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Chandler Highway Bridge

This article was first published in the  White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No.336 on 30th October 2009.

“You’d think they’d have more foresight.”

The fellow sitting underneath the bridge throwing a stick for his dog was not looking in my direction, but since I was the only other human within sight I assumed the statement was meant for me. “Just one lane of traffic in each direction” he said gesturing to the bridge above and still not turning his head to look at me.

 ““You’d think they’d have more foresight.”

“Hmmph.” I grunted. I find a grunt is useful under circumstances like this since it usually conveys to the listener what they want to hear. “I hear what you say comrade” he said tossing the stick once again “but I still say they should have had more foresight.”

I retired to a reasonable distance to contemplate both what I had said and the bridge above my head. It was originally built as part of the Outer Circle rail route in the late 19th century. The Inner and Outer loops were to carry freight and also open up new land for settlement once they were served by passenger. rail. It is no surprise that two of the politicians who voted to allow the railway had also bought up lots of land around said railway. However their plans were to be thwarted by Global Downturn of the 1890s (well it seemed global here in Melbourne its effects were so devastating). "Hmmph." I reflect.

“I know what you mean, but they should build more railways” says my companion as he heaves the stick again. I grunt in a non-committal manner as I reflect that some historians such as Tim Flannery have blamed this devastating 1890s depression on, among other things, over capitalization in railways. “And that ugly factory over there – they should get rid of it.” I grunt again.

The APM paper mills started life where Southgate now stands. Paper manufacture needs a steady supply of good quality water and that was available above the Queen Street falls. Over time factories and tanneries in Richmond polluted the water and the paper mills were force to pipe water down form above the next barrier – Dights Falls. Eventually they moved to their current location and the part of the Outer Circle railway with the more established section of the rail network remained one of the few heavy freight uses of the Outer Circle.

My companion’s dog has spotted a rabbit and set off in pursuit. The rabbit, sensing a city dog, stops turns and stares defiantly and the apartment dog returns whimpering to its master.

Melbourne’s rail system grew up as ‘spokes’ radiating from the city and only the inner and outer circles offered cross-town rail travel. How romantic for the suburban housewife to have the occasional steam train rattling past the back fence. Not really. Monday was traditionally washing day when the womenfolk of the family would spend the whole day scrubbing and washing and hanging the whites on the line to be bleached by the sun only to have a dirty, smelly machine trundle past belching smoke and soot and depositing a grey cloud on your day’s work. Only part of the outer circle was electrified and most of the rest was gradually decommissioned and turned into linear parks or used for other purposes. The inner and outer circle routes would now prove ideal for light rail or tram routes giving cross-city connection but it would be a brave politician who tried to now reclaim that land for its original purpose. The rail bridge above our heads was eventually converted into a road bridge for the Chandler Highway.

“Just two lanes of traffic up there.” says my companion. “You’d think they’d have more foresight. They should start thinking about more railways.”

“Hmmph.” I say. My companion and his dog depart. "Good speaking with you." he says.

 

BL

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Other articles in the series Seven Monuments of Melbourne:

Seven Bridges of Melbourne - overview

No. 1 – Princes Bridge
No. 2 – MacRobertson Bridge
No. 3 - Sandridge Rail Bridge
No. 4 – Lines composed upon Spencer Street Bridge
No. 5 - Kane's Bridge
No. 6 - West Gate Bridge
No. 7 - Chandler Highway Bridge


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