Sep 24, 2010

#30before30: Story Bridge Climb

This article was originally published on Brisbane Times. If you're enjoying the #30before30 challenge, why not consider donating a few dollars via the secure PayPal link in my sidebar? All donations will be split 50/50 between the Australian Red Cross and Brisbane Arts Theatre. Thank you!

I cross the Story Bridge virtually every day. It's one of my favourite spans in the world, and yet in the almost six years the Story Bridge Adventure Climb has been in business, I've never made the very short trek to their Kangaroo Point HQ to get a closer look.I guess you always neglect sights in your own city – whenever my partner and I visit new cities, we have a habit of finding a nice tall building or structure to go up, so we can get a good look at the place below us. And while Mt Coot-tha gives you a nice overview of the Brisbane; it's quite a far away one. But the Story Bridge? You don't get much closer to the action.

Climbing the Story Bridge was suggested to me as a #30before30 challenge by a number of people, including Bayside Bob at, and the Adventure Climb crew very kindly let me join a twilight tour on Saturday 18 September.

The climbing tours run like a well-oiled machine: you arrive, sign an indemnity form, take a breathalyser test (to ensure you're under 0.05), then are lead to get kitted up with the regulation grey-and-blue overalls, a climbing belt, torch, radio – even a handkerchief or scrunchie should you need one.

Our guide is Matt, a tall, easy-going redhead who I discover is a teacher by day, but leads tours part-time because “it's fun”. Matt impresses me with his savant-like ability to remember people's names. He instantly memorises who his 12 climbers are. I have the urge to quiz him on how, as I'm terrible with names, but I keep quiet for the moment as we get rigged up and head out under the southern end of the bridge.

A 150-metre walk under the road starts the tour, surrounded by the construction on the new luxury apartments at the Yungaba site. Matt then shows us how to latch ourselves onto the safety line, to which we will remain connected throughout the entire climb. Two years and $2 million were spent setting up the climb route and safety features – and it shows. It's well designed and allows for maximum enjoyability, without becoming a hassle.

Something about hooking onto that line helped to calm my nerves as well started trekking up the first long flight of metal stairs onto the span. I don't suffer from vertigo, but I have been known to get ... nervous with heights, particularly when you're exposed to the elements and can see a hefty drop below you. But I find by keeping my eyes up, and a hand on the cord linking me to the safety line, that I can start to forget I'm somewhere up in space, and start to admire the view.

And what a view.

From the top platform, 80 metres up, Brisbane is your oyster. A slightly smoked oyster on this particular afternoon due to fires to the north, but nonetheless wonderful.

Matt takes our photos on the viewing platform, and we watch as the sun slowly sets in the west. Lights flicker on in buildings all around us, as well as on the bridge itself, bathing us in a warm orange glow. Matt points out Mt Gravatt to the south, the MacPherson Range to the south-west, the airport to the north-east and the Gateway Bridge and port to the east.

We walk down the eastern truss of the bridge, eventually coming to a crossing in the centre of the structure, just a few metres above the road.

One thing that strikes me as we stand in the middle of these great expanses of steel are the triangles. The Story Bridge is all triangles; the cross beams and supports are a maze of right-angle and equilateral shapes. It wasn't until I got on the damn thing that it clicked in my head just how many there are. I imagine it as one of those picture puzzles for kids where the goal is to count how many of a particular shape appears. I think I would go mad trying to count the number of triangles in the Story Bridge.

As the night cools, I'm grateful for my sweater. It's breezy but not windy on the bridge, and I don't feel unsafe, despite the oncoming cocoon of darkness.

The state government built the bridge in the 1930s as a Depression-era jobs creation project. The workers received three glasses of beer for lunch from the nearby Bulimba Beer factory as part of their payment. Despite this, it was only off the planned measurements by less than half a millimetre. It's testament to the skill of the designer, Queensland engineer John Bradfield, who'd been responsible for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Matt tells us he came out of retirement to design his dream cantilever bridge in his home town. The road underneath the bridge is known as the Bradfield Highway, and it's the shortest highway in Australia. Matt says this is only fitting, given Bradfield's stature.

The bridge was opened in July 1940, and named after John Douglas Story, a senior public servant who'd advocated for the bridge's construction. Initially it was a toll bridge, but patronage was poor. The state eventually sold the bridge to the Brisbane City Council for a song. They promptly took the toll off and traffic soared.

Matt points to the murky brown water below us, where the Clem7 tunnel lies buried in the rock. “It'll be interesting to see what happens with that”, he says, raising his eyebrows.

We climb up the western side to the viewing platform, where we pause for a final photograph. While waiting, I survey the towering high-rises of the CBD, the schmick apartments of Kangaroo Point below, and the character buildings of New Farm across the river. So many layers and changes from “big country town” to “New World City”. It's not an intimidating sight, but that's OK - it's Brisbane, it's a bit odd and patched together, but it's got its own laid-back charm.

At the end of tour, after de-kitting, Matt presents us each with a certificate of achievement, and tells us in total we climbed 1172 steps. I'd be happy to do it again. But someone else will have to count the triangles.

REMEMBER! If you're enjoying the 30before30 project, why not consider donating a few dollars via the secure PayPal button in the sidebar? Donations will be split 50/50 between the Australian Red Cross and the Brisbane Arts Theatre. Thanks in advance for your kindness!


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  3. Hey - I heard that the bridge climb guys are doing an Abseil Climb soon. Are you going to test it. You go first!