Warning: This resource may contain references to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may have passed away.

Australia in the 1930s

Sydney Harbor Bridge

In 1932, the Sydney Harbor Bridge opened 29 years after construction had commenced. The two sides of Sydney were connected by rail, road and pedestrian thoroughfares. It was a largest single-arch steel bridge in the world and was designed by railway engineer John Bradfield. The arch reaches 134 metres above the harbour, with 49 metres clearance below its deck to enable ships to pass underneath. The £4.2 million construction cost was not paid off until 1988.

Coming at the height of the political and social tensions of the Great Depression, the planned bridge opening by premier Jack Lang was strongly opposed by members of the New Guard (a right-wing paramilitary organisation) that had declared Lang to be a threat to society. At the official opening ceremony, a New Guard member, Francis De Groot, unexpectedly rode forward on a horse to beat Jack Lang in cutting the ribbon and declaring the bridge open.

The New Guard was formed in Sydney in February 1931 by Eric Campbell, a veteran from the First World War. The aim of the New Guard was to defend the British monarchy and the British Empire and to support conservative governments throughout Australia. They were to suppress disloyal and immoral elements in government, industrial and social circles. In addition they were to maintain the full liberty of the individual. At its height, the New Guard had a membership of more than 50,000.

Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction

A snapshot of 1938

  • January
    • The first national conference of Indigenous Australians was held at the Australian Hall, Sydney, to mark a 'Day of Mourning' and protest during the 150th Australia Day anniversary of colonial settlement. The conference was initiated by William Cooper, founder of the Australian Aborigines League (AAL), and The Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), led by William Ferguson, and Jack Patten. Participants called for Aboriginal land and citizenship rights.

  • March
    • Xavier Herbert won the Commonwealth sesquicentennial (150 years) literary prize for his novel Capricornia.
    • Daisy Bates (1863-1951), a social worker in Aboriginal communities and an anthropologist, published her book The Passing of the Aborigines.
    • Many of Bates's views and stories were sensationalist and incorrect, and many Aboriginal people indicated ambivalence about her and her work.

  • July
    • All exports of iron ore from Australia to Japan were suspended as Japan was seen as militaristic.

  • December
    • The federal government announced that refugees from (Nazi) Germany were to be relocated in Australia.
    • A direct radio–telephone link was set up between Canberra and Washington as a sign of closer US–Australian government cooperation.
    • Albert Namatjira, an Indigenous artist, held his first exhibition of paintings in Melbourne. All 41 pieces sold within three days of the opening.


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