Shipping Granite from Moruya.

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales

    One of the most striking features of the Sydney Harbour Bridge is the granite facing of the abutment towers, pylons and supporting piers of the approach spans. This high-quality finish need not have been, as the abutment towers are structurally superfluous and much cheaper tenders were offered for a bridge with no towers, towers with a plain concrete finish, or a façade made using precast white concrete blocks.

    The granite was really bridge-designer John Bradfield’s obsession. In his 1924 report on the tenders received he wrote:

    Future generations will judge our generation by our works. For that reason and from considerations from the past, I have recommended granite, strong, imperishable, a natural product, rather than a cheaper artificial material, for the facing of the piers, although the cost is £240,000 greater; humanising our landscape in simplicity strength and sincerity.

Launching Sir Arthus Dorman, Walsh Island 27 April 1925. Museums of History Erection Wages Album.
Dorlonco moored at Millers Point. 15 July 1925. MHNSW NRS 12685.

Sir Arthus Dorman and Sir Dudley de Chair" immediately after launching, Walsh Island 27 April 1925. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

    The source identified for the granite was Moruya, about 170 miles by sea south of Sydney. There had been quarries at the site since the 1860s, and the so-called Government Quarry had been the source of rock to armour the river breakwater. The volume of stone needed for the bridge did require major development of the quarry. The high-quality outcrop was immediately adjacent to the navigable Moruya River, as was the ultimate destination of the rock on the shores of Sydney Harbour, so sea transport was the ideal solution.

All three ships moored beside the workshops still under construction at Milsons Point. 1925. MHNSW NRS 12685
Sir T Hugh Bell at the unloading wharf Dawes Point. 26 September 1927. MHNSW NRS 12685.

    The site was made available to Dorman Long & Co, the contractors for the bridge, without royalty, and they quickly constructed extensive infrastructure such as a power station, wharves and light railways to win the stone, but also sheds where masons could work the rough quarry product into finished stones. The product that left the quarry wharf was ready for installation in the bridge. The waste rock from the quarrying, as well as the by-product from the dressing, was crushed on site to make the aggregate for the concrete in the bridge. Material shipped from the quarry comprised 20,000 cubic yards (about 40,000 tons) of worked stone and 120,000 tons of crushed aggregate. Typically, a cargo would comprise both dressed materials and aggregate with the broken rock surrounding the finished blocks to avoid movement and damage in transit. The ships which carried the stone to Sydney returned with all supplies, including fresh water, for the workers’ village – Granite Town – built immediately adjacent.

An unidentified ship at Dawes Point. Bill Anderson photo.
Sir Arthur Dorman unloading at Dawes Point. 2 September 1925. Note the wagons on the cable hauled railway used to haul stone and aggregate to the inland parts of the site. MHNSW NRS 12685.

    In most aspects of the whole bridge project Dorman Long liked to have complete control of their supply chains. For example, to secure the supply of sand for the concrete they bought a controlling interest in Nepean Sand at Penrith, and so it was for the shipping of the granite. They ordered three purpose-built ships from the State Dockyard at Walsh Island, Newcastle. They were not large ships by any means – 422 tons – but the first, Dorlonco, (derived from Dorman Long & Co), was delivered in April 1925. Granted that the contract for the bridge had only been signed in late March 1924 and the steel and boiler plate had to be brought from England this was a fairly rapid process. Plainly, since Dorman Long were first and foremost steel makers rather than bridge builders, they supplied Walsh Island with the raw material to build their ships from their works in Middlesbrough.

Sir T Hugh Bell at the Dawes Point wharf with the first panels of the southern half-arch erected above. 1929. Bill Anderson photo.
Sir T Hugh Bell at the Dawes Point wharf with a member of the southern half-arch being lifted from the barge immediately adjacent. 1929. Bill Anderson photo.

    When Dorlonco first entered Sydney Harbour on the evening of 4 April signal flags at the mast head were arranged to read “A Dinkum Aussie,” as a reference to the local manufacture.

