Bridge Over Brisbane

The Story Bridge, built as part of the State Government’s response to the Great Depression remains one of Queensland’s most iconic landmarks.

By Queensland State Archives

Illustration of Brisbane River Bridge (1934-01-26/1936-04-29) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

Panorama of the site where the Story Bridge was to be built (1934-01-01/1934-01-01) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

Calls for a new bridge

Public meetings calling for a bridge between northern Brisbane and Kangaroo Point began as early as November 1888. 

The Victoria Bridge from the Treasury Building looking towards Mt Coot-tha, Brisbane (1897-01-01/1897-12-31) by Lands Department, Survey of Lands Branch, Photographic BranchQueensland State Archives

By the 1920s, Brisbane had grown vast but the Victoria Bridge remained the sole inner-city river crossing.

Victoria Bridge bustling with trams, cars and bikes Brisbane, Queensland (1940-01-01/1940-12-31) by Main Roads CommissionQueensland State Archives

Suburbanites claimed that this bridge was ‘congested and unable to carry the traffic’ and that more direct access to the districts of Woolloongabba and Coorparoo was necessary.

William Jolly Bridge, Grey Street, Brisbane (1932-01-01/1932-12-31) by Agriculture and Stock Department, Publicity BranchQueensland State Archives

A 1926 report by the Cross River Commission recommended the creation of several new bridges. The William Jolly Bridge opened to traffic in March 1932, but the construction of a bridge at Kangaroo Point would not begin for several more years.

Brisbane River Bridge: Main bridge - deck anchorage truss, 1935-01-01/1935-12-31, From the collection of: Queensland State Archives
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Bridge Board inspection of the triangulation survey at Kangaroo Point, Brisbane (1934-06-27/1934-06-27) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

The new Queensland Labor Government permitted the establishment of a Bridge Board in 1933 to plan a government-constructed toll bridge at Kangaroo Point, promoted as an employment-generating scheme during the Great Depression.

Story Bridge Inspection (1938-07-07/1938-07-07) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

The design for the bridge was completed by Dr John Bradfield (pictured right), a Brisbane-born engineer who had spent much of his life working in New South Wales. He had played key roles in the construction of Sydney’s electric railway system and the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Evans Deakin and Company's Workshops at Rocklea, Brisbane (1935-06-26/1935-06-26) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

In early 1935 Evans Deakin-Hornibrook Constructions Pty Ltd won the contract to build the proposed six-lane bridge with a bid of £1.15 million.

Rocklea workshops (1936-09-01/1936-09-01) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

Construction begins

Construction of the bridge officially began on 24 May 1935. Premier Forgan Smith laid the first stone of the bridge, in commemoration of King George V’s 25th anniversary of acceding to the English throne.

A deck crane being erected for the Story Bridge construction in Brisbane (1938-08-04/1938-08-05) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

During the build, the bridge had first been called the Brisbane River Bridge and later the Jubilee Bridge, in honour of the King. In 1937, Cabinet named the bridge after John Douglas Story, a public servant and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Queensland.

Construction of the Story Bridge (1937-09-30/1937-09-30) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

To get the bridge completed as quickly as possible, work sometimes continued 24 hours a day.

In 1938, at the peak of construction, 400 people were employed on the build, making it one of the largest employers in Brisbane at the time.

Bridge Inspector preparing to inspect foundation for eastern cylinder of Pier 26, Brisbane (1936-04-29/1936-04-29) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

The construction site was a dangerous place. The deepest foundation at the south pier, more than 30 metres below ground level, required men to work in conditions up to four times normal air pressure.

Story Bridge Construction of main bridge erection on Kangaroo Point, Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic Section, 1938-09-22/1938-09-22, From the collection of: Queensland State Archives
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The erection of the last cross girder, centre of suspended span on the Story Bridge (1939-10-25/1939-10-25) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

Danger on the bridge

Safety equipment was rarely used by the men working high above the river and accidents were inevitable.

Three workers and one citizen climber lost their lives on the bridge during construction and many other near misses occurred.

Story Bridge Construction South anchor arm (1938-11-15/1938-11-15) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

Casualties of construction

Arthur McKay Wharton was one of the workers who fell to his death from the decking of the Story Bridge. During construction, Wharton had saved workmates from death on two occasions.

Construction of reinforced concrete roadway slab on main bridge, Brisbane (1940-01-19/1940-01-19)Queensland State Archives

He once jumped 10 feet down to grab Ernest Boyle as he rolled from a girder. "I only did what any of the other workmen would have done in the same circumstances; it was nothing," Wharton told The Courier-Mail.

Erection of last lower chords of suspended span during building of the Story Bridge, Brisbane (1939-10-25/1939-10-25) by Lands Department, Survey Office, Cartographic Branch, Photographic SectionQueensland State Archives

Tragically, no-one was able to save Wharton from his 34-metre fall on 6 December 1939. Wharton’s fellow workers each pledged half a day’s wages to support his widow and child.

The Story Bridge with cars in foreground, Premier's Department, State Public Relations Bureau, Photographic Unit, 1958-01-01/1982-01-01, From the collection of: Queensland State Archives
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The opening day of the Story Bridge in Brisbane (1940-07-06/1940-07-06) by Main Roads CommissionQueensland State Archives

Opening day

Finally, after five years and at a cost of £1.6 million, the bridge was completed. The Story Bridge was officially opened on 6 July 1940 by Governor Sir Leslie Orme Wilson to a crowd of 37,000 people.

Croton garden and toll booth at the beginning of the Story Bridge, Brisbane (1941-02-02/1941-02-02)Queensland State Archives

When first opened, a toll booth was established to assist the State with loan repayments. The toll charge for a motor car was sixpence. The presence of American troops in Brisbane during the Second World War helped pay off the debt and in 1947 the toll booth was removed.

Aerial view of the Story Bridge, Brisbane, Queensland (1987-01-01/1987-12-31) by Premier's Department, Public Relations, Public Relations and Media Office, PhotographicQueensland State Archives

The Story Bridge remains an iconic emblem of Brisbane. More than 30 million vehicles now cross the bridge each year.

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