Friday, June 1, 2012

Yowaka Bridge over Saltwater Creek - A vital local link.


For more than three quarters of a century, the Saltwater Creek Bridge has provided a vital link between southern & northern townships, particularly Eden & Pambula.

An important crossing point on the main road linking the two townships & later becoming part of the Princes Highway, the thoroughfare has been a vital one for generations. Indeed, the lack of a bridge to cross the waterway was being felt early after European settlement, a fact that was aggravated by its tidal nature or when the river was swollen by flood waters.

Oswald Brierly made mention of crossing the stream during the 1840s & in 1852 geologist Reverend W. B. Clarke noted “…Greig’s Creek [Saltwater Creek], the saltwater portion of which is crossed by the road from Pambula to Eden…” During 1859, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that “…About ten miles from Eden, a salt water creek, about 200 feet wide, has to be crossed; it rises with the tides, & at times is not fordable. A substantial bridge must, therefore, be erected here, whenever the amount appropriated yearly by the Legislature for the construction & maintenance of roads & bridges may admit a vote for so necessary a work…”

Apparently though, the government had neither the funds nor the inclination to tackle the growing needs of the local community, & by 1882 no progress had been made to bridge the waterway. The Candelo & Eden Union raised the issue a number of times during the 1880s & during the early 1890s, while journeying through the region, Judge Docker noted that “…we hurried away from the comfortable Roan Horse, as we had to race the tide for possession of the crossing at Saltwater Creek & managed to get there in time. A bridge was in the course of erected…which was much required, as the traffic had to wait the good pleasure of the tide…”

After tenders were finally called in April 1891 for a bridge to span the waterway, J. W. Page’s for £1271/11/5 was accepted in June & in March 1892, Mrs Cornell, wife of Pambula’s postmaster, officially opened what was dubbed the “Yowaka Bridge”.

The old Saltwater Creek bridge, by A E Watson.
By 1904, the Pambula Progress Association called attention to a “…noticeable drop…” near the Pambula end of the bridge, & although it was stated that “…it would do well…if the Roads Department made an early examination…” no action was taken. In May, the Pambula Voice reported that the bridge was “…becoming positively dangerous…” & just a couple of weeks later, while repairs were finally being undertaken, it was found that eight of the piles had been eaten through. Until the work was completed & the bridge reopened in July 1904, traffic was forced to revert to crossing through the river just below the structure. Upon completion, contractor G. Phillips pointed out the need for four additional new piles, noting that unless the work was undertaken immediately, an entirely new bridge would be required in less than a year. Apparently though, the warning was ignored & less than a year later, an accident happened that, in other circumstances, may well have had a more tragic outcome.

While crossing the bridge in June 1905 on his way to Eden with a five-&-a-half ton load, W. Peisley had what was described as “…a very nasty experience…” when the structure gave way “…with a loud noise…” when he & his team were half way across. Although thrown onto the deck of the bridge, the teamster was lucky to escape with only a few bruises & “…a rather severe shaking…”, & it was only with great difficulty that the horses & wagon were freed. Inspection showed that the bridge had subsided some seven or eight feet.

Once again, the bridge was closed to traffic, travellers forced to cross the waterway below the structure & this in itself proved something of a danger, as dentist Mr F. Thompson discovered in July. While negotiating the river, he suddenly found his horse & vehicle almost submerged, all his books & dental equipment saturated, & the northern bank was only reached with great difficulty. The Pambula Voice pointed out that “Until the bridge is made crossable, a post should be put in to indicate to travellers the depth of the water, as the ordinary individual is not acquainted with the time of high tide, when it becomes a danger to cross.”

It was to be another three months before the Pambula Progress Association secretary received notice that the piers would be renewed & in October 1905, tenders were called with that of Mr Nybeck for £358/12/2 being chosen from the six submitted, & in February 1906, work began. However, when he encountered problems & was held up awaiting instructions from the Department, the Pambula Voice weighed into the situation, commenting in March 1906 that “The delay throughout the whole business is unwarrantable considering the great inconvenience the travelling public is being put to.” Work was finally completed in June 1906.

