Sydney Harbour Bridge: a special place

Topic: The past in the present
Student activity

Students explore the Sydney Harbour Bridge through time and reflect on the importance of historic places. 

This is the student activity 1 of 1 of the Sydney Harbour Bridge: the past in the present learning activity.

Task No. 1

Drawing and describing

Look carefully at the images of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Does it look familiar to you? Have you seen the bridge from a boat, watched the New Year’s Eve fireworks or have you had a picnic near the bridge like in these pictures?  

photograph of sydney harbour bridge with cruise ship in foreground
Image Courtesy of Gerrit Fokkema
Image Courtesy of Robert Wallace


Picnic at The Rocks
  • Share your stories about seeing or visiting the bridge. 
  • On a blank piece of paper, draw the Sydney Harbour Bridge by following the steps in the video below. 


  • Add some details to your picture such as flags on top, the water underneath, boats, buildings or fireworks. 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge has been described as ‘the coat hanger’ and ‘the arch that cut the sky’. After looking closely and drawing the bridge, how would you describe it?  

  • Write two sentences below your drawing to describe the shape of the bridge. 
Task No. 2

Competition for a bridge  

Did you know that the Sydney Harbour Bridge was only built 100 years ago? Before then, competitions were held to choose the best design for Sydney Harbour Bridge. Imagine if the Sydney Harbour Bridge didn’t look like this at all!  

  • Explore 3D models of some of the designs that didn’t win using the State Library’s Bridge Explorer
  • Compare one of these designs to Sydney Harbour Bridge today. Make a list to show what is the same and what is different.  
  • Choose your favourite design and explain why you like it the most. 
Task No. 3

Building the bridge 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge has been important to the city of Sydney since building started in 1923. This was a very difficult period in Sydney’s history, but many people were helped by the jobs provided by the construction of the bridge. Building the bridge took a force of 1400 workers. It was the biggest single steel arch bridge in the entire world when it opened. 

  • Watch the State Library's  flickascope to see how the bridge was built. 

People in Sydney liked to draw, paint and photograph the bridge while it was being constructed.  

Sydney Harbour Bridge Under Construction, around 1830. Acquired 1961. Painting by Marjorie Kane Smyth
black and white photograph of building the sydney harbour bridge
Box 38 No. 439. Sydney Harbour bridge


The Bridge Workshops, 1931 / Gladys Owen
The Bridge Workshops, 1931 / Gladys Owen
  • Answer this question: Why do you think so many people drew and painted the bridge while it was being built? 
  • In the space around your drawing, write three reasons why the Sydney Harbour Bridge is special to different people. Make sure you include one reason for why it is special to you.  
Task No. 4

Symbols of Sydney

When the bridge was finally built, there was a big ceremony to officially open it. People travelled from all over NSW to come and see the bridge. A nine-year-old boy called Lennie Gwyther rode his horse for four months, all the way from Gippsland in Victoria, in order to see the bridge opening!  The bridge is still special today and people have continued to use the Sydney Harbour Bridge as a symbol of Sydney for almost 100 years.  

Look at these unusual souvenirs commemorating the bridge opening.  

01 - Sydney Harbour Bridge Ephemera. Folder 1. Pre 1932
Sydney Harbour Bridge commemorative soap
circular medallion with image of sydney harbour bridge
Medal commemorating the Sydney Harbour Bridge Opening

Make your drawing into a special souvenir — for example, add a stamp to make a postcard, add the picture to a calendar or print it on a t-shirt.  

Brainstorm other important symbols of Australia, including other famous buildings, people and places.  

Create a class list with all of your suggestions and display it on a wall in your classroom.  

Task No. 5

Important places in our community 

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an important landmark in Australia. Turn over your drawing and use these sentence starters to write down your thoughts about this historic place.  

  • The Sydney Harbour Bridge is important because… 
  • I think we should take care of it because… 
  • We can take care of historic places by …