HomeCouncilHidden Histories: 'unusual bridge' undergoes restoration

Hidden Histories: ‘unusual bridge’ undergoes restoration

Saltwater Creek Bridge
The Saltwater Bridge was originally built by Millaquin Mill owner Robert Cran and required an Act to be passed to allow this private railway to connect the North Coast Railway to the mill.

In the 1890s some lighthouses were constructed using screw piles – the same foundations used for the Saltwater Creek railway bridge.

It’s one of the quirks of the structure which has piqued the interest of consulting archaeologist Simon Gall.

Ahead of the restoration of the heritage-listed Saltwater Creek bridge, Simon was charged with researching the heritage of the unique structure.

He described it as an “unusual bridge” and said Bundaberg was lucky in that it featured a number of historic and interesting bridges, including the Burnett Traffic and Kennedy bridges which were constructed after the Saltwater Creek railway bridge.

“It's on a state register for the primary reason being the use of screw piles, which was not new at the time, but still probably relatively unusual,” Simon said.

“I think they started off using them in things like lighthouses and stuff like that originally.

“From an engineering perspective, it's unusual and I think it’s, if not the oldest, might be the second oldest surviving in Queensland with that sort of construction.”

Saltwater Creek Bridge
Simon Gall and Ulrike Oppermann inspecting decayed timber.

He said the remainder of the bridge was fairly traditional timber bridge construction.

“I think, actually, another little interesting bit of history is there's some girders that come from the Gold Coast Railway, which disappeared.”

The bridge was originally built by Millaquin Mill owner Robert Cran and required an Act to be passed to allow this private railway to connect the North Coast Railway to the mill.

Simon said it was great to see Bundaberg Regional Council’s bridge crew, skilled in the construction and repair of historic timber structures, working on the bridge.

“Heritage is not just about structures, it's about skills and the knowledge and what these things represent,” he said.

Find out more about the history of the Saltwater Creek railway bridge and the efforts to restore it in the latest episode of the Bundaberg Now Hidden Histories podcast.

You can also listen on Google, Apple, Spotify, TuneIn or your favourite podcast app.

Subscribe to the podcast here.

Hear from external consultant archaeologist Simon Gall, cultural heritage specialist Ulrike Oppermann and structural engineer Anthony Chen, as well as Council engineer Clete Perrott and project supervisor Hunter Cole.

Saltwater Creek bridge podcast transcript

Gennavieve Lyons [00:00:06] Welcome to this special series of the Bundaberg Now podcast, where we shine a spotlight on the heritage buildings of our region. I'm your host, Genevieve Lyons, and I invite you to listen along as we uncover some hidden histories, mysterious stories and bizarre facts about some of our most iconic buildings and structures. Today, we hear from a range of experts about the heritage listed Saltwater Creek Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge that connects the CBD to Bundaberg East, originally a rail bridge built to service the sugar cane industry. This bridge is being carefully restored to maximize its location and preserve its historical significance as the second oldest bridge of its kind still standing in Queensland. Adele Bennett from Bundaberg now sat down with the experts working on the bridge. The group included external consultant archaeologist Simon Gall, cultural heritage specialist Ulrike Oppermann and structural engineer Anthony Chen, as well as council engineer Clete Perrott and project supervisor Hunter Cole.

Adele Bennett [00:01:11] We're here at Saltwater bridge, can you tell me a little bit, Simon, about the background of the bridge and what's happening?

Simon Gall [00:01:16] So the bridge that we're looking at here is a railway bridge. I think built in 1894 was one of a number of pretty interesting bridges in Bundaberg. Built, I think the railway bridge over the Burnett was built before this. And then you've got the road bridge over the Burnett, which was built after and then the Kennedy Bridge as well. Bundaberg is pretty lucky to have all of these pretty cool bridges, all of which take well, I guess quite a lot of maintenance as well, which is why we're all here today. This is an unusual bridge. It's on a state register for, I guess, the primary reason being the use of screw piles, which was not new at the time, but still probably relatively unusual. I think they started off using them in things like lighthouses and stuff like that originally. So that's one of the reasons. So from an engineering perspective, it's unusual and I think it's, if not the oldest might be the second oldest surviving in Queensland with that sort of construction. Other parts of a fairly traditional timber bridge construction. And I think actually another little interesting bit of history is there's some girders that come from the Gold Coast Railway, which disappeared as well.

Adele Bennett [00:02:33] Could you tell me why it was built in the start and who built it?

