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Open Features: Climbing The Bridge

John Powell takes a "stroll'' over the mighty arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Sitting in my armchair comfortably, feet up, hands clasped over my ample belly, I was thinking—an unusual phenomenon, in itself worthy of an article. However, to my surprise I jolted myself into unaccustomed activity and found myself in an aircraft heading for Sydney. A picture of the Sydney Harbour Bridge had attracted my attention. I thought I'd go and climb it.

In I went to be ushered into a waiting room with serious, silent people, mentally debating which to do first; bolt for it, say their prayers or go to the toilet as apprehension took hold. Our party of twelve was then formed and taken to a briefing room, given an alcohol breath-test and asked to sign a paper, which said something about if I fell off the bridge and was killed then I promised not to come back and sue them.

A film about the climb was shown, then overalls were issued while all valuables, cameras and the like were placed in allocated lockers, in case when up the bridge they fell and brained somebody hundreds of feet below. Dressed in our overalls it was time for bonding. Standing in a circle our team leader asked each the reason for their climbing the bridge. The answers were varied, anniversaries and the like. When asked, I shrugged and told them that I hadn't got the faintest idea why on earth I was climbing the damned bridge. They all laughed; I found it no laughing matter—even less if I did not get a toilet-break soon.

Our webbing belts had a strong strap with a roller device on the end. This is hooked onto a static-line, running beside the railings, over the whole length of the bridge-climb. In that way people couldn't fall off or jump off whichever mood took them. Headphones enabled us to talk to our leader and listen to his amusing patter during the climb. It was then demonstrated how to walk on catwalks and how to climb a ladder properly, without actually falling off.

I had never been particularly enthusiastic about heights, but I had noticed that the dislike never happened when I was not connected with the ground, as in an aircraft or when a paratrooper. Now our party set off along a catwalk about 60 feet high with cars tearing along below. I didn't like the idea of this section much but by concentrating upon the swaying hips of the young lady in front of me, I found the old adage, mind over matter prevailed.

Soon ladder climbing was necessary: at one stage there were three consecutive sets of ladders to climb, each changing direction, but safety-helpers were standing there to encourage and to ensure nobody started until the one above had finished. Thus we progressed slowly up the 425 steps of the arch, and it was slowly; there was no loss of breath for the unfit as it became a nice afternoon saunter to the summit. Periodically, our leader would stop to point out landmarks. With the lovely, spellbinding views I realized, suddenly, that my discomfort with heights had disappeared. I was enjoying it.

Reaching the top, 440 feet high, the view across Sydney, in all directions was spectacular. There was no need to regret leaving our cameras behind as our leader took memorable photos of all of us before crossing over to the other side of the bridge for the return journey downwards. Next time I'll do it at night with Sydney's spectacular twinkling lights. I recommend the climb to everyone; staff even hauled one elderly lady in a wheelchair over the climb.

Bridge construction started in 1924 and took 1500 workers eight years to complete. Our leader said it involved six million hand-driven rivets. 'What do you think of that, John?' he asked me.

I corrected his figure, informing him that the audited figure was, in fact, six million and 26. I admire the courage of those early riveters, perched precariously out on a girder in all weather, while all day, red hot rivets were tossed to them to catch in a can and process. Sixteen workers died on construction; seven on the bridge with nine deaths in the workshops.

Completing the climb we passed another ten about to leave. Pointing to my white hair I warned them it was black before the terrifying Bridge Climb. One replied 'Ah! No worries, mate, we'll bring your wig back if we find it up there.'

Aussie repartee humour finishing off an enjoyable experience.

© John Powell


John writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au


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