We're standing on top of the highest point of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and I am exhilarated, imagining it is opening day March 19, 1932. My 18-year-old son meanwhile has vertigo and can't bring himself to look down at the cars on the Bradfield Highway; which from up here look the size of ants.
It's surprising given he raced up the ladders as we began the climb, ambling like a monkey happily enjoying the view of the water. It's just looking down on the cars that triggered his vertigo.
So as we cross the passage between the two flags on the very top, past the giant winking red light nicknamed "Blinky Bill", we develop a mantra for the climb that is to celebrate his 18th birthday, to mark his own crossing the threshold into adulthood.
"Whatever you do, don't look down."
I find it ironic he should be so fearful when we make it to the western side and see Luna Park, and we both recall all those childhood years he braved amusement park rides like the Wild Mouse. He'd be wide-eyed and squealing with joy while I was closed-eyed and gripping on in white-knuckled fear. But I'm not at all fearful on the highest point of the bridge. So our rule henceforth is to look out, not down. Which maybe a good metaphor in coronavirus times.
Although you can now traverse the entire 504 metre span of the arch, for me the real deal is right at the top surveying all of Sydney you can see. I'd never seen my home city in all its glory from 134 metres above sea level atop the coathanger before.
I imagined how it must have been for my North Sydney-born uncle Harold, who had watched the bridge being built and illegally climbed to the very point where we stood, on opening day 1932. Along with a group of athletic friends, my then 20-year-old uncle snuck up the pylon before daylight (in an era before heavy-handed security) and scaled the 28-panel arch trusses to the top. As an 18-year-old, he'd watched the two halves of the arch touch for the first time on August 19, 1930, from the Manly ferry. He vowed to be there with his mates on opening day.
This is how he came to have a bird's eye view of a colourful chapter of Sydney history. He had a friend working at jeweller's Angus & Coote, the company specially commissioned to make the opal-studded gold-plated scissors to be used in the ceremonial ribbon cutting to mark the official opening of the Bridge. The pair was hoping to glimpse Premier Jack Lang use them for this historic moment.
Instead Captain Francis De Groot, a swashbuckling swordsman on a horse, stole his thunder, slashing the ribbon and giving my uncle a story he told for the rest of his life.
I'm trying to explain this to my son from on high but he can't stop thinking about the cars and trains zooming below us. Instead we take stock of all we can see around us. From North Head to South Head, from the Blue Mountains to the Opera House, from city skyscrapers to Kelly's Bush, the stretch of bushland which stands like a sentinel to the Green bans era. The harbour is abuzz with craft, and we plot their paths from the Manly ferry to a luxury cruiser. There is so much to take in all around I could stay here all day and not be bored.
"Look at the Glebe Island Bridge," I proclaim from on high to my son.
"Where?" he asks: "I can only see the Anzac Bridge."
Same bridge, two names, an old and a new. I realise we have the same view but are looking at different Sydneys. Mine has an ancient history, his more recent.
In his era the revolver-shaped Barangaroo Crown Casino is now the city's tallest building. We notice it dwarfs the AWA Tower which was the highest point in my mother's formative years, and Australia Square, the tallest structure of my childhood.
From above we can observe the evolution of our city. And as we climb back to the pylon, I can't think of a better way to have marked his own evolution from boy to man - a perfect Sydney rite of passage for one of the HSC class of 2020 who have missed out on so many other rituals. And when we get down, it's his shout for beer.
Children $99 (from September 26 - October 11, 2020)
Adults $198 - $248. See bridgeclimb.com/climbs-prices
BridgeClimb is a perfect socially distanced adventure. From the moment you don your supplied blue and grey outfit, safety harness and protective gear to climb the ladders from the Dawes Point end of the bridge, you can keep to your own small group. There are hand sanitiser stations along the way and the equipment is cleaned regularly.
Helen Pitt was a guest of Sydney Harbour BridgeClimb.