The history of Australia in the 20th century is embroiled in the growth of the steel industry. From the Melbourne Cricket Ground to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, steel has played a significant role in the evolution of Australian industry and shaped the culture.
In this article we will be looking at five separate cultural landmarks and evaluating the role that Australian steel has had in shaping them.
The Sydney Opera House
Could we have started off our list of iconic Australian steel landmarks with anything other than the Sydney Opera House? As far as landmarks go, the Sydney Opera House is a shining beacon of Australian culture only eclipsed by our natural landmarks such as Uluru and the Great Barrier Reef.
This multi-venue performing arts building was designed in 1957 by legendary Danish architect Jørn Utzon. When it formally opened in October 1973 Utzon was not invited due to creative differences that had sprung up over the course of it’s construction. The Sydney Opera House Trust eventually reconciled with Utzon in 1999 and invited him in as a design consultant for future work.
In 2007 UNESCO announced the Sydney Opera House as a World Heritage Site. To this day it’s unique design, inspired by orange peels of all things, has become a “symbol for not only a city, but a whole country and continent.” (Pritzker Architecture Prize, 2003)
However, The Sydney Opera House may not have been possible without 350 kilometres of tensioned steel cable holding the structure together. The concrete shells and their concrete ribs would collapse without the prestressing steel tendons. At the time, this technique was highly innovative.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney is famous for more than just one iconic structure. The Sydney Harbour Ridge could easily rival the Sydney Opera House as one of Australia’s most recognisable man-made structures.
The original design and construction was handled by the British firm Dorman Long and Co Ltd and opened in March 1932. The Sydney Harbour Bridge retains it’s reputation to this day as the world’s tallest arch bridge. For a structure that is almost 87 years old, Sydneysiders still get good use out of the bridge with over 200,000 cars using the bridge every day.
This bridge is made up of more than 53,000 tonnes of steel and held in place with over six million hand-made, hand-driven Australian rivets. The structure is about as sturdy as it gets. Like it’s cousin, the Hell Gate Bridge in New York that the design is based on, the bridge remains sturdy to this day.
The bridge was significant on an economic level as well as a cultural and practical one. Nicknamed the “Iron Lung”, the construction of the bridge generated significant work during a difficult economic period and coincided with Australia’s development into a modern industrial society.
Melbourne Cricket Ground
The Melbourne Cricket Ground, or MCG as it is better known, is located in Yarra Park in the heart of Melbourne’s Sports and Entertainment Precinct. The MCG is the tenth biggest stadium in the world and was first constructed in 1853 and has been constantly renewed and rebuilt. I was the centrepiece of two Cricket World Cups, the 1956 Summer Olympics and the 2006 Commonwealth Games. As Journalist Greg Baum puts it, the MCG is a “shrine, a citadel, a landmark a totem [that] symbolises Melbourne to the World”.
Prior to the 2006 Commonwealth Games the Northern Stand was reconstructed by the Alfasi Steel and Orrcon Steel as part of a $434 million dollar facelift. According to Orrcon Steel the new main roof contains over “1,100 tonnes of structural steel and 5,300 lineal metres of steel cable.”
Deutsche Bank Place
You might get the impression we love Sydney, as so far we’ve only mentioned one other structure outside of Melbourne. Well, we do love Sydney, because Sydney loves steel.
Nowhere is this more obvious than the glorious Deutsche Bank Place skyscraper that stands out in the Sydney skyline. This 790 foot skyscraper, with it’s iconic steel headpiece is made of towering steel and glass. This building is an excellent example of modernist architecture, made primarily of concrete, glass and Australian steel.
What you may not know is that Sydney’s Deutsche Bank Place is the second-tallest building in the world behind the Al Faisaliyah Centre in Riyadh.
As you can see from this abridged list, steel has played a very influential role in the economic and cultural development of modern Australia. There are countless other structures across Australia we could mention. Weathering steel in particular has become a staple of Australian outdoor design. However, we will have to save that for another article.