The arch, the webbing, the pylons
The rattle of trains across the void
The dark grey paint
Of pure white lead, linseed oil
And vegetable black, protected the steel
But poisoned the painters.
The painters, the dogmen, the riggers, the ironworkers,
The holder-ups, boys whose job was to catch
In a tin white hot rivets thrown by the cookers
Close by a bucket of water
To plunge in a foot when the molten slug shed its
Scales into an open boot. Nipper Anderson and Stan London
At the end of the arch, bolting plates together
With a spanner and six-foot pipe for leverage.
Nipper a champion diver, couldn't hold straight when he fell.
His final dive flawed when he hit the water on his back
And broke his neck. Or "Ned" Kelly and "Mo" Moore,
the hero with a Certificate for rescuing a bloke
Who fell from a ferry to the Quay.
They said if ever they took the big dive
They'd straighten and pierce the water like a needle
When it happened, Kelly won the prize.
They held Mo back as he strained to see.
To collect a gold watch and a life-long stutter,
To die in his eighties in 1979. The void, the dizzying height,
Creeper cranes inching out on the unfinished arches
Sickened men with fear as its vibrations
Rumbled through the steel and they knew
Their lives depended on cables stitched into rock
Until at ten o'clock one night
The steel's heat drawn at last by the dark poultice of night
The arches locked on the bearing pin
Boats hooted from below and on the foreshores
Residents ran into the streets banging saucepans and spoons
Such was the relief of all
The void, the dizzying height, the two sides joined at last,
The span, bridging shores in one dolphinleap of steel.
Nineteen belching locomotives rolled to the middle
To prove the structure could take the weight. Icons
Of modernist certainty riding the taut bow-string of the bridge.
The spandrels, the flanges, the web, the abutment,
Instructions now from a BridgeClimb guide as we don
Grey overalls and safety cable for ascent to the arch's crown
My near paralysed shuffle over the first catwalk
The suicidal view of the park below
Steel anchored in space
The dogmen, the riggers, the holder-ups, the rivet boys
Creeper cranes inching out on unfinished arches
The rattle of trains across the void,
The dizzying height, the Harbour Bridge