JOHN JOB CREW BRADFIELD
Dr. John Jacob "Job" Crew Bradfield CMG was a prominent Australian engineer who is best known for his work overseeing the design and building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Bradfield was associated with a great range of engineering work including the Cataract Dam near Sydney and the Burrinjuck Dam which formed part of the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. In January 1909 he was promoted assistant engineer at a salary of £400. He had worked on some important projects, but he was not his own master. In August 1910 he applied for the foundation chair of engineering in the new University of Queensland, but was unsuccessful despite twenty-two testimonials from senior public servants, academics, engineers and architects such as Norman Selfe, (Sir) George Knibbs, (Sir) Edgeworth David, Robert Irvine and (Sir) John Sulman.
In February 1912 in evidence to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works Bradfield proposed a suspension bridge to connect Sydney and North Sydney, but in April also submitted a cantilever design. Next year the committee recommended acceptance of his scheme for construction of a cantilever bridge from Dawes Point to Milsons Point. In 1913 his title was changed to chief engineer for metropolitan railway construction.
In October 1913, with J. D. Fitzgerald and Sulman, Bradfield had attended the inaugural meeting of the Town Planning Association of New South Wales; at the first Australian Town Planning Conference and Exhibition held in Adelaide in October 1917, he argued in his paper, 'The transit problems of greater Sydney', that his scheme of suburban electrification would benefit large property owners, new home purchasers and the general public by opening up new land, with quicker transport and cheaper fares. He predicted that Sydney's population would reach at least 2,226,000 by 1950. Bradfield maintained—apparently without reprimand from government—an extraordinary barrage of articles and public addresses advocating his plan.
In March 1922 he was sent overseas to inquire into tenders for a cantilever bridge. Later that year the Harbour Bridge Act was carried; Bradfield had advised R. T. Ball to amend the bill to provide for either a cantilever or an arch bridge, according to his specifications, as developments in light steel made the latter possible. In 1924 he recommended that the government should accept the tender of Dorman Long & Co. of Middlesbrough, England.
During this extended period of public and parliamentary exposure Bradfield's expertise was never questioned. But in 1929 controversy flared over who really designed the bridge, inspired by a series of articles in the Sydney Morning Herald by (Sir) Ralph Freeman (1880-1950), consulting engineer to Dorman Long, who was described by the Herald as 'the designer' of the bridge and who conveyed the same impression in his articles. Ball, now minister for lands, said it was difficult to determine what was really meant by the term 'designer'; he would describe the bridge as a Bradfield-Dorman Long design.
E. A. Buttenshaw called for a report on the matter from Bradfield, who wrote, 'I originated the cantilever bridge design recommended by the public works committee in 1913 and subsequently the arch bridge design of 1650 feet span'; he went on to say Freeman was not the designer and that tenders were called on his own design. The controversy was never finally resolved, but when Bradfield retired in 1933, the director of public works stated that Bradfield was the designer of the bridge and that 'no other person by any stretch of imagination, can claim that distinction'. However, modifications had been made to the design after Freeman's visit in 1926, and in 1932 Dorman Long threatened to sue the government if it erected a plaque naming Bradfield as the designer. One informed view was that the 'detail design was entrusted to Lawrence Ennis who became first Honorary Member of the Institution [of Engineers, Australia] in 1932'. Professor Crawford Munro also considered that Bradfield 'did not design the Sydney Harbour Bridge which we now behold'.
In 1934 Bradfield was appointed consulting engineer for the design, fabrication and construction of a bridge and approaches across the Brisbane River from Kangaroo Point to Bowen Terrace. The Story Bridge was a symmetrical cantilever of 1463 ft (446 m) in length, with a clear span of 924 ft (282 m); construction began in 1935 and the bridge was opened in 1940. He was also technical adviser to the constructors of the Hornibrook Highway near Brisbane and helped to plan and design the University of Queensland's new site at St Lucia; the university admitted him to an ad eund. doctorate of engineering in 1935.
Although in most respects severely pragmatic, Bradfield had a penchant for the grandiose that was revealed in some of his wilder plans for high-rise office blocks astride the southern approaches of the Harbour Bridge and in his proposals for a massive water-diversion scheme in Queensland. In his early seventies he put considerable time and energy into publicizing a plan to irrigate the western districts of Queensland and part of Central Australia by damming certain coastal rivers and running water-pipes through the Great Dividing Range. Aspects of this scheme, and especially his lack of scientific evidence, were publicly attacked by G. W. Leeper of the school of agricultural science at the University of Melbourne.
Bradfield regularly attended St John's Church of England, Gordon, and was a keen gardener. He died at his home at Gordon on 23 September 1943 and was buried in St John's cemetery; a memorial service was held at St Andrew's Cathedral. He was survived by his wife, five sons and a daughter; his youngest son Keith inherited his father's interest in aviation and was assistant director general, Department of Civil Aviation, in 1957-68. Bradfield's estate was valued for probate at £13,843: his salary had been 'by no means commensurate' with his importance. A portrait by F. W. Leist is at the University of Sydney, and others by Gerard Nathan and Joseph Wolinski are held by descendants.
Clancy's comment: What an extraordinary construction it was for the time. By the way, the Sydney Harbour Bridge is known in Australia as 'The coat hanger'.