Driving across the Sydney Harbour Bridge is not an activity for the faint hearted. Traffic is heavy no matter the time of day, lanes appear, merge or veer off unexpectedly and drivers gaze at the bumper in front of them rather than the view below. Whether in a car or on the train, the Bridge can be taken for granted and its easy to forget that you are using one of the most iconic man-made structures in the world. But if you do take a moment to appreciate its graceful curve and clever design, then you may have noticed that recently it has been undergoing a make-over of sorts.
On the evening of Wednesday 18th of July, the NSW branch of the AICCM held a talk by Peter Mann, the strategic infrastructure manager for the NSW Roads and Maritime Services. Peter was invited by committee member Nick Flood to speak to the AICCM about the implementation of heritage works as part of the overall maintenance of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The talk was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Circular Quay, where attendees had the opportunity to enjoy a drink on the MCA café terrace overlooking the Bridge itself after the talk.
The Bridge is the subject of endless fascination for tourists and locals alike, but much has changed since the completion of construction in 1932. Access at both ends has been altered as Sydney’s roads grew, tram rails removed and many new pieces of equipment added. One of the most visible changes was the removal of the original lanterns in the 1950s as they were replaced with more modern lighting. Peter viewed this as having had a major impact on the beautiful design of the Bridge and felt strongly that bringing back ‘the excitement of crossing the bridge’ was just as vital as other maintenance tasks.
So, along with other activities, such as decluttering the structure, improving the appearance of security fixtures, corrosion treatment and recoating, Peter and his team embarked upon the reinstatement of the heritage lanterns. Under the auspices of the Conservation Management Plan, Peter was able to persuade those around him of the significance of this project and secure the support and resources needed. Peter explained the extensive archival research that was required, as well as the innovation and creativity that was needed to allow historic lanterns to be installed on a modern, functioning asset.
There is a lot more to this fascinating project and its well worth further reading – the process of actually recreating the lanterns is an incredible story in itself. However, the other great aspect of this event was the mixed audience – there were many conservators, but there were also people from outside the field, such as architects and interested members of the public. Hosting an event such as this is an excellent opportunity for the AICCM to widen its reach and connect with allied professionals. It was also very positive to hear from someone like Peter, who was able to direct his personal belief in the importance of history and shared cultural experience and his considerable professional expertise into an exceptional conservation project.
Installation of the lanterns is complete on the east side of the Bridge and work will soon begin on the west side. At night, the new lights emit a soft and glamorous glow. Crossing the Bridge is undoubtably a more beautiful experience.