Tag Archives: Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge

Hawkesbury River Ferry Cruise.

Last Sunday, our family went on a history cruise along Sydney’s Hawkesbury River (Deerubbun) with the kids’ Scout troop.

However, before our journey proceeds any further, I thought I’d better provide you with a map of the Hawkesbury River. Not that I’m any good at reading maps, but I thought you might like to know where we are…especially if you’re not from around here. (By the way,as we live North of the Hawkesbury River, I really should be posting the map “upside down”…I mean, the right way up.

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Our Hawkesbury River Cruise set out from Brooklyn, which is just above the M1 sign on the map. While I’ve previously posted about  the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge and its role in defending Sydney during WWII, this is more of a pictorial overview of the trip.

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Geoff as we left Brooklyn.

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Fishing Boats, Brooklyn.

From Brooklyn, we headed east towards Broken Bay and Palm Beach, which some of you might know as “Summer Bay” from  Australian drama Home & Away.

As I said, I don’t have a great sense of direction.  Yet, I do remember us chugging past the Sport & Recreation Camp at Milson Bay and round to Juno Point, where I photographed this very statuesque gum tree leaning out over the river.

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Like so many of its kind, this gum tree is growing in very harsh conditions, seemingly straight out of the rocks.  Gum trees are so tenacious holding in all sort of conditions but then they can sudden fall over, easily becoming “widow-makers”.

Then, we made our way into Broken Bay via checking out the defenses at West Head, which is really known more as a scenic lookout than an army base.

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WWII Gun emplacement at West Head, along the Hawkesbury River.

We returned to Brooklyn, heading upstream towards Wiseman’s Ferry and Windsor. This meant going past what remains of the original Hawkesbury River Bridge, a hauntingly beautiful row of sandstone piers, an epitaph to engineering doom.

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We also  travelled underneath the replacement Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge, which seemed reminiscent of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and was also an engineering marvel back in its day.

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A close-up of the New Hawkesbury River Bridge. These girders remind me of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The Bridge provided some outstanding photo opportunities, particularly as I love seeing the familiar through an unfamiliar lens or perspective. The local train from Woy Woy to Sydney passes over this bridge so we know it well from the train window. You also see the bridge in the  distance driving to Sydney. So, the Hawkesbury River Bridge is a very familiar sight…just not looking up at it from the river. That was a buzz.

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Quite a change from the old steam trains. This is a  modern OSCAR train (Outer Suburban Carriage)

However, there’s much more to cruising along the Hawkesbury River than engineering structures.

There were clouds.

At least, there were clouds as we were cruising along last Saturday. Not just any ordinary clouds either.There was a sky full of photogenic clouds…fluffy tufts of pure white cotton wool pasted on a bright blue sky with perfect cloud outlines. I couldn’t have done a better job myself…not that I’m in the cloud-making business.

Do you like watching clouds?

While cloud gazing might be considered a little “fluffy”, I find it quite mesmerising and have gone to great lengths to photograph  clouds in what could be described as suicidal weather conditions. Yet, in better weather, appreciating clouds reflects a joie de vivre...a soul committed to carpe diem seize the day. After all, the phrase is “seize the day” and NOT “seize the mobile phone”!!

Hey, you tell me? What isn’t there to love about this sky full of clouds?

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Cloud River.

Another highlight of the cruise was checking out the wreckage of the HMAS Parramatta.

Named after the Parramatta River, HMAS Parramatta, was a River-class torpedo-boat destroyer of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN). Ordered in 1909 for the Commonwealth Naval Forces (the predecessor of the RAN), Parramatta was the first ship launched for the Australian navy.

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From 1914 to 1917, HMAS Parramatta was involved in wartime patrols in the Pacific and South East Asian regions, before she and her sister ships were transferred to the Mediterranean for anti-submarine operations. She returned to Australia in 1919, and was placed in reserve. Apart from a brief period of full commission during the visit of the Prince of Wales, Parramatta remained in reserve commission until 1928. She was fully decommissioned in 1928, stripped of parts, and sold for use as prisoner accommodation on the Hawkesbury River. After changing hands several times, the hull ran aground during gale conditions in 1933, and was left to rust. In 1973, the bow and stern sections were salvaged, and converted into memorials and the remainder can be seen here. Further information HMAS Parramatta.

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Our son enjoying a bit of speed.

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Creating Waves.

Wow! As you can see, we had a wonderful time…although it really just felt like an entree and I really want to see more…especially the sunset. Sunsets viewed as the train crosses over the Hawkesbury Railway Bridge are a knockout but it would be even better viewed from the water.  I can definitely feel a sunset trip along the Hawkesbury River coming up.

Bring it on!

Meanwhile, if you’d like to follow in our wake, you can reach Central Coast Ferries: here.

xx Rowena

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What a fabulous day!

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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