02 September, 2015

Branching out - The Garibaldi Bridge

My previous post illustrated the changes in materials used over the last century and beyond to patch and repair existing bridges in order to extend their useful lifespan. This has resulted in many bridges in the Barwon catchment region becoming hybrids, neither timber nor steel, concrete nor stone, but in many cases, a combination of different building materials.
Another great example of this type of evolving bridge, is the old bridge (now replaced by a modern concrete structure) across the Yarrowee/Leigh River on the Buninyong-Mt Mercer Road at Garibaldi. According to the media of the day, the foundation stone for the original bridge was laid in November, 1866 amidst much fanfare by the Buninyong Shire President Mr WH Bacchus. The region he declared, was in urgent need of a bridge as three people had lost their lives in recent years, attempting to ford the river during floods. The president was presented with an inscribed, silver trowel which he used to lay the stone along with a time capsule containing issues of several local newspapers and "a document in reference to the constitution of the shire, and the various coins of the realm". Once the president had declared the stone "well and truly laid", the company retired to the nearby Garibaldi Hotel where luncheon was laid on for 50 invited guests, with a keg of beer also provided for members of the local community. November, 2016 will mark the 150th anniversary of this event.
The old Garibaldi Bridge today
Less than a year later in April, 1867, under the name of the Durham Bridge, the new structure was officially opened. Disappointment was expressed at the event (which also included speeches, toasts and another luncheon) at the small number present to mark the occasion.
I can find no image of the bridge in its original (or any) form which shows its exact construction, but at the time of its opening, the bridge was described as measuring 100 ft in length and including three spans of 33 ft each, secured at each end by bluestone ashlar abutments and in the centre by two stone buttresses (pillars). The wooden deck was supported within each span by spandrels atop rows of 7 corbels resting on the stonework of each abutment or buttress and - it was proudly claimed - stood 6 ft clear of the highest recorded flood mark. The total cost of construction was £2,699.
Looking upriver from the bridge, August, 2015
The first real test of the new structure came barely two years later in 1869 when the Yarrowee flooded, leaving large parts of Ballarat under water. It is a testament to the strength of stone bridges, that there is no further mention of the bridge throughout the remainder of the 19th century and this despite regular reports of substantial flooding over the years. In fact it seems that substantial maintenance was not required until December, 1914 when then shire engineer CCP Wilson reported that the bridge superstructure had been removed and the masonry prepared for replacement of the deck with a concrete structure. Interestingly, although they may not have foreseen the development of concrete in the construction of bridges, the original stonework was built in 1867 with a view to the future replacement of the timber structures with masonry.
These repairs it would seem stood for a further 19 years until December, 1933 when the Yarrowee/Leigh River experienced substantial flooding - the largest it was claimed in 50 years. Over the course of three days from 30th November to the 2nd December, catchments across the region were deluged, causing the bridge to collapse, washing away two of the three spans.
One abutment and parts of the deck of the Garibaldi Bridge washed away
during the 1933 floods. Image held by the Federation University Australia's
EJ Barker Library
Remains of the Garibaldi Bridge during the 1933 floods. Image held by the
Federation University Historical Collection
So great was the destruction across parts of the state that it was beyond the capacity of many municipalities to pay for the damage. This was certainly the case for Buninyong Shire which along with other shires sent a delegation to wait upon the minister to plead their case for funds. On this occasion, the government declined to offer flood relief for the affected shires. Buninyong looked at taking out a loan or applying for grants to cover their costs.
The Garibaldi Bridge, 2015 looking to the south east
Early estimates indicated that it would cost in the vicinity of £1,750 to repair the damage to the Garibaldi Bridge, however in March the following year, engineer Wilson stated that the job could be done for £1,000 - possibly less. The following month, approval was granted to purchase the necessary materials to complete the reconstruction.
It is perhaps this sequence of events and the need to economise which lead to the evolution of the bridge as we see it today. The deck appears to me to be narrower than the original structure of which, only one stone abutment, one buttress and the stone parapets remain. The other buttress and the southern abutment have been reconstructed in concrete as has the deck which is supported across two of its spans by concrete corbels. The span at the northern end of the bridge however, is not the same as the other two and seems to have been repaired in a different style and perhaps at a different time - although I can find no record of this.
The central and northern spans of the bridge, looking south west
The handrails which top the deck are typical of the water pipe and cyclone wire constructions used by CCP Wilson on other projects and the overall structure is not dissimilar to the Blue Bridge on the Yendon-Egerton Road, also repaired by Wilson. These repairs whilst perhaps looking a little unorthodox, have survived the test of time. The bridge carried traffic until as recently as 2007 when the annual report for the Golden Plains Shire for 2006/2007 indicated that a new bridge had been completed (slightly downstream) at a cost of $853,000.
The new Garibaldi Bridge
Today, the original bridge stands disused and largely unnoticed beside the new Garibaldi Bridge.

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