Sydney Harbour Bridge

Students explore, recognise and appreciate the history of their local area by examining remains of the past and considering why they should be preserved.
Key inquiry question #1: 
What aspects of the past can you see today? What do they tell us?
Key inquiry question #2: 
What remains of the past are important to the local community? Why?

Content summary

The importance today of an historical site of cultural or spiritual significance, for example, a community building, a landmark, a war memorial (ACHHK045)

The history of a significant person, building, site or part of the natural environment in the local community and what it reveals about the past (ACHHK044)


  • identify an historical site or sites in the local community. Discuss their significance, why these sites have survived and the importance of preserving them
  • identify a significant person, building, site or part of the natural environment in the local community and discuss what they reveal about the past and why they are considered important

Background notes for teachers

When Europeans first settled in Sydney they lived around Sydney Cove on one side of the harbour. As the town grew people began to move across to the other side of the harbour on the north shore. But they could only get to the north side by travelling across the water by boat or by land around the harbour. Soon people began to have ideas about building a bridge to join the north and south shores.

In 1878 a floating bridge was proposed to connect the two sides of the harbour. In 1885 a tunnel under the harbour was suggested. Sydney and the north shore continued to get bigger but nothing was really decided. Then in 1912 an engineer, Dr John Bradfield, was appointed to design a bridge to span the harbour. Bradfield strongly believed in the project and it became his life’s work. In 1913 Bradfield’s design was accepted, but construction was delayed when World War I started in 1914.

After World War I the government decided to go ahead with the bridge which would be a single arch across the water. Construction was started at the same time on both sides in 1922 and they finally met in the middle in 1930. The deck for the road and the railway were added later. Sydney Harbour Bridge was officially opened on 19 March 1932 with a huge celebration.

Sydney Harbour Bridge could have ended up looking very different to the bridge we have today. During its development people could have made different decisions that would have changed the whole thing. They could have chosen not to build it because it was too expensive. They could have chosen to build it in a different place. They could have chosen a bridge design that looked very different.

When the government was planning what kind of bridge to build they asked a number of people to present their designs for the bridge. These designs show how many different kinds of ideas people can have for the same thing. They also show that Sydney Harbour could have looked very different if someone else’s design was chosen. 

Student Activities

Competition for a bridge for Sydney

Using alternate designs for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, students explore the similarities and differences between the winning bridge design and those that did not.

Number of set tasks: 1

Symbols of Sydney

Students are encouraged to think about other symbols of Australia.

Number of set tasks: 1

Activity notes for teachers

Ask students to:
1.    Look carefully at Source 1: Sydney Harbour Bridge today and identify its main features (e.g. the single arch, pylons, railway, road etc.).
2.    Write words to describe the main features of Sydney Harbour Bridge.
3.    Discuss with another student why the nickname for Sydney Harbour Bridge is ‘the coat hanger’.

Ask students to:
1.    Examine Sources 2 and 3 which are designs for Sydney Harbour Bridge that did not win the competition. 
2.    Compare each design with Sydney Harbour Bridge today and identify similarities and differences.
3.    Write words in the boxes to describe what is ‘the same’ and what is ‘different’.

Ask students to:
1.    Look carefully at the brooch worn by the woman in Source 4. 
2.    Identify another famous symbol of Sydney (i.e. Sydney Opera House) and draw a picture of it in the box.
3.    Think about other famous symbols of Australia (e.g. emu, kangaroo etc) and draw them in the box.

Ask students to:
1.    Explain why Sydney Harbour Bridge is important to our community (Sydney, NSW and Australia).
2.    Give reasons why we should take care of it.
3.    Identify another historic place they know about, especially in their local community, such as an historic Church, cemetery, war memorial etc.
4.    Explain why it is important.
5.    Discuss and write down ways we can take care of important historic places.


Additional information about J.C.C. Bradfield can be found at the Australian Dictionary of Biography 


A student:

  • HT1-2 identifies and describes significant people, events, places and sites in the local community over time


Comprehension: chronology, terms and concepts

  • Distinguish between the past, present and future (ACHHS032, ACHHS048)

Use of sources

  • Explore and use a range of sources about the past (ACHHS034, ACHHS050)


  • Pose questions about the past using sources provided (ACHHS033, ACHHS049)

Explanation and communication

  • Use a range of communication forms (oral, graphic, written, role play) and digital technologies (ACHHS038, ACHHS054)
  • Continuity and change: some things change over time and others remain the same
  • Significance: importance of an event, development or individual/group

Learning across the curriculum

  • Literacy