Monday, 9 June 2014

A Town Forgotten - family links to construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge is an Australian landmark that it familiar to us all. Recently that I discovered an interesting story behind huge granite pylons that support the Bridge.  A couple of weeks ago a cousin sent me some old family pictures of “Granite Town”.  Granite Town?  Where is that I asked?  I had never heard of it before!

Map of Granite Town
Imagine my surprise when he advised me that it was a small town that was sent up in the 1920’s near Moruya for men and families who worked at the local Granite Quarry, cutting the granite blocks for the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  The Town was established around 1924 and then due to the economic climate with the onset of the depression in 1930-1 and the completion of the Sydney Harbour Bridge the town virtually closed down overnight around 1932. 

It was time to do some background digging to find out more about this industry and the town that would have featured and influenced our family members during this period of history.  The story is fascinating!! My cousin’s grandfather was the foreman of the group of carpenters who worked at Granite town and he was responsible for the building of the homes for the families and the single men’s quarters in Granite Town.

So today I thought I would share with you the story of the town that came and went in the space of around eight years.  However, in this short time this town played such an important part in the building of one of Australia’s best known icons.

Granite town was established on the outskirts of Moruya on the south coast of New South Wales, on the
Crane positioning huge blocks of Granite 
northern bank of the Moruya River in close proximity to the very large granite quarry that had provided large amounts of granite for buildings in Sydney and was to provide the enormous quantities of granite that would be needed for the construction of the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The quarry opened in 1876 and had produced stone for many Sydney landmarks such as the Base of the Captain Cook statue in Hyde Park, The General Post Office in Martin Place and the Sydney Head Office of the Bank of New South Wales.

When Dorman, Long and Co. Ltd won the contract to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the quarry at Moruya was identified as the best source of granite for the construction of the pylons.  Dorman, Long and Co. Ltd were given free access to the quarry which was on crown land.* The Company wasted no time in establishing a model township, which was called “Granite Town” in close proximity to the quarry.  Wooden bungalows were built to house the families and living quarters were built to house the single men.   Included in the building program was a Co-operative store, school for the children of the community and a social hall. 

The opportunity of employment for skilled workers attracted a large number of immigrant workers from Scotland and Italy, with between 250-280 men on the payroll.  The families settled into Granite Town, bringing with them a certain amount of prosperity to the Moruya district. 
Huge blocks of granite were blasted from the quarry, some of them up to 1500 tons in weight.  The blocks were cut and reduced to manageable sizes and then taken either to the workshops for cutting into blocks for construction or to the stone crusher.   As reported in the Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal, “Great blocks of stone up to 18ft thick are being split into symmetric form by men who understand the grains of granite as well as wood workers understand the grains of timber.”** Once these blocks were cut they were shipped along the Moruya River and up to Sydney to the bridge construction site. The quarry produced 18,000 cubic metres of dimension stone for the bridge pylons, 173,000 blocks, and 200, 000 yards of crushed stone that was used as aggregate for Concrete.

The wooden bungalows that families of Granite Town lived in.
A little about the town itself, by 1926, 67 cottages had been constructed for the families and the single men shared a large bachelor’s quarters on the southern side of the township.   Rent was very reasonable at 9 to 11 shillings a week and the families established their own flower and vegetable gardens. A post-office and store were established and then later on the 29 September 1926 the small school for 66 pupils was opened.

Granite town was also renowned for its sporting teams, with the men and their families playing in the local tennis, cricket and football teams.  Soon after the establishment of the town, A Caledonian Society was formed and they organised Friday night dances in the local hall.  These dances helped the people from Granite town to mix with the locals who joined in these events, enthusiastically, learning and participating in the traditional Scottish dances. ***
Sadly, the decline of Granite town was almost as rapid as its establishment.  By 1931 the Sydney Harbour Bridge was near completion and there was no further need for granite from the quarry.  Many of the families returned to Scotland, and others moved on to try and find employment elsewhere.

An article in the South Coast Times records this demise:

“MORUYA, Silence reigns supreme a Granite Town (says the “Moruya Examiner”). What was a few weeks ago a hive of industry is now as quiet as the proverbial mouse.  Nearly all the families have taken their departure, and huge machinery has been dismantled, sheds demolished, and all tools of the trade laid aside and the once busy quarry works of Dorman, Long and Co. is now a scene of desolation.  The acting manager, Mr McLean, and a few other officials will remain on until everything is cleaned up.  It is indeed sad to witness the demolition of the splendid works that were such a valuable asset to our district”.****

It is hard to fathom how a thriving community that had played such an important part in the building of one of our icons disappeared and was forgotten so quickly! 
*          Neilson, S. (1988), Granite Town - Moruya River, A Chronicle of the Almost Forgotten People Who Quarried for the Sydney Harbour Bridge., viewed 9 June 2014.
**     QUARRY TOWN. (1926, June 25). The Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal (NSW : 1888 - 1954), p. 4. Retrieved June 9, 2014, from 
***   Colefax, A.V., 1997, Moruya's Golden Years, Moruya & District Historical Society Inc.
****  'SMALL TOWN'S EXISTENCE (1931).', Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 - 1954), 9 May, p. 9, viewed 9 June, 2014,

Pictures are from the NSW State Records Photographic Collection on Flicker,
 Other Resources: 
Webberley, R. 2003, Granite Town Memories, Moruya & District Historical Society Inc.
Greig, C. 1993/1998, Not Forgotten, Memorials in Granite, Published by Helen Grieg, Eurobodalla Copy & Print.


  1. This is a fascinating read! Great research.

  2. A very interesting p/piece of research linking local and family history..

  3. I just love it when I can link a historical event to my family's history. You've done a wonderful job telling just such a story.

  4. Thanks all for kind comments, I really enjoyed researching this story, as I hadn't heard of this town until a few weeks ago. There is always something new out there


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