Saturday, 19 March 1932, the day of the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, one of the most significant occasions in the history of the city of Sydney. The public mood, however, was apprehensive more than it was festive. As one senior journalist later reflected, ‘the city was jumpy, jumpy as I’ve never known it since’. For one thing, the leader of the right-wing New Guard had vowed that Premier Lang would not open the Bridge. The police and security authorities were concerned that the New Guard might kidnap the premier, and stage a coup d’etat. All eyes scanned the horizon, awaiting the approach of an angry right-wing mob.
Into these confused and tense circumstances rode a lone horseman, wielding an ex-cavalry sword. He was Captain Francis De Groot, a former Hussar and Irishman- also a senior member of the New Guard. Slashing the ribbon with his sword he declared the Sydney Harbour Bridge open ‘in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales’.
Relying upon hitherto unused archival material, as well as manuscripts found in Ireland, Andrew Moore tells the story of the Bridge opening in all its colourful detail. This sheds fresh light on the bizarre circumstances that had brought New South Wales to the brink of civil war.
Irish Fascist. Australian Legend is also the first biography to be published of Francis De Groot. The handsome, enigmatic Irishman grew up in Dublin, a member of an elite Irish Huguenot family. Prior to World War One he worked as a merchant seaman, coal lumper and antique dealer. After serving on the Western Front, he returned to Sydney to manufacture reproduction furniture of the finest quality.
Captain De Groot became part of Australian folklore for his part in the Harbour Bridge opening. Yet, through furniture and antiques, his contribution to the cultural life of his adopted city and country was as profound as his celebrated role in opening Sydney’s famous ‘Coathanger’.
Shortlisted for THE STATE RECORDS NSW – JOHN AND PATRICIA WARD HISTORY PRIZE 2006 (New South Wales Premier’ s History Awards).
A NSW Sesquicentenary of Responsible Government publication.