Unofficial Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb in the mid 80’s

In the 1980’s life was a little more simple. Perhaps it was that I was more relaxed and less fearful of doing silly things?

I was in Sydney visiting a friend who I will call Harry. We were sitting around in Ugg boots and Lycra having dinner at his house in Paddington.

I spent the whole of the 1980’s in designer Lycra. I hand spray painted and had elaborate designs stitched onto my tracksuits and other stretchy exercise clothing that I wore all the time. I remember once voting in Cottesloe in a pair of bikinis as though that was the most normal thing to do. My memories of the 1980’s was that it was a chilled time of extreme exercise and physically comfortable clothing.

Just as we were finishing dinner he said to me “Would you like to climb Sydney Harbour Bridge?”

Well… as a very fit and healthy person I was up for any fun so said “Yes”.

There was no official bridge climb at that time. The bridge climb came almost a decade and a half later in 1998. In the 1980’s the only people who climbed the bridge were people who looked after it in some way — or people like Harry and myself.

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Harry had been told how to access the bridge to climb it, so we jumped into his car and drove to the area at the base of the pylons. On the picture above it is that area where there are the upright brick structures. Harry had bought some carpet along so that we could climb over the barbed wire fence.

Once we got there I found out that before the barbed wire bit was a bit of an obstacle course. First we had to scale a very steep wall with the carpet. On the top of the wall was a six foot high fence and on the top of the fence was the barbed wire.

Being athletic and strong that was the least of our problems. The first problem was to find a time span between the security vehicles so that we would not be caught. We waited in the car until a police car came and just as it left around a corner we got into action. We quickly scaled the wall and then the fence, immediately pulling the carpet into the opening at the side of the brick structure where we could enter the bridge struts. Adrenaline pumping stuff! We were both panting and sweating by the time we were secreted way in the dark of the entrance to the bridge.

We went up some stairs and eventually we found the opening where you could climb within the metal spans. Each metal span seemed a bit wider than I was and higher than it was wider.

Here is an old photograph showing a span that we climbed within.

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An old photograph showing one of the spans. We climbed within one of the upper spans.

The slope upwards was really steep and there were large smooth bolts and metal lips at very regular intervals all the way up. It was like climbing within a slippery metal cave. We climbed and at intervals there were openings in the top where you could push back a metal plate and look out.

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The bridge is covered in smooth metal bolts.

My main problem was the Ugg boots as they were not the least bit useful for gripping on to the smooth iron base of the column. After some time we came to the place where it flattened out where we were going to  look out at the very top. As far as we could tell it was the top because there is little slope at the top. To our great disappointment the lookout slot had been fixed shut. I am guessing that this was because the bridge people wanted to dissuade people like ourselves from climbing.

We then retraced our steps slipping and sliding our way downwards again to get to the bottom and back to our piece of carpet. Anxiously we waited for ages for the next security patrol and when it left we quickly threw the carpet over the barbed wire, scaled the fence and then thundered down the sloped wall to be back in the car again after our adventure.

In 2010 I was in Sydney and decided to climb the bridge the official way.

It was such a let down — the original climb was so much more interesting and fun — and it was free. I don’t mean free in cost as the cost was reasonable, I mean free in spirit.

The official bridge climb required enough equipment —the cost of which would probably to keep a whole third world family in food and education for a year. It was slooowwwwww… as slow as the most unfit of humanity.  So slow I could have fallen asleep at any time during the climb. I couldn’t help thinking “Wendy you are spending your life one moment at a time. Is this experience worth it?”

However I have to admit the views were much better.

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