wealthy industrialists, created many enemies. Lang became a figure of hatred for some of the more divisive groups in NSW. The New Guard, a movement that appealed to conservative returned servicemen who were strongly anti-Communist, was deeply suspicious of Lang and his political and economic response to the Great Depression. It was a member of the New Guard, Francis de Groot, that slashed the ribbon at the opening of the bridge.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed during the dark days of the Great Depression and finished in March 1932. It is the legacy of a fateful partnership between two very different men— the brilliant engineer, J. J. C. Bradfield and tmaverick politician, Jack Lang—who shared a relentless ambition to create ‘the people’s bridge’.

Today, it is impossible to imagine Sydney, and Australia, without the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a giant steel arch resembling a coat hanger that has become one of world’s most recognised structures and an engineering triumph.

Classroom Activities

  1. Why would a city like Sydney need a bridge?
    1. In the film The Bridge from which this extract was drawn, the argument is made that one of the reasons the Depression hit Australia so hard was because the British sent us a 400 million pounds bill for the money Australia had borrowed to support Britain in World War I. Outline the arguments for and against the idea that paying this money should’ve been a priority for all Australian governments.
    2. Explain why the bridge was referred to as Sydney’s ‘Iron Lung’ during the Depression. What does this tell you about the government’s priorities?
    3. Research the history of the New Guard. Use that information to write an entry for the organisation in an encyclopaedia of Australian history.
    1. How important do you think the building of the bridge was for developing a national sense of pride in the technical ability of Australia to produce major engineering works? Research evidence to support your answer.
    2. Argue for or against the accuracy of the following statement: ‘The building of the bridge became a symbol of a bold young nation and a changing world’.
    1. As a class, create a newspaper for 20 March 1932. The front page should convey the excitement of the official opening while also capturing the confusion caused by the actions of the New Guard’s Francis de Groot who subverted the official opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932: mounted on a horse and dressed in a cavalry uniform, he was able to cut the ceremonial ribbon with his sabre before Premier Lang. Other sections could include fashion, entertainment, interviews, illustrations, world news, local and national news and sport.
    2. Design a web page advertising the 2032 celebrations for the centenary of the bridge.

Further Resources


Richard Evans and Alex West, Constructing Australia, The Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, 2007

Peter Lalor, The Bridge: The Epic Story of an Australian Icon: The Sydney Harbour Bridge, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, 2006

Heather Radi and Peter Spearritt (eds), Jack Lang, Hale and Ironmonger, Neutral Bay, 1977

Peter Spearritt, The Sydney Harbour Bridge: A Biography, University of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 2007

Gerald Stone, 1932: A Hell of a Year, Pan Macmillan Australia, Sydney, 2005

Go to NSW Labor and click on Students Area

Go to Parliament of NSW and click on Information Resources