The Sydney Harbor Bridge is an imposing structure. Although not the longest, it is the largest steel arch bridge in the world. It connects the city center with the north of the metropolis. Since its opening on March 19, 1932, it has been one of the most important centers in Sydney.
Shortly before the birth milestone of the bridge, employees of the Sydney State Library came across previously unknown historical photos that were taken during the eight-year construction period. The photos were taken by a photographer, one of the few women who helped create the bridge.
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In addition to the photographer, known as Mrs. Frank Smith, Kathleen Butler, secretary to chief engineer John Bradfield, is also worth mentioning. Butler helped Bradfield set the specifications for the bridge, managed the contract bids, and is said to have written most of the legislation that made construction possible. “If John Bradfield is the father of the bridge, Kathleen Butler is the godmother,” Australia’s Blue Mountain Echo magazine once wrote.
The State Library seeks the true identity of the photographer
Another woman who helped build the bridge was Vera Lawson, who worked for the British engineering company that won the bid to build it. She calculated salaries, bills, workers’ compensation, and volume estimates for the company.
Alongside Smith, Butler and Lawson are two other women who received little recognition despite their significant contributions. The fact that Kathleen Butler had to stop working when she got married also shows how little attention women received in society 90 years ago. Another sign of the times is that the bridge photographer’s name is given only as Mrs. Frank Smith.
The State Library of Sydney is therefore now searching for the true identity of the photographer, who is known to have traveled by ferry to take the photos that are now an important testament to the time. “We know that Mrs. Frank Smith was an amateur photographer who had frequent access to the Harbor Bridge,” a state library spokeswoman said.
Her photographs also show that Mrs. Smith was often present during the construction work and walked directly between the workers. “She was on the bridge at noon,” she commented, for example, on one of the photos in her album, which shows her on the shell, surrounded by male workers. The photo also shows that Mrs Smith was well dressed and therefore likely came from a fairly wealthy family.
This is also supported by the fact that photography was an expensive hobby back then. A poem in the album also shows that Mrs. Frank Smith was an educated woman: for example, she describes the bridge as an “arch of strength and beauty” and a “majestic” structure, and thanked the men who “designed ” the bridge and built have “created”.
Mrs. Smith’s album was misfiled in the library.
The fact that the images have only recently come to light is not due to the quality of the recordings, but to a cataloging error in the library. The Sydney Morning Herald describes her as a talented and award-winning amateur. State Library curator Margot Riley found Ms. Smith’s album to be in the wrong category when the library’s collection was moved elsewhere during the pandemic.
“I was like, ‘Wow, this is brand new,'” Margot Riley told the Sydney Morning Herald. Some photos are styled similar to the images of moody bridges with cloudy skies taken by professional photographer Harold Cazneaux.
Mrs. Frank Smith’s photo album was donated to the library in 1937 and will now be on display in one of the State Library’s galleries beginning Saturday to mark the 90th anniversary of the bridge’s opening. At the same time, the library, along with the diary, is trying to solve the riddle of who was really behind the name of Mrs. Frank Smith.