On This Day: Sydney Harbour Bridge opening disrupted after horseback protester cuts the ribbon

MARCH 19, 1932: The official opening of Sydney Harbour Bridge was sensationally disrupted after a protester on horseback upstaged dignitaries by cutting the ribbon on this day in 1932.

Colonel Francis de Groot astonished a crowd of 300,000 Australians when he rode in with his ceremonial sword aloft and upstaged New South Wales premier Jack Lang.

De Groot, a First World War veteran who hated the leader of the state’s Labor Party, declared the bridge open in the name of 'decent and respectable people'.

A British Pathé newsreel shows him being pulled from his horse by Australia’s top detective W.J. Mackay, the chief of the Commonwealth Investigations Branch.

The ceremony to open what remains the tallest steel arch bridge in the world was hurriedly reconvened after the ribbon was retied.

Lang, who had several run-ins with De Groot’s right-wing New Guard paramilitary group, finally used his golden scissors before a 21-gun salute and RAAF flypast.

De Groot, an Irish-born former Hussar who had become a Sydney antiques dealer after emigrating from Britain to Australia in 1919, was fined £5.

As well as disliking the left-wing New South Wales government, he resented the fact that no member of the British Royal Family had been asked to open the bridge.

Yet despite an inauspicious start, the crossing that links two halves of Australia’s biggest city soon became one of the most well known structures in the world.

The 3,770ft-long and 440ft-high bridge across Sydney Harbour, along with the nearby Opera House, have helped make the city’s skyline one of the most iconic.


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The rail, road and pedestrian crossing had been eagerly awaited and, despite opening in the midst of the Great Depression, huge celebrations were staged.

The festivities included an array of decorated floats, a procession of passenger ships sailing below the bridge, and a Venetian Carnival.

Children also carried a message on a 320-mile relay from a school in the outback town of Tottenham, named after the district of north London.

Three postage stamps were issued to commemorate the structure and several songs were also composed for the opening.

The bridge earned the nickname 'the Iron Lung' after keeping thousands of Depression-era workers in a job.


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Plans for the crossing were drawn up by chief architect JJC Bradfield in 1914 – but war got in the way of building and they were ultimately rejected.

New South Wales legislators passed a second act allowing for either a cantilever or arch bridge between Dawes Point and Milsons Point in 1922.

The following year, an official ceremony was held to mark the 'turning of the first sod', but the construction of the arch did not begin until 1926.

English engineers Dorman, Long & Co, who built the similar Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, were awarded the contract for £4million, now worth £235million.

Before they could begin, 469 buildings on the North Shore were demolished, while at the same time an underground rail system was built in the south side city centre.


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The total cost of the bridge was £6million, which was not paid off until 1988 when it was the backdrop of Australia’s Bicentennial celebrations.

It was shortly after these festivities that Sydney Harbour was used to host some of the world’s most glittering firework displays every New Year’s Eve.