The Story Bridge

The Story Bridge, built between 1935 and 1940, is one of the most iconic structures in Brisbane. Today, The Story Bridge is known for its LED lighting displays that can be seen along the length of the Brisbane River, and as the home of the Brisbane bridge climb. To commemorate this important Queensland landmark, the State Library has collected a number of materials documenting the development of the Story Bridge. We invite you to explore these resources on the construction and history of the Story Bridge here. 

Building The Story Bridge

A decade of building major bridge infrastructure projects in Brisbane cemented Sir Manuel Richard Hornibrook (often known as ‘MR’) as a pioneering Queenslander into the history of the state. A self-starter who built the family business with his brothers, MR gained contracts all along the Brisbane River from wharves to terminals to wool stores and more. The company became known for bridge building and enterprise and gained the biggest contracts offered in the history of the state. 

The Grey St/William Jolly Bridge, the Hornibrook Highway and the Story Bridge were all opened between 1932 and 1940, opening up land, business, communication and connecting people back and forth across a rapidly growing city and across Moreton Bay to Redcliffe from Sandgate. Exactly when was the Story Bridge built? Its construction commenced in 1935, and concluded in 1940 when the bridge opened for the first time to a crowd of 37,000 people. 

Documenting Brisbane’s bridges

This project, through the Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship, features an essay and blog on each of the three major Brisbane bridges of the 30s, with photos and anecdotes of life in Brisbane then and the role of MR in shaping a more modern view of Queensland. This edition highlights photos of the building of the Story Bridge, the workforce and the shape of Brisbane around the River in the 1930s. Other original photos are in the precious Story Bridge Albums being restored by the John Oxley Library and will become available in the near future.

Julie Hornibrook is the recipient of the 2015 Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Fellowship.  As an accompaniment to this showcase of historic photos of The Story Bridge, Julie has written an in-depth essay about the history of the Story Bridge.

Read the Story Bridge essay >

Read more about the 2015 Fellowship >

See more Story Bridge images >

Story Bridge photos

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Aerial photograph of the Story Bridge site, Brisbane, 1931.

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Story Bridge during construction of Stage four. The photo is taken from the Queensland Trustees Building, 1938. View is of the completed north cantilever arm, erection stage four. The Howard Smith Ltd., and Australian Steamships Pty Ltd. wharves can be seen alongside the north pier. A ship is docked at the Australian Steamships wharf to the left of the photograph.

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A large crowd watches the sod turning ceremony for the Story Bridge Brisbane 1935

Dr. John Bradfield speaking at the sod turning ceremony to mark the beginning of the construction of the Story Bridge in Brisbane, 1935. At this ceremony MR gave the Premier a clock, saying that for every hour that passes during the contract the government would owe the contractors £33!

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Bradfield Highway seen from atop the Story Bridge during construction

View of the Bradfield Highway heading down to Main Street, Kangaroo Point. This photo of the Story Bridge shows the southern approach during construction, about 1938. On either side of the highway the streets and houses of Kangaroo Point can be seen and the shape of the future to come. The Point is dominated and divided by the huge road and many houses were demolished to make way for the construction. Stretches of the Brisbane River are visible.

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Inspection of Story Bridge, 1938

Inspection of the Story Bridge construction by His Excellency, The State Governor, Sir Leslie Orme Wilson, Major A V Stark, Mr J A Holt, Mr R Clark, Mr M R Hornibrook, Dr Bradfield and Mr A J Deakin. (Story Bridge construction)

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Story Bridge under construction, Brisbane, ca. 1936

The photo illustrates the Consortium between the two companies that enabled a successful tender and construction partnership. On the building site cranes are being used to lift steel trusses and other materials.

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Breathtaking view of Brisbane enjoyed by the riggers on the Story Bridge construction crew ca. 1938

Caption with photograph reads: 'Connecting centre diagonal after wedges have been partly slackened.' The (lack of) safety gear makes the photo interesting, and Graeme Oliver (Moy, 52) said “we never had hard hats, eye protection, ear protection or safety boots. Those things weren’t invented.” It is a testament to the trust and camaraderie of the workforce that they looked out for each other and developed such skills in working on heights.

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Lou the blacksmith on the Story Bridge construction team ca. 1939

The Bridge employed about 400 workers at its peak and supported employment during the Depression. The normal working week was 48 hours over 6 days and not easy to get time off. Harry, a worker on the Bridge, couldn’t get time off for his own wedding and had to work a night shift! (Moy, 50). The workforce was loyal to working with MR and many had previously worked on the building of the Hornibrook Highway.

