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John Bradfield

Born in 1897, John Bradfield is one of Australia’s most renowned engineers. Throughout his life Mr Bradfield made significant contributions to improving city planning and accommodation population growth. His impact on Australia, particularly the Sydney we know now is profound. Mr Bradfield is known as a founding father in engineering, and was an original member of the Standards Australia Main Committee established 100 years ago

Mr Bradfield was born 26 December 1867 in Sandgate, Brisbane. He excelled in academics, gaining a medal for chemistry in the Sydney senior public examination in 1885. Mr Bradfield graduated from Ipswich Grammar School as Dux and attended the University of Sydney in 1886. He would then go on to Study at St Andrew’s College, graduating with a University Gold Medal in the Bachelor of Engineering in 1889.

Mr Bradfield began his impressive engineering career as a draftsman under the chief railways engineer in Brisbane. In 1891 he would join the NSW Department of Public Works where he would stay for the majority of his career, becoming a permanent employee in 1895. That same year, he founded the Sydney University Engineering Society, where he served as President from 1902 to 1903 and 1919 to 1920.

In 1896, he earned a Master of Engineering with first class honours and the University Medal.

Mr Bradfield is perhaps best known for his work on the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Mr Bradfield lobbied the community and Government for the Bridge for a number of years, as he believed the Bridge should be more than a road across the harbour. Bradfield advocated for a design that would unite communities, boost the economy and future-proof the city.

When the bridge was opened on 19th March, 1932, he was a member of the official party and the governor Sir Philip Game named the bridge highway after him. The Bradfield Highway, encompasses the main roadway section of the bridge and its approaches.

It is important to highlight that although he is most recognised for his role in the construction of the Harbour Bridge and underground railway system, Mr Bradfield was involved in a diverse range of engineering projects that we rely upon even today, including the construction of the Cataract Dam near Sydney and the Burrinjuck Dam which was part of the larger scale Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area.  

Sydney’s St James and Museum Stations, remain proof of his vision of a rail system that is the heart of the city, connecting millions of people and making things more accessible for all.

By mid-1923, as preparations were made to begin construction of the underground railway, it became apparent to the public, how exceptional and innovative Mr Bradfield’s ideas were to city planning and growth.  In 1924, he was awarded a Doctor of Science in engineering by the University of Sydney for his thesis ‘The city and suburban electric railways and the Sydney Harbour Bridge’. This was the first award of this kind made by the University.

Mr Bradfield was also instrumental in the design and construction of Brisbane city, including the Story Bridge in Brisbane in 1935, the Hornibrook Highway and the University of Queensland’s new site at St Lucia.

He was also a founder of the Institution of Engineers Australia. As a councillor in 1920 to 1924 and 1927 he represented the Institution on the Australian Commonwealth Standards Association, playing a leading role in the standardisation of electrical wiring and civil construction that have been relevant to modern standardisation within that industry.

On October 12, 1922, John Bradfield, then Chief Engineer for Metropolitan Railway Construction, was named in the official Commonwealth of Australia Gazette as a member of the Main Committee of the newly formed Australian Commonwealth Engineering Standards Association (ACESA), today known as Standards Australia, joining other industry leaders such as Sir George Knibbs, Sir George Julius, Senator John Millen and Essington Lewis. The Main Committee was responsible for oversight of all other committees, including electrical, rail, paint, cement and steel, of which Bradfield would have had considerable expertise.

In 1932, Mr Bradfield was awarded the P N Russell Medal by the Institute of Engineers Australia, the W C Memorial Medal by the University of Melbourne in 1933 and the Telford Gold Medal of the Institution of Civil Engineers London in 1934.

His legacy as the ‘father of modern Sydney’ is witnessed by Australians everyday whether they know it or not.

In March 2021, it was announced by the NSW government that a new city centre would be named after Mr Bradfield to honour his work and commitment to the city.

“John Bradfield’s career is nothing short of inspirational. His work continues to positively benefit Australians to this day, almost 100 years after construction. As a founding father in engineering, and an original member of the Main Committee established 100 years ago, it would be remiss not to include him as an early trailblazer”, said Adrian O’Connell, Chief Executive Officer of Standards Australia.