Sydney Harbour BridgeIt was the Sydney Harbour Bridge’s 90th birthday last weekend (on 19th March). I heard a few interesting interviews and decided to research some interesting bridge toll stories (not an oxymoron). Like all large infrastructure projects funding was a problem. You might remember that the bridge wasn’t actually paid off until 1988 (during the Greiner government) for a mere $70M (about 350% more than originally planned).

The Sydney Harbour Bridge Administration Act (1932) provided the power to “levy tolls and charges in respect of all traffic” and resolved the issue of whether pedestrians would be charged a toll (they weren’t). The rates (which were both per vehicle and per person) were gazetted only a few days before the opening. Politicians clearly haven’t changed. Make the announcement in the excitement of other events and hope that no-one notices.

The original fares were 6 pence per car plus 3 pence for adult passengers and a penny for children. There are lots of stories of kids being hidden under a blanket in the back seat to avoid the toll collector’s gaze (no-one in my family would have done anything like that 😉). Bikes, trikes and motor cycles without side cars were charged 3 pence as were sulkies, buggies and light carts.

The fares for a horse and rider was 3 pence, for horse or cattle (as “loose stock”) 2 pence, and sheep (or pigs) were only a penny. I can only imagine what would happen to peak hour traffic if you herded your livestock across the bridge today. I also heard (but couldn’t track down) that toll collection wasn’t 24/7 and there was a lot of stock mustering happening in the wee hours of the morning.

Unsurprisingly, there was no regulation dealing with elephants. So when Wirth’s Circus rode six elephants across the bridge in April 1932, they were charged 2 pence each.

If you’re interested in some more coat hanger history, the RTA has a (71 page) Sydney Harbour Bridge Tolling Report (which is more interesting than it sounds). There is also a State Library podcast (called “The Bridge” – not to be confused with the Nordic noir crime drama of the same name) and you can see a scanned version of the 15 March 1932 Gazette Notice on the National Library’s Trove.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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