Tag Archives: boats

Unraveling the Great Bridge Mystery

While the Sydney Harbour Bridge requires no introduction, Sydney’s Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge barely rates a mention. Yet, this bridge also has its mysteries.

I’ve caught the train over the bridge many times. While I usually have my nose in a book or am furiously scribbling in my notebook, I’ve often wondered about the row of abandoned sandstone pillars poking out of the water like ghostly headstones…a testimony to engineering defeat.

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What went wrong? What is their story? Why are they there?

Yet, that’s where my queries stopped.

That was until we went on a historic Hawkesbury River cruise last weekend and we cruised past the abandoned pylons, underneath the new Hawkesbury River Bridge and found out what happened.

Fortunately, the old bridge was safely replaced  before the crumbling bridge gave way and two crowded steam trains crashed into the Hawkesbury River with a catastrophic loss of life.

The original Hawkesbury River Bridge was an engineering catastrophe doomed from the start. Indeed, it could well have been built by Basil Fawlty from Fawlty Towers Engineering!

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Steam Train Crossing the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge.

Yet, it was quite a different story when the bridge opened in 1889 to much fanfare and acclaim:

“The 1889 Hawkesbury River Bridge, Long Island Tunnel, Woy Woy Tunnel and the heavy earthworks and tunnels of the Cowan bank were the key engineering works on the Sydney to Newcastle rail link (The Short North). Together they demonstrate a high degree of engineering achievement in building a railway line in difficult and dangerous terrain. The 1889 Hawkesbury River Bridge in particular was a major technical achievement at the time: it was the fourth largest bridge constructed in the world, one of its caissons reached 49m, had the deepest bridge footing in the world and it was the longest bridge in Australia, pushing bridge design and construction techniques to the limit. The bridge was also the first of the American designed truss bridges that were introduced to Australia in the late 1880s and 1890s and thus the first to utilise the American principles of lightweight bracing, pin joints and eye bar tension members. It was the only steel trussed bridge of its type in Australia when it was built and the first major use of steel for bridges with previous examples being built in wrought iron. Its remains are tangible evidence of the change in engineering technology from British to American at this time and the decline of John Whitton’s British based design influence on the NSW railway system. There is enough extant fabric in the remaining abutments, piers and the Long Island tunnel to demonstrate the engineering achievements of the original Hawkesbury River crossing. www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=4800130

However, cracks soon started to appear in this so-called engineering achievement and the original bridge lasted only 60 years.

So what went wrong?

This newspaper report from 1946 tells the story well.

“A chance discovery a necessitated new bridge—a discovery which probably averted what would have been the worst railway disaster on record.
A railway engineer, reading an American text book, found a statement that the interior of the piers of the Hawkesbury bridge comprised rubble.
The Chief Railway Constructional Engineer (Major-General Fewtrell) pointed out that this did not check with original specifications, which provided for metal casing on the outside and concrete on the inside, so that when the metal rusted the concrete would remain.
But the bridge had already developed an ugly pier crack, and in view of the text book statement no time was lost in scouring Australia for men who had worked on the concrete mixing board. One was found, and the information he supplied worried the engineers. They promptly set a diamond drill to work on the cracked pier. The drill made slow
progress through the stone, but once below the water level it dropped into a soft substance.
SCIENTIFIC tests showed that the steel casing would have crumbled completely away in 1939, and the interior would have quickly washed out.
Below water level the pier was several feet out of alignment on one side.
Once daily, two express trains passed each other on the bridge, often at this pier.
To counter the defect, single-track working was introduced, and speed reduced to walking pace. The new bridge was commenced as soon as possible.”
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Steam trains weight testing the new Hawkesbury River Bridge in 1946.

Thank goodness for that. Moreover, with a flush of national pride, this same newspaper report proudly points out that while the American built bridge only survived for 60 years, the Australian bridge would last 200 years!
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Remaining pylon from the original Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge. Photo: Rowena Curtin.

