The Act to Build the Bridge.

From Engineering Heritage New South Wales

  This account of the passage of a bill to authorise the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge appeared in The Sydney Mail on 16 January 1924. Just who wrote it is not clear. Kathleen Butler wrote many articles about the bridge for this newspaper and the issues in which they appeared exist in bound volumes, with her name on the cover, in the Mitchell Library. The story below is included in those volumes, though without her by-line.

The double page spread which sets out the legislative history of the bridge. R G Ball, the Secretary for Works and Minister for Railways in 1924 was an engineer and he had played a role in the formation of the Institution of Engineers five years earlier.
The second page displays all the current members of parliament who had guided the bill through the parliament. Deemed worthy of addition to this tableaux at top right is Kathleen Butler, Bradfield's secretary. She and Bradfield may have been involved in supply the copy to the newspaper.

    In March, 1890, the Government appointed a Royal Commission to inquire into the proposed extension of the railway into the city and the North Shore connection. Eight schemes were submitted for connecting North Sydney by bridge, whilst at least four witnesses favoured a tunnel. The Royal Commission reported “that at present it was inexpedient to connect the North Shore with Sydney by means of a bridge or tunnel; but the Commission is of the opinion, upon the evidence before it, that, if it should be found necessary to connect the North Shore with Sydney, it should be by means of a high-level bridge, and if it were possible to throw a bridge across in one span such plan should be adopted.”

    From 1896 to 1899 four bills were introduced into Parliament with the object of securing the connection by private enterprise. Two of these bills provided for a bridge connection, the other two bills for tunnel connection. No progress was made with any of these bills.

    The Hon. E. W. O’Sullivan, Minister for Public Works, on January 4th, 1900, called for competitive designs and tenders. None of the designs received was considered satisfactory.

    Mr. O’Sullivan on March 25th, 1901, appointed an advisory board, which called for competitive designs and tenders throughout the world for a bridge from Dawes Point to McMahon’s Point, and after mature consideration recommended the acceptance of the tender of John Stewart and Co., at a total cost, including approaches, of £1,940,050. The incoming Government did not accept the tender recommended.

    In 1908 another Royal Commission was appointed to report on the best practical method of establishing communication between Sydney and North Sydney. The Commission reported in favour of separate subways for railway, tramway, and vehicular traffic, as against the bridge recommended by the advisory board.

    The Hon. Arthur Griffith, Minister for Public Works, announced in Parliament on July 19th, 1911, that “Cabinet had that day decided that a definite proposal for a bridge to carry tramway, vehicular and pedestrian traffic, but not a railway, should be submitted immediately to the Public Works Committee, and concurrently with that a proposal for a subway to connect the North Sydney railway system with the city system.

Bradfield as shown at the head of the article. This would seem to be a graduation photo and would thus be relatively old. He would not be awarded his Doctor of Science degree until later in 1924.

    The “modern’ history of the bridge began in 1912, when the Hon. Arthur Griffith, the then Minister for Works, set aside the services of Mr. Bradfield for the bridge and city railway and appointed him chief engineer. Mr Bradfield has worked whole-heartedly to bring these two great works to a successful issue.

    After a lengthy inquiry, and acting on the advice of Mr. David Hay, M. Inst, C.E. of the firm Mott and Hay, London, the Public Works Committee in 1913 reported in favour of Mr. Bradfield’s scheme for “a cantilever bridge from Dawes Point to Milson’s Point, carrying four lines of railway, one roadway 35 feet wide, one motor roadway 17 feet 6 inches wide, and a footway 15 feet wide, at an estimated cost of £2,750,000.”

    In 1916 the Hon. J. H. Cann, M.L.A. twice introduced a bill in the Assembly for the construction of the bridge, providing for the tax of ⅜d in the £1 on the unimproved value capital of lands benefitted in the city of Sydney and the shires and municipalities on the northern side of the harbour.

    The bill twice passed through all its stages in the Legislative Assembly; in the Legislative Council, however, the bill was rejected once at the second reading, and once at the third reading stage by three votes.

    In August, 1920, a deputation of members of Parliament, aldermen, and councillors representing the municipalities and shires on the northern side of the harbour waited on the Hon. John Storey, the then Premier, and urged the construction of the bridge. The Minister approved that the tax be imposed immediately on the passing of the Act instead of completion of the bridge, as in the two former bills. On account of the increased cost of the bridge the tax was fixed at ½d in the £1 in lieu of ⅜d in the former bills. In 1921 the Hon. John Estell, M.L.A., introduced a bill for the construction of the bridge embodying the above provisions, which passed the Legislative Assembly and stood for its second reading in the Council when Parliament dissolved.

    In September, 1922 the bill was introduced for the fourth time in the Legislative Assembly as a non-party measure by the Hon. R. T. Ball, and successfully passed both the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council.

    The Hon. R. T. Ball did strenuous work in carrying the bill through the Assembly to a successful issue: he received the whole-hearted support of the thirteen members representing the electorates of North Shore, Ryde and Cumberland whilst Sir Joseph Carruthers ably guided the measure through the Legislative Council; the second reading debate in that Chamber being carried by 28 votes – ayes, 41; noes 13 – and on November 24th 1922, the Act to sanction the construction of a high-level cantilever or arch bridge across Sydney Harbour by connecting Dawes Point with Milson’s Point together with the necessary approaches, railway connections, and other works connected therewith, received the Governor’s assent.

Kathleen Muriel Butler as portrayed in the story of the Bridge Act. Bradfield had been overseas for months during the debate and it was Butler who prepared the notes which accompanied the bill and there were widely appreciated as being crucial to its passage.
Of the portraits on this page, that of Miss Kathleen Butler is of special interest, if for no other reason than the remarkable position she has created for herself at the right hand of Mr. Bradfield. She is a Mount Victoria (Blue Mountains) girl, and is certainly one of the notable figures in the Public Service. Her articles in the “Sydney Mail” relating to the bridge have further enhanced her reputation.


Cookies help us deliver our services. By using our services, you agree to our use of cookies.