Simon Gall [00:02:36] Trying to think it was, it was built for the Milliquen Mill that was built by, there had been a lot of toing and froing about trying to get a bridge or railway built to the Milliquen Mill to connect it to the North Coast Rail. And I think that had been going on. I think the mill was built by [Robert] Cran that's right. So in 1880, the mill was built, so this had been going on for a while. This being built in 1894, they'd been using all sorts of various transportation, I guess river and road, well, road's probably an exaggeration, track, perhaps at the time. That have been going on for a while. And obviously, this is the expansion. You know, Bundaberg started for a variety of reasons, but now we're into the period where sugar is really driving the economy here and how you know where the wealth is and why Bundaberg is really here. So this is an important indication of that development as well. Was it Liberty who designed the bridge? I'm trying to think of the name of the guy who designed it.

Ulrike Oppermann [00:03:38] It was designed by the Queensland Rail. Yes, although it was a private railway and he paid for it. It needed to be to Queensland Rail standards and it needed its own Act. It went through parliament and he needed an Act was put in place that he was actually allowed to have this private railway to connect the North Coast Railway to the mill.

Adele Bennett [00:04:00] And from a historical perspective, is it pretty like a standard thing to have been built then as a timber screw pile bridge and just not many have survived? Or is it was out of the ordinary?

Simon Gall [00:04:10] I think the construction techniques for the time were on the timber constructions fairly typical. But I think the screw piles and some of the use of steel in there as well is probably unusual because it's not it's not a large bridge as such. So that's probably unusual for the period and that's demonstrating some innovation, which is one of the reasons why it's listed. So I think the private, it's not entirely unusual for private companies to be building rails because sometimes I guess they just got fed up with how long it took for things to happen, which I guess still happens today. So I think he basically took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and said, Ah, I've had enough of this. I've got the money. I need it. As long as you let me build it, I'll build it. So yes, in that respect, the combination of those things makes it interesting, particularly for Bundaberg history and the connection through to the mill and everything else.

Adele Bennett [00:05:06] And for anyone that doesn't know what a screw pile is, can you describe it and its purpose?

Anthony Chen [00:05:11] The screw pile is like a construction like a pile, the end attach like an auger. So is technically just a instead of a driven rake, they're just torquing into the ground, which is like in nowadays is like you can see in a small domestic construction you never seen using a screw pile in a in a large civil infrastructure, which is that's all I'm saying is probably a once in my lifetime I've seen something like that. And I never seen this, unless I'm going through a house construction. And probably they're using a small, minuscule pile happen in a domestic construction, but not for the big civil infrastructure.

Simon Gall [00:05:54] So I guess if you think of when these things, these innovations occurring, when the industrial revolution, things like this are coming out there, you know, and I think I'm pretty sure it did start up with things like lighthouses, where they had to go out and get a footing somehow in an area that was tidal or difficult to do. And so that's probably the same reason why they've utilised it here. But it was still quite, as you said, Anthony, quite rare and innovative.

Anthony Chen [00:06:15] Yeah, you're quite right. Probably in the old days, people doesn't really know how to build like a modern day that people can build cofferdam, you know, so they can drive the pile, which is a modern construction in the old days it probably doesn't have a good dam technology to block the water out to make an improvement. So this probably I think it was very smart at that time. People are going to think of that way.

Adele Bennett [00:06:38] Yeah. So with these screw piles that we and maybe another engineering question, but are we taking them out and then re-putting them in?

Anthony Chen [00:06:49] No, it's it will stay. There is surprisingly, the pile is still in very good condition of our have no concern. It just maybe need a bit re-coating and we have a patch up work here and there. But the integrity of the screw pile is still very in a fair condition here.

Adele Bennett [00:07:10] So when you do a restoration of any heritage building, are you trying to reuse or use reclaimed resources or make like make it in a similar way to what it was? How much, I guess how much is new and how much is sort of left?

Simon Gall [00:07:28] Well, I guess it's been a long process to get through this so Anthony and his colleague Simon, were out here doing the engineering inspections. Plus another few other guys have looked at the concrete and the steel and all of those things to look at the condition. And I guess they've done the best that they can while the deck and everything else is on. And then once the decks come off, that's demonstrated that there's further issues with some of the, you know, some of the structure. Then I guess it's always the objective is trying to reuse or retain as much of the original material as can and Hunter and these guys are doing a really good job there by recycling some of the larger pieces and kind of down for core walls and things like that, which is good. But probably one of the key issues these days is the spans, like when you when this was built, you still had old growth timber and things like that around. So actually sourcing something with that, you know, that density and span and everything else is a little difficult. And I guess people aren't chopping down trees the same way they were once as well. So we're trying to keep a few of those. But yeah, I guess the other, Hunter's got a lot of experience as well in timber bridges. That's what you've done your whole life, really, and that experience is wonderful to have people who can, who know what they're doing. They've learnt those techniques from people who were before them as well. So that sort of passing on that in itself is heritage, I think. And if you go to places like Britain now, they'll really celebrate those skills and keep them alive. So this project's wonderful to keep. And some of the young fellows, I guess, to on your crew may not have done this before, Hunter, I don't know?

