Ghost Bridges of Melbourne
The Penny Bridge (photo courtesy of City of Yarra)
[This short article was first published in
the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No.337 of 6th November 2009 as a
postscript to our Seven Bridges of
Bridges come and go. For instance, the current Princes Bridge is the
third on that site. Also the river has been dramatically changed. The Yarra
River that Batman and Fawkner used to arrive at the base of the falls at
Queens Street bears little relation to the one we know today. Currently that
stretch of the Yarra is mainly a man-made channel created by white man while
the Yarra of the early settlement which snaked its way through Ascot Vale
has been filled in and the makeshift crossing points have long gone. Not
that you dare mention that too loudly since there are numbers of tours which
pretend this canal is the ‘original’ Yarra.
However there are some bridges which we at White Hat find interesting
which have disappeared but whose ghosts live on. For instance, try heading
for Walmer Street Abbotsford. It is a little known fact that Vikings once
rowed this far up the Yarra and, disembarking, established an IKEA store.
You won’t find that fact in the history books but that is why you read White
Hat. There is now a pedestrian bridge across the Yarra at this point. It
once was a suspension bridge similar to
Kane's Bridge which
we described as one of Seven Bridges
but that has now been replaced by a more utilitarian and less atmospheric
trestle bridge. On the far side follow the track upstream. On the far bank
you will see the large Victoria Breweries site. Industries which relied on
fresh water were pushed further and further upstream to avoid the pollution
of industries such as tanneries. At the end of the breweries you will find
several houses whose terraced gardens extend down to the river. I am not
sure how legal this absolute river frontage is any more so I’ll leave that
for you to investigate.
If you look closely at these gardens you may be able to make out the
remains of some stone footings for a bridge. This bridge was a surprisingly
large wooden structure known as the ‘Penny Bridge’ – presumably because a
penny was the cost of the toll. It was all very well for pedestrians to make
their way across a rickety makeshift bridge but the wheels of commerce in a
rapidly growing city required crossing points for a horses with heavily
laden carts and the toll of a penny was well spent. We will leave you
sitting on the bank contemplating times gone by and if you doze off you
might possibly hear the sound of horses and the owners arguing about how
many pennies it was going to take to pay off the considerable cost of
building the bridge.
Further upstream (on a different walk) you can clearly see the remains of
the old Johnston Street Bridge. The current Johnston Street Bridge across
the Yarra was built in 1956, but if you stand on the north-east corner of
the new bridge you can see the remains of the original roadway and bridge
which crossed the river at this point.
Further upstream, the Reverend Ham of Collins Street Baptist Church had a
mission for Aboriginal boys on the banks of the Merri Creek. He had the boys
construct a bridge and charge a toll in an attempt to demonstrate the
self-evident superiority of European ways of doing things. After 40,000+
years of a different culture and doing things in a different way it appears
that the European way was not necessarily self-evidently better. They
disappeared back into the bush and the bridge has also disappeared.
Ungrateful little blighters.
Down in Footscray there was a major swing bridge across the Maribyrnong
which operated until, I think, the 1950s. I could try looking it up, but why
bother? One of the retired engineers on our mailing list will fossick about
for half a day to find the exact date and that will keep him out of his
wife’s hair. With a bit of luck, finding the exact mechanism used will take
up a couple more days.
However, the ghost bridge that we at White Hat find most fascinating is
the long lost pedestrian bridge across the Yarra to the
Originally the Yarra made its way through said gardens and the lake remains
as a now isolated section of the original river while the postcard
photographs continue to feature the man-made canal which leads up to Princes
Bridge. The historical records make some tantalizing references to this
bridge but after that the trail runs cold. Or that was what we thought. Some
recent information has given some encouragement that the trail is not
completely cold. We will keep you posted.
These bridges are by no means the only ghost bridges of Melbourne. Maybe
in a future newsletter we will features some more.