Dr Geraldine Mate, Principal Curator – History, Industry and Technology, Queensland Museum
In 2020, the Story Bridge will be turning 80. This iconic Brisbane landmark, with its distinctive profile, carries almost 100,000 vehicles a day, and is a spectacular night-time river feature. The bridge was officially opened in July 1940 by then Governor of Queensland, Sir Leslie Orme Wilson. Joining the north and south side of the river at Kangaroo Point, it allowed vehicles and pedestrians alike to cross the Brisbane River.
Stories from the Story Bridge
The commencement of construction of the bridge was marked by the turning of the first sod on May 24, 1935 by Premier William Forgan-Smith. In order to address unemployment resulting from the Depression, Forgan-Smith had initiated a number of public works projects to build infrastructure. These included the Story Bridge, Somerset Dam, the Outer Harbour at Mackay, the Hornibrook Highway at Redcliffe, and construction of the first building at the new location of the University of Queensland in St Lucia.
The bridge, was approved in principle in 1932, and the government moved to appoint J.J.C. Bradfield as consulting engineer, after his successful development of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The works were supervised by engineer JA Holt, and construction was undertaken by Queensland companies Hornibrook Pty Ltd and Evans, Deakin and Co. The cost of the bridge was £1,600,000.
The opening of the bridge on 6th July 1940 was a formal affair, with the unveiling of not one but two plaques – one for the Governor, opening the bridge, the other for the Premier to mark the turning of the first sod five years earlier – followed by speeches and ribbon cutting. However controversy abounded with church heads, including the Catholic Archbishop Dr Duhig and Anglican Archbishop Dr Wand, feeling that the religious institutions had been slighted in the ceremony. Nonetheless, the speech of the governor was well-received, and provides a glimpse of what constituted a “successful” project in the years of the Second World War:
“The quality of the workmanship could be gauged from the fact that 1,250,000 rivets had been driven and 7000 gallons of zinc paint put on; 450 men had been employed, and only three fatal accidents had occurred.”
Through the years, commemorations of the opening of the Story Bridge have continued. Although the 25th anniversary went by seemingly unremarked, the 50th anniversary on July 6 1990 saw the laying of a commemorative plaque by then Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Sallyanne Atkinson. In an echo of the celebrations half a century earlier, the bridge was again closed to traffic to allow pedestrians to walk across the more than 1000m span, normally traversed by cars and buses. The 50th anniversary in 1990 was also commemorated by an Australian icon of the 80s and 90s – with cans of Foster’s featuring a depiction of the Story Bridge.
The 75th anniversary in 2015 presented a 21st century version of the patriotic fete – with traffic diversions in place, ticketed attendance for almost 75,000 people in three sessions, with souvenir lanyards and freedom to walk across the bridge, all catered for with food and beverage market stalls, and four stages for a range of performances.
A part of Brisbane’s landscape
Just two years after its 75th anniversary, the Story Bridge was listed on the Queensland Heritage Register. It was recognised for its demonstration of technical accomplishment as the largest span metal truss bridge in Australia, its association with employment-generation schemes from the 1930s, and its association with well-known Queensland construction companies Hornibrook Constructions and Evans Deakin & Co. The iconic bridge, with the easily recognisable cantilever superstructure designed by Bradfield, was said to have been modelled on the Jacques Cartier Bridge in Montreal, Canada. The road across the bridge – the Bradfield highway – was named in Bradfield’s honour. The bridge is perhaps most remarkable for its “landmark quality and aesthetic contribution to the Brisbane townscape, and is significant to the Queensland community as a symbol of Brisbane”.
Today the Story Bridge is a transport necessity and a tourist attraction, dominating the river views along the Petrie Bight and along the Town Reach and Shafston Reach of the Brisbane River. It is colourfully lit at night-time, can be climbed day, night and at twilight, and has even been known to fly the flag of New South Wales, on the rare occasion that Queensland loses the annual Rugby League State of Origin series. To Queenslanders however, and our many visitors, it has been a symbol of Brisbane for the last 80 years.
Find out more about the Queensland Museum objects related to the Story Bridge in our on-line collections