Work commenced on the new bridge in July 1940 and despite best efforts it was not completed until after the war finished, opening for traffic on 1 July 1946.
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Cruising Under the Current Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge.

Following the opening of the new bridge,the steel spans  were floated off the original bridge, dismantled and transported to other parts of the State and re-assembled to form bridges across various waterways.
Two spans were reserved for the crossing of the Darling River at Bourke and Billabong Creek on the proposed Bourke to Barringun railway, part of the Commonwealth’s project for a north-south inland railway through the back of
Queensland, linking up with a cross-country line to Darwin.
Good to hear the steel spans were put to good use.
Meanwhile, the original sandstone piers are still standing, man-made geological features surveying the Hawkesbury
River flow by.
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The Marina is Closed. Also Known as a Bit of Snow.

Talk about polar extremes this time of year. You could fry an egg outside in Greater Sydney today but here’s snow on the waterfront in USA and a hilarious photo! xx Rowena

The Sailboat Tara

unnamed-5 Part of our dock has been shoveled and the boats are iced in. 

So there’s a blizzard going on in the mid-Atlantic this weekend. They’re warning people to stay off the roads, whiteout conditions, threats to life and property, potential wind gusts of up to 60 mph.

And the marina is closed. We received this email from the dockmaster:

“The snow is still coming down here and wind is brisk, but not really bad. The plaza, the pier and the docks are closed to all. There appears to be close to a foot of snow on the pier. Boats that I could see looked to have less than 6 inches on them. It was very difficult to see most of the boats.
With the current forecast, it will probably be Monday before the plaza, pier and docks are reopened and cleared for pedestrians. Nobody should attempt to go to their…

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Homeward Bound: Palm Beach to Ettalong.

No doubt, all weekends away end up feeling like Cinderella’s horrific crash landing after the ball. You’re back in rags, your coach is a pumpkin and both you and Prince Charming are so quite what you used to be.

My weekend in Palm Beach was no different and once I’d polished off that divine chocolate cake and all that luscious chocolate sauce, I was on borrowed time and the clock was really ticking.

Tick-tock..tick-tock…tick! TICK! BZZ!!!!!! Game Over!!!!!

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However, as the rain and wind whipped around, a lingering doubt emerged. Could the ferry service actually be cancelled?

If so, how on earth was I going to get home?

No ferry would stretch the 30 minute journey home into an extremely long, arduous, meandering journey involving 2 buses, 2 trains and not only a packed lunch but also dinner and possibly even a midnight snack.

This was obviously a serious concern!!

However, as if I would travel all that way when I could just stay another night and wait until the storm cleared! Yeah, right!! I could just imagine how well that would go down! There I was living it up in Palm Beach while Geoff had been at work and taxiing the kids around and then he’d be having to take time off work as well to get them to school. Yes, I’d be extremely popular!!

Indeed, it could even be grounds for divorce!

We’ve been on some pretty ragged rides on the ferry before, crossing the high seas where the waves loomed like skyscrapers overhead and our beloved ferry felt more like Scuffy the Tugboat, seemingly tossed like a salad in the ferocious  surf.  Of course, the kids who have a real penchant for melodrama, were freaking out about sinking, drowning and, of course,  even dying while the ferry plowed on through the drenching rain and heavy winds. Ghostly white and sitting on our laps wrapped up in our arms, the kids are vowing never to catch the ferry again. That was a few years ago now before they became intrepid sea scouts!

The ferry service was cancelled for the rest of the day after that.

I was concerned about the ferry being cancelled on Sunday too.  Sure, I know we’re not crossing notorious Bass Strait of Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race fame but the weather still gets wild enough. Wild enough to cancel the ferry. That’s right. There comes a point when even the most intrepid Palm Beach Ferry Captains hang up their hats and stay on terra firma.

