The Great Arch, by Vicki Hastrich

In the workshops the noise was deafening.
When the mangle straightened the largest plates of steel, the land shook all the way to the beach at Manly. And up on the bridge, inside the chords in the sweltering dark, the riveters’ pneumatic hammers rat-tatted a black headache – decorated by small fires of glowing scale falling from the red-hot rivets. This is when you knew you were alive, in the roar of work.

When work begins on the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it seems an almost impossible dream – to build a bridge which will finally unite the city of Sydney, and, at the same time, bring the whole of Australia into the modern age. As all of Sydney watches the bridge rise across the harbour, no one is more enthusiastic, more obsessed, than Reverend Ralph Cage. From his rectory he watches the building, and as his parish struggles through the Great Depression, and is torn apart by the demolition and restructure which the bridge necessitates, Ralph is too absorbed in the marvel of the bridge to be aware of those around him.

The Great Arch is a story of one man’s obsession with the bridge, but it is more. Set it two time periods – during the building of the bridge in the 1920s and 1930s, and in the weeks after Ralph suffers a stroke in 1967 – it shows Ralph as both a dreamer and a man of faith. Though often unaware of the needs of those around him, he is nonetheless a man of emotion, inspired by the greatness of the bridge with which he is so obsessed. Readers may feel frustrated with Ralph, but will also come to understand hi and perhaps even to like him.

An intriguing story of how an ordinary man attempts to live big.

The Great Arch, by Vicki Hastrich
Allen & Unwin, 2008

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