The six designs for Sydney Harbour Bridge that didn't make the cut

 The Sydney Harbour Bridge is a bona fide Australian icon – up there with Uluru, the Opera House, the Great Barrier Reef and John Farnham's mullet. But it could have looked very different. When a bridge was initially proposed in 1900, more than 70 designs were put forward and rejected. The government then continued to hold competitions until they saw something they liked and could afford – Dorman Long's now-famous design from 1924.

But had different choices been made – and some designs had been put forward long before the Government got serious about building a bridge - something rather unfamiliar would now be spanning the harbour. Researchers from Budget Direct Travel Insurance have trawled through the archives to find some of the proposed designs, and had six of them digitally rendered. Some are… interesting… to say the least.

The Dorman Long reject

Dorman Long hedged their bets somewhat, submitting seven tenders for the competition, and one of the ones heartily rejected was for a cantilever bridge with a centre span of 0.49km. This design had one key flaw – they had ignored the specifications, which stated that granite had to be used rather than precast concrete blocks.

It also has the problem of looking like every single cheap railway bridge crossing a creek in the middle of nowhere, just blown up to be unnecessarily big. Budget bush bridge is hardly the look required as an international showpiece.

The Peter Henderson early bird

The dullest of the six designs gets a let off because it was drawn up well before the others. Engineer Peter Henderson went for a total no frills approach in 1857. Amounting to little more than two masonry towers at either end and a charmless, straight strip of iron across the top. A 380 metre main span, plus two 135 metre side spans, and no frivolous adornment – Henderson was big into austere functionalism before its time.

The Robinson and Steinman hybrid

One of the designs put forward in the 1924 competition couldn't quite make up its mind on what sort of bridge it was. American architects Holton D Robinson and David B Steinman, on the behalf of the English Electric Company of Australia, based their design on am existing bridge in Mannheim, Germany. The main span would be a suspension 0.49km suspension bridge, but bolstered with a cantilever-style stiffening truss.

The judges were having none of it, though. The official report said: ""With the main cables barely visible and the wire rope suspenders invisible, the bridge would not have a pleasing outline, and the angularity due to the increase in depth of the stiffening truss at the quarter points and over the towers would detract from its appearance."

The McLintic Marshall spanner

American heavyweight, the McLintic Marshall Products Company, put in several tenders during the 1924 competition. Given their previous work – which included the George Washington Bridge,

Grand Central Building, the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and the Golden Gate Bridge in the US – they must have fancied their chances. But the design, which looked a little like a twin-headed snake made of triangulated metal beams, or an adjustable spanner closed tight at either end, was deemed not suitably harmonious for the setting.

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The Francis Ernest Stowe three way

The most radically different proposal came from Parramatta-based engineer Francis Ernest Stowe, who in 1922 decided that just one bridge was too unambitious. His proposal was to put a 152m-high central tower on Goat Island, which would be renamed "Anzac Island". The tower would also be a war memorial, but the connection point for bridges coming from Balmain, Millers Point and Balls Head. This, he reasoned, would avoid the destruction of much of North Sydney. The Government decided the destruction of much of North Sydney was preferable, however.

The Norman Selfe triple arch

Imagine, instead of having one Sydney Harbour Bridge, you could have three fun-sized versions? That's what Norman Selfe seemingly had in mind when he put forward his triple-arched design for a bridge across the harbour. Selfe had several pops at designing the bridge, coming second in a 1900 contest, then winning in 1902. But an economic slowdown meant the bridge was never built, and Selfe didn't get his £20,000 prize. He did do plenty of other engineering work around Sydney, however, and the suburb of Normanhurst is named in his honour.

But are any of the designs more popular than the one we've got? Budget Direct decided to show 1,000 Australians the images and see which they preferred. The winner of the poll was, somewhat predictably, the existing bridge, taking a whopping 61.8% of the vote. Selfe's Loch Ness monster-esque triple arch affair came second with 10.4%, and Dorman Long's fairly generic cantilever inexplicably beat Stowe's three way flight of fancy to take third place.

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See also: Twenty things that shock first-time visitors to Australia

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