However, I’m in luck. The ferry is running and although the weather is a little rough and wet, it remains quite civilised.

Sunset Palm Beach Wharf...so pleased that bird dropped into the shot!

Sunset Palm Beach Wharf…so pleased that bird dropped into the shot!

A friend from Church drops me off at the wharf with 15 minutes to spare where I can enjoy watching some people fishing while the sun sets. I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. However, the keen fisherperson is a woman and she knows her stuff. With the precision of a plastic surgeon, she wraps up a cooked prawn in some plastic netting salvaged from a bag of fruit and pushes the hook through. That prawn won’t come off without a fight, so the fish will have to work a bit harder tonight if they want a free feed!!

At 6.15pm, this is the last ferry and in contrast to yesterday’s rowdy party atmosphere, the ferry is almost empty. There’s just a few weekend stragglers on board and pure silence. You could even meditate it was that quiet. Talk about a contrast!! We all sit inside…even me who is all but always out there on deck pushing the limits with my camera. Too wet, too windy and way too bumpy tonight. Time to take it all in through the rain-stained window.

The View through the Window- Palm Beach Ferry.

The View through the Window- Palm Beach Ferry.

As the ferry started approached Ettalong Wharf, I was looking out for Geoff and the kids and really looking forward to their enthusiastic greetings: “Mummy! Mummy!” and finding out how their scout camps went. These are the sort of exciting moments you live for as a parent: warm, gutsy hugs, smiles, laughter and a thousand stories all spilling out at once. That’s the thing about going away. As much as you protest against the homeward journey, we all know: “There’s no place like home!!”

The Palm Beach Ferry returns to near deserted wharf at Ettalong as the weekend draws to a close.

The Palm Beach Ferry returns to near deserted wharf at Ettalong as the weekend draws to a close.

However, when the ferry pulled into the wharf, there was no one there. The wharf was empty, deserted and not even a sign of our car anywhere. No enthusiastic waves. No hugs. No Mummy!!! Just the sun setting over a deserted beach and the sounds of the wind and the surf.

I knew I was being a bit ridiculous, especially after it was me who actually went away for the weekend. However, there was this residual small voice which I’d thought had disappeared long ago:

“Nobody loves me!”

It’s not that I’m looking for sympathy or even a chorus of: “where were they? Why weren’t they there to pick you up? How dare they!” I mean…it’s not like I cried or anything. However, after building up the big greeting all the way home and really looking forward to seeing the rest of the family, I did feel a bit sad, forgotten and (drum roll)  ABANDONED!!

Serves me right for going away for the weekend without them. This was karma and a taste of what it’s really like to be alone.

As it turned out, the family wasn’t far away and had got held up at scouts. Geoff and the kids had been unloading boats, kayaks and all sorts of paraphenalia from their weekend competing at the Sirius Cup at Sydney’s Balmoral Beach. That’s all. Nothing sinister!

Mister poking out his tongue while scouting at the Sirius Cup, Balmoral Beach.

Mister poking out his tongue while scouting at the Sirius Cup, Balmoral Beach.

Mister had had great fun and made it into the finals for the C2 at the Sirius Cup, which means a 2 person canoe. We were so proud..particularly as he’d overcome his fear of sharks and other nasties and gone for it!! Miss had done really well at her Cub leadership course too. However, there are unfortunately no photos.

A reflective moment during scout camp.

A reflective moment during scout camp.

It’s been a fabulous weekend. Absolutely fabulous!!

Geoff even managed to watch the Grand Prix! Unfortunately, it wasn’t Australian race champion, Daniel Riccardo’s day.

Boo who! Tomorrow…it’s back to yet another manic Monday morning. I’m going to need a pretty strong coffee to get me going. It’s going to be like raising the Titanic.

The Monday morning salvage routine is going to be tough!!

The Monday morning salvage routine is going to be tough!!

xx Rowena (and a few extra kilos after that chocolate cake!!)