Across the River | A bridge to the past

This week I think I can bring you a good news story. But first some background.

As we travel along the country roads in Australia how many of us ever give a thought about the bridges we use along the way? We trust their strength and take them for granted as we smoothly cross a river or a deep gully. 

Bridges are the vital link – the safe and solid plank on which we travel across the river or traverse tracts of otherwise impassable terrain. 

WHAT A GEM: This beautiful timber bridge on the old Hume Highway may become a permanent reminder of how bridges were once made. Photo: Geoff Goodfellow.

WHAT A GEM: This beautiful timber bridge on the old Hume Highway may become a permanent reminder of how bridges were once made. Photo: Geoff Goodfellow.

Not sure of the current numbers, but a decade or so ago around these parts, Wingecarribee Council looked after 47 significant bridges (not counting the many culverts) along our local road network. 

Thirty of these were concrete and steel, with just 17 still made of traditional timber construction.  

Millions of dollars worth of vital infrastructure.

In the bad, old days, timber bridges were designed and built for a completely different traffic loading profile compared to what they now have to handle.

As you would imagine, the regular rattle of cars and trucks is a tad more damaging than the occasional horse and cart clomping along. 

It just shows what a terrific material Australian hardwood is.

Apart from being strong, it also fails very slowly, so engineers have plenty of warning when a bridge is in distress, allowing them time to prepare for repairs or replacement. 

But times have changed and it is almost impossible to get high quality hardwood in the big sizes required for bridges nowadays, because the best bridge building timber comes from old growth forests and that is not now an option.

Now for that good news.

In a lovely nod to earlier times, council’s engineers are hoping to rebuild the aging Ferguson Crescent bridge at Mittagong with an old-fashioned timber deck. 

Council’s design and projects manager Dominic Lucas has been looking at the options and tells me that, whilst the current timber deck is getting tired, the original sandstone abutments are in excellent condition.

This brilliant old bridge is in a heritage precinct on what was once the Hume Highway, near the Maltings and the historic Fitzroy Inn, providing a perfect opportunity to keep one of these solid timber gems for future generations to enjoy.

What a great idea. Let’s hope our local council runs with this proposal.

Which brings us to Dudley who, for no particular reason, looked up into the sky where clouds were building and shouted out loud, "Hey God, what say you grant me a wish?" 

Suddenly the clouds parted above his head and he heard a booming voice. 

"Because you have had the faith to ask, Dudley, I will grant you one wish."

"Can you build a bridge across to New Zealand so I can drive over anytime and watch the Bledisloe Cup, or a cricket test?”

"Your request is very difficult, Dudley,” said the heavenly voice.”

“Just think of the logistics of that kind of undertaking. The supports required to reach the bottom of the ocean, the concrete and steel it would take and the impact of shipping. I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time and think of another wish – a wish you think would honor and glorify me.”

Dudley thought about it for a long time. 

Finally he said, "God, I wish that I could understand women. I want to know how they feel inside, what they are thinking when they give me the silent treatment, why they cry, why if I think something is black, they think it is white and most of all, how I can make a woman truly happy?”

Things went quiet, then after a few minutes God thoughtfully replied.

“Dudley, old mate, do you want two lanes or four on that bridge?”

 – Geoff Goodfellow


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