Daphne Dunne Steals The Limelight At Sydney Harbour Bridge Lifts Opening
NSW Government officials had no idea they were dealing with a superstar.
When local Kirribilli resident Michelle wrote to the transport minister’s office earlier this year and mentioned her mother had walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the day it opened in 1932, officials decided to invite them both to the unveiling of new accessibility lifts.
While the opening of the first lifts to the popular pedestrian walkway was a big story on its own, who that ‘mother’ turned out to be became an unlikely talking point.
Enter Australia’s favourite 98-year-old -- Daphne Dunne.
The same Daphne Dunne whose embrace of Prince Harry at the Sydney Opera House on Tuesday has become a moment beamed around the world.
Yes, she’s that Daphne Dunne who considers the Duke a ‘friend’ and stole a kiss in 2015.
“She’s the star of the moment. Lovely to meet you,” said NSW transport minister Melinda Pavey as she helped Daphne from her car.
It turns out ‘the star’ is also fairly handy with the weather.
Just as blue sky appeared for her reunion with Prince Harry, the rain stopped and clouds cleared as she arrived for her big moment on Wednesday. It dared not rain on her parade.
“I’ve never cut a ribbon before,” she told the throng of waiting cameras.
Despite doing countless media interviews yesterday and being up early for more live TV, this morning, Daphne wasn’t sick of journalists yet.
She was happy to answer questions about what she remembered from her first walk across the bridge in 1932. Her school group had been invited to take part in the opening day celebrations.
“I remember it was very exciting," Daphne recalled.
"And then a man rode up on his horse and he opened it."
That horseman was Francis De Groot. In a scandal for the ages, he slashed the ceremonial ribbon with a sword, stealing the thunder of NSW Premier Jack Lang.
“You remember Mr De Groot?” I asked.
“You couldn’t forget him, could you?” Daphne laughed.
“They didn’t know what to say. He managed to have the whole of the place, all eyes on him.”
Thankfully there was no such fiasco on Wednesday. Daphne and the minister cut the ribbon -- with scissors, not a sword -- and then rode the lift up to the walkway.
It was a beautiful moment as Daphne was wheeled to a spot where she could enjoy a view she hadn’t seen for decades.
“It’s so different when you look out and see the Opera House and all the other little places, it’s really lovely,” she said looking out across the harbour.
The lifts have been a long time coming and the subject of years of campaigning from disability groups. It then begged two obvious questions; how hard could it be to build two lifts? And why have wheelchair users been waiting for decades?
“I think the cost had a lot to do with it,” explained Pavey.
The lifts cost a combined $15 million. Heritage and visual considerations placed extra constraints on the project.
The minister described the glass design work as ‘sympathetic’ to the iconic structure.
The NSW government was desperate to have them finished before the Invictus Games -- hoping to avoid the embarrassment of hosting an event about ‘accessibility’ in a city where the most famous icon wasn’t accessible.
The hard work has paid off already. The tick of approval from the famous Daphne Dunne is something to cherish.