May 11, 2021

The Cats of Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge is one of the world's most iconic landmarks; a depression era monument now famous for its annual New Years Eve fireworks. At one time, it was home to a lot of cats.

Hell's Gate Bridge, New York.

The bridge was designed by Scottish architectural firm John Burnet & Partners, who modelled it on the Hell's Gate Railway Bridge in New York. Built across the years 1923 - 1932, at the then staggering cost of 6.25 million pounds, the bridge's construction required an army of engineers and workers.

It is one of the largest construction projects ever undertaken in Australia.

Sydney Harbour Bridge under construction.

The bridge's design provided for two pairs of stone pylons; one pair on each bank of Sydney Harbour. These were mainly to support the bridge's arch, but were sturdy enough that they were left largely hollow, and so could be used for secondary purposes.

In 1934, small time entrepreneur named Archer Whitford successfully leased the south east pylon from the State Government. Whitford turned the unused space into a combination museum and funhouse, installing a modern electric lift and a varied array of attractions:

'I fitted up an aboriginal museum, a photographic gallery, a café, a camera obscura, and other sideshows. A reading room and writing room were equipped. I converted one room into a Buddhist Temple, and in another we produced a daily newspaper.'


-Archer Whitford

Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II meant that Whitford lost his venue. The military took over the pylons for the duration of the conflict, installing guard towers and anti aircraft guns. All civilian access to the pylons was restricted until the war was over.

Yvonne Rentoul

After the war, an ex-servicewoman named Yvonne Rentoul would restore the south east pylon. Renaming it 'The All Australian Exhibition', Rentoul didn't stray too far from Whitford's successful formula; dioramas, sideshows, a lookout platform and a souvenir shop were all reinstalled.

Viewing platform at Rentoul's museum, 1948.

But one area where Rentoul did differ from her predecessor was her love of cats.

And she turned this into a new attraction at the pylon, installing a cattery on the roof and keeping 2-3 felines there at all times. Not that Rentoul left her pets in their cage all the time. In fact, the cats were free to wander about during the day, and were usually only secured at night.

George the cat, enjoys the heights.

It became relatively common to see them perched on a precarious girder, or standing calmly on the edge of a viewing platform.

The cats, and Rentoul, stayed until her long term lease expired in 1971, after which she retired.

She took her cats with her and the pylon is now used for a more official, and somewhat stuffier, museum detailing the bridge's construction.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: