Fred is nervously shaking me awake. "Wakey wakey..." he says gently, tsp ping my shoulder. Soon he realizes this doesn't work and yells "OI GET UP!", beating a hasty retreat as pillows and books fly at his head. "We are going to be late," he says, muffled, from inside the wardrobe. "But you can't shower."
"No hot water, the tank is broken."
That explains why it is so frigid in the house - I shuffle to the bathroom still wrapped in the duvet, under which I am wearing tracksuit bottoms and a hoodie. Turning on the TV, we find that Sydney has had it's coldest spell for 50 years and the temperature is around 2 degrees.
"Wouldn't be so cold if they knew what a radiator was," Fred grumbles.
We are on an early ferry for our customary City Extra breakfast before setting of into the depths of the Rocks to find the Bridge Climb. Yes, folks: today a small ranga* and a large, vertigo-stricken sheep will ascend to the top of the arch on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 156m about the water. On arrival we are escorted through a door ominously marked "gate 2" and kitted out fully for our climb - boiler suits, safety harnesses, radios, gloves, hats and lines to keep us attached to the bridge should we fall off the edge. The whole process takes about 30 minutes but finally we are stood on the threshold, looking out over hundreds of steel girders with our guide, Dee.
The first walkway is nothing more than a grate with rails, suspended about 40m above the roads with what Fred identifies slightly hysterically as "string". It isn't string of course, it is high tension wire hung from the girders. Dee explains that the bridge is heritage lists and technically belongs to the Road Transport Authority, or RTA. "We aren't allowed to make any changes to the steel whatsoever - hence the wires." Bridge Climb lease the rights to take people up the bridge from the RTA for $200 million for twenty years. "We've paid off $20m so far, so there's a long way to go."
As we pass under the first sector, Dee tells us about what the Rocks used to be - "basically a sailor's paradise, brothels upstairs, opium dens in every house and pubs on every corner. It's changed a lot since then." A pause. "Well... No opium any more." She also tells the story of the time when the Black Death came to Sydney - the first place it hit was the rocks. The government acted quickly, buying up all the land underneath where the bridge now stands as quarantine and building a fence to separate the healthy and the sick. All the houses in the quarantine were burned - many with people still in them. Those that weren't burned were otherwise disposed of and parliament hailed as heroes - the plague had been eradicated. The government however had other plans for that land - for years they had need a site to build a bridge from the south shore to the north and now, they had it.
We climb four sets of steep ladders up between the lanes of traffic on the bridge and onto the bottom of the arch and begin to walk, Dee talking on our radios about construction. The bridge took eight years to build and was designed by a London firm - their name is still stamped on the steel in some places. Despite the time and all the risks the workers took, only 16 men died during construction. The sides were built first, then the arch was levered into place by gigantic barge cranes on the harbour, operated entirely by steam. To achieve this there would be men inside the barges, forty-degree Australian summers outside and furnaces inside, shovelling coal for twelve hours. If they wanted to eat, they fried eggs and bacon on their shovels. If they wanted to go to the toilet, they either had a whizz in the corner or did their business on the shovel again before tossing it overboard. Not the same shovels they used for cooking, I hope.
Dee describes how the rivets in the centre of the arch were placed - one man would heat up a rivet until it glowed red, while another walked out onto the sloping steel braces, nicknamed "Stairways to heaven" by the workers. No ropes, no nets, no nothing. He would also be carrying a bucket full of water and a pair of tongs and when the rivet was hot enough the first man would remove it from the oven and throw it out to the other who would catch it with the bucket and quickly remove it to hammer it into place. This had to be done while the rivet was still hot as when it cooled it expanded, becoming useless. After hammering it into the drilled holes, the whole process would be start again.
We also hear about the only man ever to survive a fall from the bridge - Vincent Kelly. No relation to Ned. He slipped and fell off while checking rivets - he survived by turning his body, covering his eyes and ears and forming a pin drop into the water. His boots practically disintegrated and when they pulled him from the harbour they had to cut off the leather from around his thighs where the force of the water had pushed it. He survived with only three broken ribs and lived to a great age, only expiring in 1990. By the time the bridge was finished in 1923 it weighed 53,000 tonnes - actually a lot less than the other famous Sydney landmark, the Opera House, which weighs in at 161,000 tonnes.
Asa we reach the summit, Dee tells us another famous story - the one of the bridge opening. The Premier of New South Wales, Jack Lang, was due to cut the ribbon after a short speech but something else came along first. This "something else" was a man named Francis De Groot, a dutch WWI veteran who was of the belief that only the Royal Family should be allowed to cut the ribbon. Dressed in his full uniform he rode through the crowd who parted with cheers, believing him to be part of the show, even past policemen who also cheered. He rode right up to the ribbon and the premier and drew his sword, and shouting "I declare this bridge open in the name of the people of New South Wales!" he sliced the ribbon in two with his sword. At Lang's swift and purple-faced insistence he was dragged off his horse, arrested and fined but many people didn't know he wasn't meant to be part of the proceedings until the newspapers landed on their doorstep the next day. Lang hade retied the ribbon and re-cut it, but to this day Francis is the person most known for opening the bridge.
As we make our way back down we are told about more modern aspects of Sydney - John Travolta's house in Lavender Bay is pointed out and it is easy to spot as he has turned the roof of the place underneath into his lawn. Across the water in very posh-looking wharf flats live Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe. We hear a little more about the harbour itself and why there are so many diving boats - at a depth of 60m the harbour holds over 800 shipwrecks. As we descend the ladders once more we are windswept, cold and feeling very invigorated.
Another late lunch is spent in the Rocks at Vintage Cafe, whose food is as good as ever. We also stop off at Woolworths as I have the job of cooking tonight... It turns out alright, for once, and everyone goes to bed happy.
- ranga - short for orang-utan, used extensively in Australia to refer to ginger people.