Hunter Cole [00:09:07] No they didn't. None of them had ever actually work on a railway structure at all, like normal traffic bridges and that and like they adapted well. There's like a lot of the timber work is the same principle, but it's just getting around the railway line and your sleepers and stuff like that. And then we had to do with Google research and find out how far to put the sleepers apart and stuff like that.

Hunter Cole [00:09:36] Oh yeah,  you can talk to a hundred people from the railway and they'll all give you a different “nah mate, they've got to be this far apart”, “nah, that's too wide..” Like, yeah, there's a few different challenges here and things like that. But like, we've all adapted well to it and, you know, and then once come to the girders it's just old hat, what we do all the time and we're slowly getting it put back together.

Adele Bennett [00:10:07] So with reclaimed timber, can you tell me a bit about where it came from?

Hunter Cole [00:10:11] Yep. Bundaberg Council they've replaced three timber bridges recently. We've reclaimed a lot of the timber out of that and the timber that we had on hand a lot of it was good enough to go back. It's gone back into this bridge. And just recently, because we've discovered there's a bit more wrong with this bridge. I've been in talks with Main Roads in Bundaberg here and gone and inspected the stock pile of second hand girders that they've got.  I'd like to let them know what the project was all about and sort of what we were looking for, and they come to the party and said, you know, go down and have a look and see what you need there. And then Alan Tee from Main Roads he's been very, very helpful. And we will be picking them girders up within the next fortnight.

Adele Bennett [00:11:06] So a lot of it's like come locally from local bridges and local projects?

Simon Gall [00:11:10] A good example of collaboration, I guess. But I guess the point I was trying to say before is heritage is not just about structures, it's about skills and the knowledge and what these things represent. And that's a great example that some of the young guys here can be learning those skills and taking them forward. So yeah, I'm sure Hunter will do such a good job that they'll never have to work on this one again. But there may be other bridges that they may to work on.

Anthony Chen [00:11:37]  I'm so happy and able to see this happen. You know, I mean, probably I was to say this is only once in my life. I will see this someone doing this thing. And I mean, that's why I'm so excited to come out and have a look. I say, maybe this is one of a lifetime opportunity for me to see something like that and see Hunter doing this bridge. I see a lot of modern bridge construction, but I've never seen this, which is a great thing to see.

Simon Gall [00:12:04] I think it's I think council does need to be commended for doing this because sometimes it can get too hard and too expensive. And that's where heritage sort of, I guess, suffers because it comes down to economics, prudent, feasible sort of arguments. This is really great that it is being done and the people of Bundaberg in the region and more broadly, who will be able to understand and see that and appreciate the history.

Adele Bennett [00:12:31] So is this something that you've seen before in your career?

Simon Gall [00:12:35] I guess probably not on this scale. I mean, obviously you've seen the traffic bridge over the Burnett was done up and that was a major task. But that's different. There's a lot of steel in that, and that's a completely different bridge. We've worked on bridges like the Lamington Bridge and Maryborough.  That's again, that's a reinforced concrete bridge. So again, that was innovative at the time. But to see the amount of work that's had to go into this and there's obviously more to go with the painting and those sorts of things as well in the future. No, seen other cool timber structures and industrial buildings and things like that being fixed up. But no, this is this is a first for us.

Adele Bennett [00:13:12] And so for people that are interested in what archaeologists do, could you tell me just briefly how you sort of fit into a project like this through with the process of engaging with council?

Simon Gall [00:13:26] Well, we're a private consultancy and my so I'm an archaeologist. My colleague Ulrika is she's a cultural heritage, I guess you've done your master's in culture heritage management. We've got a variety of different people we work with and we work with Anthony and his company regularly on lots of different projects, too. So as an archaeologist, I mean, we look at the sort of, you know, I guess there's lots of layers on this bridge. And as an archaeologist was looking at, I guess Lie is a really important geological or otherwise. And here you can see those changes in those layers over time. The repairs have happened and things like that, that's really important. And that's what we're trying to keep is putting the rails back on, for example, are important because that tells us, you know, that this was a railway bridge. Now it's a pedestrian bridge, but it was a railway, so it's about looking into the past. My skill sets, you know, is there a particular qualification to do heritage? No, it's, you know, our team's diverse so it with a range of backgrounds, archaeology is just one of them. And I guess, you know, councils, we work with council on a number of different projects just to provide advice. But obviously, councils running all of these things. So we just slot in where we need to and we help with compliance and those sorts of things. And I guess, just facilitating Anthony's team and stuff like that. 

