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Ghost Bridges of Melbourne


The Penny Bridge
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 Melbourne series]

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 It once was a suspension bridge similar to Kane's Bridge which we described as one of Seven Bridges but that has now been replaced by a more utilitarian and less atmospheric trestle bridge.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 Botanic Gardens. 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.


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