Everyone in Australia knows John Bradfield. He designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Brisbane’s Story Bridge to be one of the country’s greatest engineers. For almost one hundred years his name has been commemorated but it shouldn’t have just been him. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.
Bradfield’s name is immortalised by the Bradfield Highway that goes across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and also by the other Bradfield Highway that crosses the Story Bridge which is in fact the shortest highway in Australia.
He’s also recalled by the unbuilt irrigation project called the Bradfield Scheme to divert North Queensland rivers into western Queensland. Ironically, the Bradfield Bridge in Ipswich is a bridge that wasn’t designed by him but bears his name none the less, and there’s a Bradfield Street in Brighton which isn’t where he was born but a neighboring suburb.
John Bradfield was born in Sandgate in Brisbane in 1867 and grew up in the nearby city of Ipswich.
His family lived on Brisbane Street in West Ipswich, he went to the North Ipswich State School and then he got a scholarship to Ipswich Grammar School in 1880. He was dux of the school which launched his career at the University of Sydney, when there wasn’t yet a university in Queensland, to become one of Australia’s greatest and most famous engineers.
But while the name Bradfield has been attached to so many places, it shouldn’t be John Bradfield who its all named after.
His father John Bradfield Senior was a Crimean War veteran who arrived with his wife Maria and older children in Brisbane from England in 1857.
The family eventually went to Ipswich where they settled at North Ipswich. John Senior set up business as a blacksmith, and later moved to Churchill in West Ipswich where he died in 1902 and his wife in 1917.
Bradfield’s brother Richard was a blacksmith in North Ipswich and then at Moore in the Brisbane Valley where he shot the red deer that ran wild. They had been given to Queensland in 1873 by Queen Victoria from her Windsor Castle park in celebration of the colony being named in her honour.
Bradfield family members also lived as broadly as Sydney, Lara, Cairns, Esk, Rosewood, Bundamba and all over Ipswich.
Bradfield’s older sister Mary Maria Bradfield was the first of the family born in Australia in 1857.
She became a schoolteacher and from 1878 taught at Middle Ipswich State School, as well as at Middle Toowoomba, South Toowoomba, and North Toowoomba.
Mary became very sick but continued to teach far too long for her own good, and, in fact, almost died at her post. She was granted a leave of absence but was never able to return, and tragically she died of tuberculosis at the family home in Ipswich in 1884. Mary was just twenty-seven years old.
Mary never got to see her younger brother become dux of Ipswich Grammar and Australia’s greatest engineer.
And that’s the biggest shame, because it was Mary who was responsible for her brother getting his scholarship to Ipswich Grammar which resulted in his top-class education.
If it wasn’t for Mary, her brother may have followed his father and brother into the blacksmithing business. His engineering achievements quite possibly would never have happened.
So whenever you see the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Story Bridge, and the Bradfield Bridge in Ipswich, we should think of – not just John Bradfield – but also his sister Mary Bradfield who died so young.
This month is Women’s History Month so it’s fair enough that we should now remember Mary and her remarkable contribution to Australian engineering.
CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO A VERSION OF THIS STORY TOLD LIVE ON WEST BREMER RADIO.
Sydney Harbour Bridge 2012 – my own
Story Bridge at night video 2021 – my own
John Bradfield riding the first test train across the bridge on 19 January 1932 – State Records of New South Wales
John Job Crew Bradfield graduating as a civil engineer University of Sydney 1886 – Ipswich City Council
Richard John Edward Bradfield with stuffed stag heads 1920s – Ipswich City Council
Mary Maria Bradfield sister of John Job Crew Bradfield c1880 – Ipswich City Council