The second and third ships were launched on 27 April and named Sir Arthur Dorman and Sir Dudley de Chair. Dorman was one of the principals of the firm and de Chair the governor of NSW. Some confusion as to the naming of the vessels existed, even at the time of construction. A report in the Newcastle Herald and Mining Advocate on 3 April, the day of trials in Newcastle, states in the first sentence that Dorlonco was put through trials on the Hunter River, but in the final sentence that the three boats would be christened for the Governor, Dorman, and Sir T Hugh Bell, the other principal of Dorman Long & Co. Whatever the intention, the first ship launched bore the name Dorlonco until 10 December 1925 when by official notice its name was changed to Sir T Hugh Bell.

The stone stock yard adjacent to the wharf at Moruya. 19 April 1927. MHNSW NRS 12685.
The rail connection on the loading wharf at Moruya with the stone stock yard adjacent. 9 July 1927. MHNSW NRS 12685.

    The vessels had a flush deck, with topgallant forecastle for accommodation of crew and a bridge house amidships for accommodation of officers. They had a long clear hold and a hatch 50 feet long by 14 feet wide and were fitted with ballast tanks under the entire length of the hold. The length was 147ft, beam 26ft 6in and moulded depth of 11ft, carrying 400 tons of cargo with a draft of 8ft 6in. Fitted with a single set of triple-expansion engines and one Scotch single-ended marine type boiler, they were capable of making 10 knots.

Sir Arthur Dorman at the Moruya wharf, viewed from the opposite bank of the river. 11 June 1926. MHNSW NRS 12685.
The aggregate bin adjacent to the loading facility at Moruya. the material is loaded by means of a conveyor belt. 11 June 1926. MHNSW NRS 12685.

    The three ships from the beginning seem to have been in excess of requirements for the transport of the granite. The sheer volume of work required at Moruya exceeded the capacity of locally available masons, so men and their families were first bought from Aberdeen in Scotland and later Italy. Sir Arthur Dorman brought the first product to Sydney on 11 August 1925.

Sir Arthur Dorman departing the wharf at Moruya. The men standing on the wharf are Lawrence Ennis, John Bradfield and John Gilmore, quarry manager. 11 June 1926. MHNSW NRS 12685.
Sir Arthur Dorman leaving Moruya for Sydney. The men standing on the wharf are Lawrence Ennis and John Bradfield. 11 June 1926. MHNSW NRS 12685.

    Perhaps because of excess capacity, the three ships were used for other purposes. In March 1926 Sir Arthur Dorman brought the first shipment of locally produced steel for the bridge from BHP Newcastle. About three-quarters of the steel – the large sections and the more sophisticated silicon steel – came from England, but BHP supplied the balance in keeping with the capacity of their furnaces and mills. It is interesting to note that the ore from which the English steel was made came from the Cleveland Hills near Whitby and that the resonance of this source with the birth place of James Cook was commented upon by Bradfield in the 1920s.

    Another use was found for Dorlonco, earlier in its life before the renaming, in July 1925. There was great excitement when an American naval fleet arrived in Sydney Harbour. Farmer and Company, the department store but also owners of radio station 2FC, before the ABC was created, chartered Dorlonco to meet the fleet off the Heads and fitted her with a powerful radio transmitter to describe the arrival and this was re-broadcast at a wavelength of 1,100 metres by 2FC, between 9 am and 1 pm on 23 July 1925. A band was aboard the ship to provide live music for the broadcast. On the following Saturday descriptions of the fireworks, searchlight display and Venetian carnival were transmitted from Dorlonco which was moored in the harbour with the station’s usual musical programmes being broadcast live from the deck. These were the days of the infancy of radio in Sydney, but evidently there were not too many granite blocks awaiting shipment from Moruya.

    By September 1925 about 400 tons of granite were coming from Moruya each week, only enough to keep one of the steamers busy. Even in 1927 one of the ships, Sir Dudley de Chair seems to have been engaged in general coastal trade, probably leased to one J Ahearn from Sydney, who was running a regular service to Brisbane, where an engine room fire was reported on 1 April 1927.

