18 March 2007

No De Groot moment spoils Bridge's 75th birthday

The 75th birthday of the Sydney Harbour Bridge was celebrated today.

The ceremonies have passed off without any disruption similar to that which occurred in 1932, when Francis De Groot , a member of the New Guard, a right-wing paramilitary group, evaded security (riding a horse helped him do this) and "opened" the bridge by cutting the official ribbon. The ribbon had to be retied or replaced (accounts differ) before the official opening, by the then Premier of NSW J T Lang, who had annoyed many people by insisting on cutting the ribbon himself instead of the Sir Philip Game the state Governor.

In an ironic echo of the 1932 contretemps over who should open the bridge the ABC reports

[ NSW] Opposition Leader Peter Debnam
says it is a shame the Premier did not keep the celebrations politician-free.Mr Iemma was among the official party on the bridge this morning and, alongside his family, was one of the first to complete the walk.

Mr Debnam also took part in the walk, and then travelled to Sydney's south-west where he delivered the last of his so called Liberal Party 'headland' speeches announcing the Coalition's road infrastructure package.

Mr Debnam says it is disappointing Mr Iemma was involved in the official proceedings.

"He's in Government and incumbent governments use their power ruthlessly - that's fine I suppose, that's the way he plays the game - I suggested to him that it be a politician-free day - well he obviously didn't agree," he said.

Tonight ABC TV screened what it described as a "doco-drama" about the bridge construction and opening. It was a mixture of archival footage, dramatised reconstructions and talking heads, some of whom, eg Andrew Moore, who has published a biography of De Groot which I've just read thought had a better grasp of the historical context of the times than others.

Whatever you think, it's undeniable that, as this story attests, 75 years on, De Groot's action has become embedded in our folk memory and will always be associated with the opening of the bridge.

For more info about the Bridge (and some very good photos) see

Update 19 March

Today's Australian
provides more details about yesterday's event , including the prominent played role played by NSW Governor (insensitively described in the headline as "the Queen's woman" and in the body of the report as "Professor" ) Marie Bashir.

The greatest irony, however, was that the Governor reiterated the ideas of J T Lang:

Professor [sic] Bashir cut the ribbon and echoed the words of Lang, re-dedicating the bridge to the people of Australia and Sydney.

"It is a bridge of dreams," she said. "Purchased by the coins of our people, it has paid us back a hundred-fold. It is our landmark, our achievement, our conquest, our bridge."

If you'd like even more information, see this.

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