The Sydney Harbour Bridge has six million rivets which were driven, white -hot, into 53,000 tonnes of steel. My Grandfather told me that when I was just a little girl. He would take me with him on Sundays to marvel at the cherished coat hanger. I loved that time, but not because of the bridge. I loved it because it would be just him and me eating ice-cream as we walked its length, and back again. How I long to go back to such days of innocence and happiness, but of course they are gone.
The steel mesh covering the walkway feels cold against my forehead as I gaze across at the Opera House. I know there is a camera watching me, but at this time of night pedestrians are few and far between. No one is likely to disturb me. I wanted to jump, but they make it impossible with all the barriers. Jumping would make it clean. There would be no mess to clean up in the morning, instead I would be washed away by the sea, maybe eaten by fish or sharks. I am sorry someone will have to find me here, but they shouldn’t make it so impossible.
This place has always reminded me of death. Granddad said six million rivets, one each for the holocaust victims. He laughed with the knowledge that he had no need for a riveted memorial, even one so far from his homeland in Germany. Guilt would then cloud his features and he would mourn his survival.
‘It should have been someone else,’ he said.
‘Then I would not be here,’ I complained selfishly.
Or perhaps I would be here, but I would be different and my parents would be other people. It’s too confusing. What makes us who we are? Is it our ancestry, the number of rivets or our genes, or is it our spirit? Could my spirit have come into being in another genetically derived body? If that had been the case, would my life have been different? Would my husband have stayed with me instead of sleeping with her when he went away to work? He doesn’t know I know. Will he wonder why, I have done what I have done, when he hears the news? Will he feel my loss, or will he be glad I have freed him to do openly, what he now does secretly? I will never know, but I am past caring. I feel light-hearted and rash like the man who stole the opening ceremony of this bridge.
I uncovered that piece of history after Granddad died. I am glad he never knew or we would not have set foot on the bridge. The bridge was never opened by Premier Jack Lang, in 1932 as Granddad told me. It’s a lie. The fascists he hated all his life, stole the opening ceremony. The cutting of the ribbon was to take place at both ends simultaneously with Premier Lang at the southern end, and Alderman Primrose at the Northern end.
Although Primrose succeeded in an incident free event, Jack Lang was pipped at the post by an intruder. Francis de Groot of the New Guard, stole the honour in fury that a Royal was not invited to open the bridge. Dressed in military uniform, he charged upon his horse and slashed the ribbon with his sword, stealing history’s moment. It is interesting that Primrose, unmolested or contested in cutting his ribbon, was also a member of the New Guard.
Granddad would turn in his grave if he knew that this bridge was opened by conservative paramilitary nationalists who avowed support for fascism, and whose heroes were Franco, Mussolini and Hitler. Like all iconic monuments, this one has its believers; those like my granddad who believed in the progressive goodness of man, and those whose beliefs are a testament to bigotry and fanaticism.
It is now my turn to create my own small historical event, stealing the limelight from natures timeline. Centre stage is not a place in which I find comfort or joy, but it is competing beliefs in my life’s continuing value, which leads me to spill the blood from my veins. I hope some of it may seep into the rivets to become indistinguishable; just one of six million lives lost. It will run into the cracks and drip through the bridge to drop singly, plop by plop into the sea below where Granddad’s ashes were scattered. Once more we will be together and perhaps one evening if you squint carefully, you may see us walking side by side along this bridge, licking ice cream.