26 June, 2016

Four bridges and a ford: cutting a path to the new bridge

By the late 1960s it was deemed that the amount of traffic - especially heavy traffic - using the Hamilton Highway was too great for the once revolutionary Monier bridge at Fyansford. Despite its controversial beginnings, the bridge had rewarded those councillors who fought to have it built at the close of the 19th century, with over 60 years of service. It was estimated at the time of construction, that it would take 40 years to recoup the cost to the Shires of Bannockburn and Corio who had largely financed the project. Anything beyond that was a bonus and in an era when many bridges were still built from timber, had an expected lifespan of a few decades and within a few years of construction would require extensive, ongoing maintenance, it is easy to see why concrete was such an appealing building material. Stone and iron bridges were also extremely durable - the historic bridge at Shelford designed by CAC Wilson is a good example - however they were expensive to build and beyond the means of many cash-strapped shires to build. Concrete on the other hand, was cheap, durable and the way of the future.
By the 1960s, concrete bridges were the norm, however by then, technology and design had changed substantially. The bridge built to replace the now heritage-listed Monier bridge, was a modern, five span, pre-stressed, reinforced concrete structure, typical of many built across the country at that time.
Surprisingly, the current bridge has been the most difficult to research with very little detail to be found.
The earliest information I could find online, related not to the bridge itself, but to the completion of "the Geelong approach to the proposed new bridge over the Moorabool River at Fyansford". This statement appeared in the 1968-1969 Fifty-fifth Annual Report of the Country Roads Board. The work which was completed by the close of the 1967/68 financial year refers I imagine, to the realignment of the Hamilton Highway immediately to the west of the Moorabool River, through the cutting which is still in use today.
Looking west through the modern cutting at Fyansford
Prior to this, the road ran through a much older cutting, slightly to the south. This old road I suspect, originally served the ford and was cut out and perhaps somewhat realigned in the 1850s when the first timber bridge was built. Today, the remains of the old road can still be followed from the corner of Lower Paper Mill Rd and along the boundary fence of the Fyansford Waste Disposal & Recycling Centre to a point about 180m to the west where the old road rejoins the new.
Old road west of the Moorabool River at Fyansford

Soon after the bridge opened however, the road was probably the site of an accident which saw a dray tip over the edge of it, falling down a "precipice some twenty feet deep" (The Argus, 27th April, 1855). The following year, in March, 1856 tenders were called for the erection of 450 lineal yards of fencing along an embankment at Fyansford - possibly the fence which can be seen in the photo below and which may have saved the dray had it been installed sooner.
Portion of an 1859 image of Fyansford, showing the first bridge and road
leading up the west bank of the Moorabool River. Original image held by
the State Library of Victoria
In the Geelong Advertiser, 13th January, 1899, the road up the west bank of the Moorabool was still receiving criticism, described  as a "dangerous, locked in, circuitous road ...with a huge stone cliff on one side and a long stone wall on the other, where many terrible accidents...have happened".

Remains of the stone wall beside the old road
Regardless of this criticism, this remained the approach to the Moorabool River from the west until 1968 when the new cutting was made a short distance to the north.
After the new section of road was completed, construction of the bridge itself was considered. An article from The Age, 31st December, 1968 indicated that tenders were about to be called "for the completion of a bridge over the Moorabool River at Fyansford, three miles north of Geelong on the Hamilton Highway." It was expected that the bridge would be "317 feet long [with] 28 feet between kerbs [and] a six-foot-wide footway. It would cost about $300,000 and take about 2 years to build."
Finally, the Country Roads Board's Fifty-seventh Annual Report for the year ending 30th June, 1970
indicated that amongst the significant works completed for the 1969/70 financial year was the "Construction of a reinforced concrete bridge 270 feet long [with] 28 feet between kerbs to replace a concrete arch bridge over the Moorabool River at Fyansford." The item was accompanied by a photo showing both the Monier and the new bridge.
View of the Monier and current bridge, looking east, Howard Bruce, 1972,
Image held by the National Library of Australia
Strangely, the same annual report also included the following detail under the heading of "Large bridges completed in rural areas":
"Moorabool River Bridge-Hamilton Highway, Shire of Corio: a five span prestressed concrete beam and reinforced concrete bridge 320 feet long by 28 feet between kerbs plus a footway 6 feet wide."
A quick look at Google Earth suggests that the latter was probably the more accurate description.
The current bridge at Fyansford. Looking north east
 Without a tape measure and some rather risky traffic dodging maneuvers, I can't be sure of the proportions, however I can say that this most recent bridge, whilst perhaps not the most aesthetically pleasing structure, has now served those travelling along the Hamilton Highway for forty-six years and looks set to continue for many years to come.
The modern bridge from the west bank of the Moorabool River