New Glebe Island Bridge under construction 19 September 1995

New Glebe Island Bridge under construction 19 September 1995. Contributed by National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an12549240-94

This morning on 2SER Breakfast I spoke to Mitch about the history of the Anzac bridge. Next week, on 9 April, marks its 20th anniversary, and with the centenary of Anzac Day just around the corner, it is timely to celebrate this distinctive Sydney icon.

Since European settlement there have been three bridges connecting Pyrmont to Glebe Island. And while each of them is significant in terms of their engineering history, together they tell a bigger story about the development of Sydney and the need to connect the city to the ever expanding industry and settlements to the west.

Prior to 1788, the land we know as Glebe Island was occupied by the Wangal Aboriginal clan, while across the water in Pyrmont, the land belonged to the Cadigal. The Cadigal had a strong presence in the Pyrmont area well into the 1830s when the land was subdivided and industry and quarries took hold side by side with a small number of residents.

In 1860 an abattoir began operating on Glebe Island and the first bridge joining the island to Pyrmont opened in 1861. This bridge, known as Blackbutts (because it was made from Tasmanian Blackbutt), was manually operated using a crank used to swing the span of the bridge!

The abattoir featured heavily in the 1882 Royal Commission into Noxious and Offensive Trades. The smell and pollution arising from the slaughter of some 524,415 sheep, 69,991 cattle, 31,269 pigs and 8,348 calves was rank. The abattoir eventually moved to Homebush in 1912 and by then a new bridge spanned the water, opened in June 1903.

Glebe Island Bridge postcard 1915

Glebe Island Bridge postcard 1915. Contributed by City of Sydney Archives, SRC52

The new bridge was designed by Percy Allan. Like the Pyrmont Bridge built at the same time, the Glebe Island bridge was one of the earliest examples of an electrically powered swing span bridge, allowing two ships to pass through at the same time, one in either direction. The Glebe Island bridge stayed in use until 1995 (after some major work was done on it in the 1930s) until it was replaced by the third – and current – bridge. Initally also called the Glebe Island bridge, it was renamed the Anzac bridge in 1998 by then Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr.

The renaming of the bridge was announced on 80th anniversary of Armistace Day on 11 November 1998, as a memorial to the Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought in World War I. Artist Alan Somerville was commissioned to make two large bronze statues for either end of the bridge. On the Pyrmont end, an Australian solider stands in an ‘arms at rest’ position while on the city end of the bridge, a New Zealand solider stands in the same pose. And in a nod to the artist’s home country, the New Zealand solider is 5cm taller than his Australian counterpart!

Some interesting facts about the Anzac bridge:

  • it cost of $170 million to build
  • it is supported by two 128 metre-high reinforced concrete towers
  • the main span of the bridge is 345 metres
  • the length of the deck is 805 metres
  • the deck is fully supported by 128 steel stay cables, giving the bridge its distinctive appearance
  • the bridge was built in 10 metre segments with each weighing 460 tonnes
  • for every segment placed over the water, a segment was placed on land as a counter balance
  • for the first time, the bridge is high enough to allow ships pass underneath.

The Glebe Island bridge is an important transport link between the city and the western suburbs of Sydney via Victoria Road in one direction and Westlink on to the M4 and the Blue Mountains in another.

Artist Alan Somerville will be speaking at the anniversary of the bridge on 9 April. You can find out more about the anniversary celebrations planned for the 9 April here.

You can mark your own celebration by taking a bus or walking across the bridge and enjoying the fantastic views it offers towards Blackwattle and Rozelle bays. And if you are carrying your mobile device, you can enjoy browsing the Dictionary as you go and learn more about this part of Sydney’s history!

Further reading:

Glebe Island bridge by Mark Dunn: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/glebe_island_bridge#ref=26238

Glebe Island by Peter Reynolds: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/glebe_island#page=all&ref=26196

Pyrmont by Shirley Fitzgerald: http://dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/pyrmont

If you missed the Dictionary segment on 2SER this morning, you can catch up now here. Next week, guest historian and Dictionary author Megan Hicks will be joining Mitch to talk about the history of Sydney that is right under our feet! Tune in at 8:20 to 107.3 FM. 

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