The Great Arch by Vicki Hastrich is my next book in the A-Z Book Challenge. This is one I chose from the library.
This is a novel that has been inspired by historical events and people from history. I know I will never look at the bridge again in the same light after reading this novel. The book tells the story of the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge viewed through the eyes of the minister of a church on the edge of the northern approach to the bridge. This minister is enamoured by the bridge and his passion becomes all consuming. He incorporates the bridge building into his sermons as he wants his congregation to be similarly rapt. The novel also shows the social history of the time and how the importance of the church in society was slowly starting to fade.
The story is told by the minister, who is now bed-ridden with a stroke, as he goes back over the years he loved best. The novel is interspersed with Coroner’s Reports on the deaths of workers on the bridge – a telling reminder of how difficult the conditions were in building the bridge. There are also pictures and diagrams and extracts from newspapers. A small sub plot about the nine year old boy Lennie Gwideer, who travelled on his horse Ginger Mick 900miles from Leongatha to Sydney to see the opening of the Harbour Bridge, was based on the true character Lennie Gwyther. (There is a children’s book about his ride at this link.) I really liked this part as he was travelling through the part of the country that I am now living in and mention is made of Bairnsdale, Orbost, Maffra etc.
Taken from the cover of the book.. .
‘In 1924 the planned and long-awaited Sydney Harbour Bridge represents an impossible ideal – to span the great waters of the harbour and take the war-scarred nation into a dazzling future. No one is more enthusiastic than Reverend Ralph Anderson Cage of Lavender Bay, whose imagination is seized by the scale of this thoroughly modern vision. Inspired by true people and events, and as open and colossal as the bridge itself, Vicki Hastrich’s deeply moving novel links two centuries, two world wars and two generations. By turns wickedly funny and breathtakingly poetic, this is the story of an ordinary man, and an ordinary life, made grand.’
The Bridge is such a central part of Sydney culture today, this would be a great book to include in the teaching of Australian history.