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Diver preparing to inspect the foundations of the Story Bridge during construction Brisbane 1936

A bridge inspector is preparing to dive to the bottom of the Brisbane River to inspect the foundation for the eastern cylinder of pier 26 of the Story Bridge. The diver is wearing a rubber diving suit with ropes attached for his co-worker to lower and raise him into the river. He is also wearing a beanie to provide warmth and comfort under his diving helmet. The deepest foundation at the south pier is 132 feet below ground level, (Browne, 32). Men worked under pressures of up to 4 times normal air pressure.

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Diver inspects the foundation at Pier 26E, Story Bridge, Brisbane, 1936

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Superstructure of the Story Bridge Brisbane 1938

As the building of the Story Bridge over the Brisbane River progresses, the large structure begins to add a new and distinctive note to the city skyline, and photographers find many new angles for the inclusion of the bridge in pictures of the city. In this view the northern superstructure is presented, linked with prominent buildings in the Petrie Bight approach to Queen Street, Brisbane (Information taken from The Queenslander, 30 March, 1938). Note the large cigarette ad in the foreground as well.

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Construction yard of M. R. Hornibrook Pty. Ltd. in Brisbane

As the eponymous Hornibrook company got bigger so did the signage. M. R. Hornibrook was boldly displayed on construction sites and equipment for all to see. Over time the signature colours became orange and black.

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Story Bridge under construction in Brisbane, 1938

North main pier, main posts and tower traveller of the Story bridge as seen from the south main pier during construction. The Howard Smith Ltd., and Australian Steamships Pty Ltd. wharves can be seen alongside the base of the north pier. All Hallows' School stands prominently in the background on the left. The original school building is still located there today with a close up view of the Bridge and events such as ‘Riverfire.’

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Story Bridge in the fourth stage of construction Brisbane 1938

Complete deck crane being erected during the fourth stage of the construction of the Story Bridge. The north main pier, main posts and tower traveller are in view.

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Construction of the Story Bridge Brisbane 1939

The almost-completed Story Bridge, links Kangaroo Point on the right to Fortitude Valley and New Farm on the left. The suspended span is being joined with a centre panel, on the morning of 28 October 1939. Newspaper reports said a rainbow coloured the sky as it was joined in the early morning of the special day.

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Construction crew on the Story Bridge during the last day of construction Brisbane 1939

The names of all the workers in the photo are recorded next to the photograph in the library. The sense of pride, achievement and camaraderie of a big team are conveyed in the picture.

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Governor of Queensland cutting the ribbon at the opening of the Story Bridge Brisbane 1940

The Story Bridge was opened on 6 July 1940 by Sir Leslie Orme Wilson, Governor of Queensland and named for John Douglas Story, a senior and influential public servant who had advocated strongly for the bridge's construction. The crowd was reported as 37,000 and there was much fanfare, music and performance on the bridge to celebrate.

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Tollgate at the Kangaroo Point end of the Story Bridge Brisbane 19401950

View of a car approaching the toll-gate at the Kangaroo Point end of the Story Bridge. When the Story Bridge first opened in 1940 the toll charge for motor cars was 6d. Other charges ranged from 1d for bicycles to 1/6 for heavy vehicles (Information taken from: Strand Press, The Story Bridge: a commemorative book, 1940). The toll was removed in 1947 and during the war years the heavy traffic of American forces in Brisbane helped to pay down the loan – an unanticipated outcome of the war effort!

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Brisbane's Story Bridge 1940

The 281 metre cantilever bridge was built between1935 – 1940, constructed by Evans Deakin - Hornibrook Pty. Ltd. The premises of Evans Anderson Phelan Pty. Ltd. Engineers at Kangaroo Point, are visible on the right. The New Farm cliffs can be seen in the background. The bridge connected Fortitude Valley and the southside suburbs. It is heritage listed and now carries 30 million cars per year. 16 bridges cross the river but the Story Bridge remains ‘the grandfather’ of them all.

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The Story Bridge 50th anniversary stamp

Brisbane celebrated the 50th anniversary of the iconic bridge. A stamp was released; there were celebrations on the bridge itself; posters were produced.

The city grew around the bridge.

Story Bridge 50th Anniversary sticker 1990
City of Brisbane Collection
Museum of Brisbane.

Further reading

Brisbane City Council, Reflections on the River, A Brisbane City Council Heritage Trail, 2011 Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Queensland, Assessing Cultural Heritage Significance, using the Cultural heritage criteria, 2013. Brochure Engineers Australia Historic Engineering Plaques in Queensland, Awarded to 1st January 2006
Saunders, Kay. Between the covers: revealing the State Library of Queensland's collections. Woolloomooloo: Focus Publishing Pty. Ltd. 2006 Watson, A. Building a Masterpiece: The Sydney Opera House, Powerhouse Publishing, 2013