06 September, 2015

Branching out - Bowman's Bridge

During the course of my recent research into all things bridge-related, I came across a couple of bridges which, whilst no doubt important in their day, have now fallen into disuse, as have the sections of road on which they were built. Both are now private property, however I was lucky enough (along with local historian Marg Cooper and my mother) to gain access to one of the bridge sites to see what remained.
The site in question was Bowman's Bridge, a small, timber and masonry structure which crossed the steep-sided channel of Deep Creek - a tributary of the Leigh River at Bamganie. Deep Creek is a short creek, measuring about 6.5km in length which rises beside Bamganie Road, about 5km south of its intersection with the Meredith-Mt Mercer Road then follows a southerly course to its confluence with the Leigh River a few hundred metres upstream from where Woodbourne/Williamson's Creek also joins the Leigh.
View of Deep Creek a few hundred metres below the bridge
With permission gained prior to starting, a short wander across the fields brought us to the banks of the creek which, we agreed showed signs of significant water flow in the past, but at present, like many creeks in the area, contains only intermittent pools of water. We had been warned by the property owner, that there wasn't much of the bridge left to see and only knew roughly where to look, however we did know that the old road which ran to the bridge began at Bamganie Road beside the one time site of the Bamganie State School and traveled directly west, crossing Deep Creek but stopping short of the Leigh River.
Called Bowman's Road for several members of the Bowman family who had taken up land between Deep Creek and the Leigh River, it provided access for the family who came and went via the road, crossing Bowman's Bridge in the process and for their children who walked to school along the same path. After reaching the creek, we walked upstream only a short distance before we spied a large pile of rocks on the bank which clearly had not ended up there by chance.
The site of Bowman's Bridge
A little further investigation convinced us that we had found the relatively intact remains of the bridge's eastern abutment - a masonry structure formed from local uncut stones, cemented together and supported by a raised embankment.
The remains of the eastern abutment
The bank on the opposite side of the creek also showed signs of where the bridge had been. There was no trace of masonry, however we did find timbers with large bolts attached and it was clear that the bank - which was quite a bit higher on this side - had been carved away to make a cutting which brought the roadway on the western side, level with the bridge.
Burnt timbers with rusted bolts, originally part of the bridge
Whilst there is little remaining, it is possible to trace the history of the bridge through the newspapers of the day. The initial contract to build a small bridge on the site was awarded to W Watson in June, 1876 for a price of £11/15/-. Problems soon emerged however when it was brought to council's attention three years later that the western approach to the bridge was too steep and slippery for horses to keep their footing. By October, a cutting had been formed to ease the situation, however it was reported to council that the work of  Hugh McColl was not up to the required standard.
The cutting on the western approach to Bowman's Bridge
As was usual with timber bridges, over the following thirty years, Bowman's Bridge required ongoing maintenance. In 1903, J Elliott was awarded a contract for £2/19/6 to fix it and in 1908 it was suggested that timber from a disused bridge near the old post office could be used*. In October, 1913 the Meredith Shire engineer (CCP Wilson) declared that Bowman's Bridge was in such a poor state, it was almost beyond repair, but that good timber from recently-replaced Cooper's Bridge over the Moorabool River could be used to reconstruct it.
The repairs (if they eventuated), were only temporary and by early 1914, the shire was calling for tenders to replace the bridge. There seems to have been few takers for the job however, as tenders were set to be called once again in March, 1915. Finally, the following month, the council accepted the tender of William Smith to erect a timber bridge on Bowman's Road for £75. At this point, as with my previous posts, the trail goes cold, however I can only assume since the tender was accepted, that the bridge was rebuilt at this time, meaning the remains now visible date from that period.
The view looking east from the cutting
What I don't know is, regardless of whether the bridge was rebuilt or not, how long it stood for or when Bowman's Road was finally closed to the public.

*A post office first opened in Bamganie in 1877 amidst significant public demand, at (as far as I can tell), the original site of the primary school off Glentive Road which crosses Woodbourne Creek nearby. The timber may have come from a bridge at this crossing.

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