    Sir Dudley de Chair was sold in January 1928 to the Adelaide Steamship Company and renamed Terka, intended to be engaged as a lighter in Northern Queensland. She left Sydney early in 1928 for Louisa Creek. Requisitioned by the RAN in 1940 she was commissioned as HMAS Terka, an auxiliary mine-sweeper. Later she was converted to a water carrier and moved forward to New Guinea where while moored at Madang she sank on 26 March 1945 and was abandoned. In 1971 the wreck was destroyed by explosives for navigation safety reasons.

    Sir Arthur Dorman was sold in October 1928, also to the Adelaide Steamship Company and was employed in the sugar trade on the Queensland coast, renamed Tooree, or Toorie. During World War 2 she was also requisitioned by the RAN and commissioned on 14 January 1941 as HMAS Toorie, an auxiliary mine-sweeper. The boat was decommissioned in 1943 and returned to her owners. She was scrapped in Hong Kong in 1956

HMAS Terka at sea. 1941. AWM301501.
HMAS Tolga at sea viewed from another ship. University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

    Sir T. Hugh Bell seems to have remained in the granite carrying role the longest, until June 1930, when most, if not all, of the granite had been delivered to stockpiles in Sydney. She had been offered for sale two years earlier in 1928, but apparently no sale was made. Certainly, in mid-1930 the two half arches had not met, and the pylons above bridge deck level were just commenced so there was still much masonry work to be done, but apparently nothing more to be brought from Moruya. She too was sold to Adelaide Steam Ship, renamed as Tolga, intended for the sugar trade between Johnstone River, Mourilyan Harbour and Cairns. Tolga was also requisitioned by the RAN and commissioned as HMAS Tolga, an auxiliary mine sweeper based in Darwin in 1942 and later new Guinea where she was paid off in 1946. Too deteriorated to return to Australia she was towed out to sea by HMAS Condamine and scuttled off the north coast of New Guinea. In 2010 following an overhaul of the RAN battle honours system both Tolga’s and Terka’s wartime service was retroactively recognised with the battle honour “Darwin 1942-43”.

Sir Arthur Dorman at the unloading wharf, Dawes Point. Note aggregate stockpiled on the foreshore and in wagons on the cable-hauled railway. Bill Anderson photo.
A jinker and horse team ready at Dawes Point to load the altar stone for the Cenotaph. 1927. Bill Anderson photo

The altar stone, engraved with 'LEST WE FORGET', for the Cenotaph being craned ashore. 1927. Bill Anderson photo
The altar stone for the Cenotaph about to be loaded on the jinker. 1927. Bill Anderson photo

The altar stone for the Cenotaph about to be loaded on the jinker. 1927. Bill Anderson photo
The altar stone for the Cenotaph leaving Dawes Point. Note the teamster standing at the front of the load on the jinker driving the horse team. 1927. Bill Anderson photo

    One very important cargo was brought from Moruya in 1927. The Cenotaph had been designed for Martin Place by Australian-born sculptor Sir Bertram MacKennal, who asked John Bradfield to oversee the work using Moruya granite. The work was contracted to Dorman Long who identified a particularly high-quality section in the quarry and worked around it, setting it aside for the Cenotaph. The 23 blocks which comprise the monument were carefully chosen and arranged to hide any blemishes, worked at Moruya and shipped to Dawes Point where cranes existed for unloading. While all other blocks for the bridge seem to have been shipped without any particular protection of edges, the 7-ton altar stone for the memorial was sheathed in a timber frame to guard against chips. All of the stones for the bridge were moved by cranes or cable-hauled railways carefully designed to be capable of carrying what was required, but the 7-ton altar stone was too heavy for the motor-trucks available at the time for the longer journey to Martin Place, so a heavy jinker and horse team were arranged. Rare, and perhaps unique, pictures of this event were discovered in the photo albums of Bill Anderson, concrete supervisor, unseen until 2023.


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