1916 again saw the road closed because of bridge repairs & in February 1917, the Pambula Voice reported on the large quantity of timber being carted & stacked for the work, with the newspaper noting that “Some fine girders have been procured locally for the Saltwater Creek Bridge, the longest being 47 feet.” However, with the ongoing battles of WWI, securing labour proved to be an issue for Contractor Fraser & completion was thus slow. With the river crossing proving a significant barrier for travellers, during mid-1917 it was noted that “…the mail contractor is going to utilise two cars in the running of the mail. When the Bega car reaches the dismantled bridge a cart is to be in readiness to convey both luggage & passengers across stream where another motor car will take up the running & proceed to Eden.”

Finally, though, no amount of repair work could withstand the power of flood waters & after serving the community for almost forty years, the Yowaka Bridge ended its life in late 1930. Completely washed away in an inundation, traffic had to be diverted five additional miles via Nethercote, & although a new “temporary” structure was erected shortly after, it too was washed away during the disastrous floods that swept through the entire district in January 1933. This time, however, two men were extremely lucky to escape with their lives – the pair had just ridden across the bridge & upon reaching the other side, looked back in just time to see it break in two & wash away.

The same month, divisional engineer Mr Donaldson arranged for a survey of the new bridge, but despite the fact that it was to be “…constructed as soon as possible…” this was apparently the only swift move in what would prove a lengthy process. What followed were at least two more “temporary” low level bridges & by April 1934 the National Roads & Motorists’ Association (NRMA) were complaining that the ongoing situation of flooding meant that the Princes Highway was once again impassable at Saltwater Creek. They followed up in July with a report that the river had been impassable on four separate occasions that year alone. Before the end of the month, yet more flooding cut the travel across the waterway, which was said to be “…running bankers several hundred yards wide…” & the Pambula Voice noted that “…the building of the new bridge…has not yet begun…”

July 1934 finally saw tenders called for a 214-foot reinforced concrete bridge, & after the contract was awarded to the Maclean Construction Company, work was commenced in October, almost four years after the previous permanent Saltwater Creek bridge had been lost.

Yowaka Bridge under construction.
By March 1935, the Pambula Voice was reporting on the good headway being made, & with what became known as the Great Depression making itself felt locally, the bridge project was able to provide employment for twenty men. When tenders were awarded for construction of the approaches, another twenty men found work.

Construction of the Yowaka bridge.
The construction project was not without its share of accidents & injuries however. In March 1935, while guiding steel ropes attached to a “monkey”, Mr H. Cole had a finger almost severed, & after attending to the patient, Dr Wing was forced to amputate the injured digit. May the same year saw Mr McFarlane admitted to hospital after being hurt by a falling girder, while Claude Burton had his hand badly crushed when it was caught between two piles.

Workers during the construction of the bridge over Saltwater Creek.
Finally, after almost six years of inconvenience, January 1936 saw the new Yowaka Bridge over Saltwater Creek completed, with South Pambula’s Harry Cole reportedly the first member of the pubic to cross the newly completed structure. An official opening was held the following month, with a picnic & sports day in Mr Brassington’s neighbouring paddock & a ball that evening in the Pambula School of Arts. Attended by Mr H. H. Newall, Commissioner of the Main Roads Department, the honour of severing the ribbon & formally opening the bridge was bestowed upon Mrs Isabella McPherson, one of the oldest residents of the district. The final cost of the four span structure was almost £8,200, added to which was the more than £2,300 for the approaches.

The official opening of Yowaka Bridge in February 1936.
Since that time, flooding has ceased to be an issue for travellers seeking to cross Saltwater Creek, although further works have been undertaken at various times, including the widening of the structure in 1994 & repairs as a result of a tanker fire in 1999.

Yowaka Bridge, C. 1960's.
The Yowaka Bridge has a NSW Heritage listing. Considered to be of State significance it “...demonstrates how bridge designs evolved to address the structural capabilities of reinforced concrete compared to the traditional materials of masonry, timber & steel. It is a fine example of a continuous girder reinforced concrete bridge, a type constructed in a limited period between 1934 & World War 2. It is part of the upgrade of the Princes Highway which commenced in 1924. It includes aesthetic qualities such as shuttering / formwork patterning, curved lines & a light graceful form, which addresses the construction process & structural characteristics unique to reinforced concrete. It is one of four continuous two girder reinforced concrete bridges in NSW & the only example with concrete bearings.”

© Angela George.

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