Sydney Harbour Bridge – who was Kathleen Butler?

There are many resources available online that provide a great sense of the excitement generated by the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  Take this photographic montage from the Archives Outside team at State Records, New South Wales and these clips from the Australian Film and Sound Archive.

While J J C Bradfield is well known for his role in the design and delivery of the bridge, little is remembered of Kathleen Butler, a woman who played a critical role in the project.  She appears in this photograph in the Sydney Morning Herald – 17 January 1924 with the Minister for Works and Bradfield for the opening of the construction tenders.

On 13 October 1924, the Straits Times in Singapore ran an article titled “Bridge Girl” in London. (Scroll down within the link to access the article)

When the scheme for the Sydney Harbour bridge and the big underground railway system was finally agreed on by Parliament, Miss Butler was the first officer appointed to the department created to deal with these two great engineering projects.  She was appointed on her merits and because she had mastered all sorts of intricate technical matters of engineering during the years she was in the Government service. ……..

Bradfield praised Miss Butler for her grasp of technical detail and her thorough approach to the specifications.  Kathleen Butler played a key role in the preparation of the report on the tenders.

“I was the only woman present in the Minister’s room when the tenders were opened.  It was a most exciting moment”.

In 1925, while on a holiday with her sister, Kathleen Butler gave an interview to the Brisbane Courier – 21 September 1925.

Here’s Kathleen Butler deep in the excavation works in 1926 courtesy of the NSW Board of Studies and State Records NSW.

excavation for the south west skewback

After her marriage, Mrs Maurice Hagarty was reported as being Interested in Bridges. Sydney Morning Herald – 9 March 1936 .

Mrs Maurice Hagarty of Strathlea Cunnamulla Queensland is at present holidaying in Sydney with her little daughter Anne Josephine. Before her marriage Mrs Hagarty was Miss Kathleen Butler who was in charge of the Sydney Harbour Bridge staff during its construction: during her term of office Mrs Hagarty was sent to England. Although she is far removed from bridge building in her new sphere Mrs Hagarty says she cannot curb her interest in the new Queensland bridge at Kangaroo Point and feels that she hates to be out of it all. Since she arrived in Sydney at the beginning of the year Mrs Hagarty has seen a great deal of Dr and Mrs J C Bradfield and Miss Mary Bradfield. Mr Hagarty is at present in Melbourne and they will return to Cunnamulla together after Easter.

7 Comments on “Sydney Harbour Bridge – who was Kathleen Butler?”

  1. pellethepoet says:

    You might be interested in the discussion here – – Possible portrait of Kathleen Butler in State Records NSW collection.

    That’s great. Thank you

  2. Maria Sloane says:

    This is Kathleen Butler as she is my gradmother and I recoginise the photo.

  3. Marianne Payten says:

    Hi Maria
    My mother Emilie Dwyer was on board the Ormonds with Kathleen Butler in 1924. I am transcribing he diary which mentions Kathelln, but I woud like ot knwo more about her.
    Marianne Payten

    • Maria Sloane says:

      My Grandmother, Kathleen Butler, worked for Dr Bradfield on the Sydney Harbour Bridge and was involved in his office in London, traveling quite a lot.

      • Marianne Payten says:

        Thank you for your reply, Maria. My mother and Kathleen were close friends and there are many references to her in the diary my mother wrote, giving details of shipboard life on the Ormonde and of visits to Kathleen’s flat in London and outings they had together. My sisters knew a girl in the 1950s called Caroline Butler who we think was also a relative. It is interesting to know of such a clever and adventurous mother also “went bush” –to Forbes NSW, which like Cunnamulla was a far cry from the London of the roaring twenties. Cheers Marianne

      • Maria Sloane says:

        Hi Marianne, if there is anyway I could read copies it would be lovely. Caroline Butler (Levine), who is my Grandmothers niece or Mums (who has sadly passed away) cousin, is still living is Sydney. Her father was Roger Butler who was also very involved in the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

      • Marianne Payten says:

        Hi again Maria. I would be happy for you to email me on It is so nice that you are interested in Mum’s diary entries about your remarkable grandmother.
        Cheers MP

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