SYDNEY - Celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge have been marred by claims that the designer of the iconic structure was none other than an Englishman.
Australians are justly proud of their "coathanger", as it is known locally, and credit a Queenslander, John "J.J.C." Bradfield, with designing it. Bradfield was the chief engineer. But the consulting engineer who saw the project through to completion was Ralph Freeman, an Englishman.
Controversy about whose input was more important has simmered since the bridge opened in 1932. Now it has been reignited, ahead of anniversary festivities on Sunday, when Freeman's firm, Hyder Consulting, told the Australian newspaper: "We designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge."
Bradfield's grandson, Peter, immediately hit back. "He [Bradfield] had more to do with the design of the bridge, in my view and many others' view, than anybody else," he said. The steel arch bridge, which provides the perfect backdrop for the equally iconic Opera House, was built at a time when Australia - although independent - was still a loyal British outpost.
Most of the steel came from Middlesbrough, and the six million rivets that hold it together were made in Lancashire.
An English company, Dorman Long and Company, built it - but it was Australians who toiled during the decade that it took to construct. Sixteen workers died, most of them in falls. Others were injured or suffered health problems thanks to unsafe working practices. About 800 homes were demolished to make way for the bridge.
Bradfield was appointed chief engineer in 1912, and produced a design based on New York's Hell Gate Bridge. The project was postponed until 1922, largely because of the war. Freeman was recruited as consulting engineer by Dorman Long to design the structure in greater detail.
The bridge was barely completed when a bitter row broke out between the two men, with each claiming a superior role.
The Bradfield-Freeman row was so acrimonious that the Institute of Civil Engineers threatened to expel both men, and the New South Wales Government ordered an inquiry. The results were not published.
While the Encyclopaedia Brittanica credits Freeman with the design, Australian publications favour Bradfield. The official plaque gives both men their due.
Peter Bradfield said his grandfather was "associated with the bridge from its conception to its completion". But Jim Forbes of Hyder Consulting said: "It's one thing to conceive things; it's another to see them through to the end and get all the details right."
The dispute is unlikely to be resolved by Sunday, when thousands of people are expected to walk across the bridge as part of the celebrations.