Today, millions of people cross the Sydney Harbour Bridge each year. It is one of the main ways we have of crossing the beautiful Sydney Harbour from one shore to the other, and its existence is so much a part of life for Sydneysiders that few of us stop to consider how people crossed the Harbour before the Bridge was built, let alone how people moved their vehicles from one side to the other!
Before the Harbour Bridge, there were two ways of moving vehicles from one side of the Harbour to the other. One was to head inland to Bedlam Point and use the punt which crossed the relatively small distance of water, and the other was to use one of the horse ferries operating on the harbour itself, like the one shown in this postcard (posted in 1908).
Today, when we think of a vehicular ferry, we assume that it will operate with a cable, but this was completely impractical for the harbour. The distance between the shores was too great for a cable and there were too many ships which went beyond the ferry point for a cable ferry to be serviceable. As a result, steam ferries tended to be used, ferrying passengers, horses, livestock, carts, and various other vehicles between Dawes Point, Blues Point and Bennelong Point for a fee. Each different type of passenger or vehicle had a different fee attached, and there was even a fee for a ‘Chinaman with two baskets’
When the Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 there was no longer any need for the ferries and the wharves were demolished and the boats put to other use. The remains of only one of the horse ferry wharves can still be seen, off Hickson Road in the Rocks.