Adele Bennett [00:14:49] And it's obviously a requirement to have archaeologists engage when it's a heritage listed structure?

Simon Gall [00:14:56] Not necessarily archaeologists as such, but heritage professions. Yeah. So they, you know, in this case, engineers as well. And again, there's not there's not necessarily specific qualification for this, so obviously, there's a reason why we used Bligh Tanner they've got a lot of heritage experience, I worked on a lot of heritage structures, so that's really important. And so it's important that the department is comfortable that what's being done is following a proper process, things like the charter and best practice. And I think I think this is clearly following best practice. And so the department of really quite comfortable with what Council are doing because of how they're doing it and the people like Hunter and his team are involved as well. Bligh Tanner, you know, this is a really good team here and Council themselves, Council officers. So it's not just us, it's a combination.

Clete Perrott [00:15:48] That was the big thing for us is, you know, we understand the importance of the structure and you know, our obligations because it is heritage listed. But outside of that, our knowledge is quite limited. So we had to get a team together that were going to help get the best results that we could. And we sort of noticed with how easy this is going through with the state government. You know, the level of knowledge that we've got here and how they  managed to turn that into  something that's helped us through very, relatively easily. I think across the board, the project's been quite a success. Up until this point, based on the input of the people that we've used,

Adele Bennett [00:16:22] I mean, just in general, last question, I guess how important is it that as a society, we look after these heritage buildings and structures?

Simon Gall [00:16:31] I think it's very important and I work a lot with Aboriginal people as well. And it's always about understanding where people come from and country and identity and all those sorts of things. This is just the same. I think, you know, understanding where you live and the things that have happened to make it where it is today and have that sort of grounding. I think as times change and people and places change. You know, you've got lots of great buildings around Bundy and that. But to understand why they're here and where that wealth came from, how things have changed over time and how that links into all sorts of, you know, if you didn't have the sugar, you wouldn't have had Bundy Rum. And that's an iconic thing which still exists. And I mean, a lot of people go well that bridge is important, but it's about understanding where things come from and where we come from, I guess, and why a particular places unique and it's a great place to live. And that why keeping things like this are important. But also interpreting them and allowing people to understand why that's important because otherwise, if you don't do that, people just think it's an old bridge that Council spent a lot of money. But it is, and it's a lot more than that. And if it was lost, it would be a great loss.

Anthony Chen [00:17:40] I think in my opinion, it's like, you know, every city need a little bit of characters, you know? And so this is the Bundaberg character of the city, the identity of Bundaberg, you know, in because this bridge is I want this see like this, a composite of a steel girder combination with a timber. Yeah. This is only once. Yeah, I only see it as a full team of bridges or full steel bridges. There's no such thing like that. So I think this is for me is a very iconic things. I think this is only once in Bundaberg, and that's it.

Simon Gall [00:18:14] The other thing I'd point out roughly where we're sitting now, if you look, you know, when you stand out on the edge here and look out, you can actually in one spot see three heritage listed bridges, two bridges from one spot, and they're all somewhat different in their construction and quite unique. So, you know, just for that reason, it's worth coming in and having a look at them, if you like that sort of stuff. There's not many places you can do that. I can see such interesting engineering industrial heritage in one spot.

Anthony Chen [00:18:43] Yeah this is one very unique things I've seen here.

Simon Gall [00:18:43] The other thing don't forget this has been through how many floods and massive, massive floods to yeah and it's still standing.

Anthony Chen [00:18:53] It wasn't designed, in the old days there's no code, no regulation to guide you to design this kind of thing like this modern day. But this is a proven structures that people in the past only design on the first principle of engineering and the bridge to survive from a couple major events, which is why in a modern day bridge like in Brisbane in particular, there's been washed away a lot of bridges and then overpasses and everything. And remember, this is a modern day construction but this is hundreds of years construction. This still has to stay there. And then we know when you see, like, you know, the girders has been tied on with one single bolt and I compare with today, so tide on with hundreds of bolts and still go away, you know?

Adele Bennett [00:19:43] So overall, we can say that the structural integrity of the bridge and the foundations were all good. The only thing we're really refurbishing is the timber?

Simon Gall [00:19:51] Yeah, the timber has an age, I guess, and some of the things that we're looking at now just improving some of the things that have been done over the last few decades to to make it easier to maintain and probably a little more flood proof, which will mean that it should survive well into the future now and be easier for Council to maintain in the longer run, save money as well.

Clete Perrott [00:20:14] And we've also got to move on to the steel component next. That's a more specialist skill set, with the lead paint, working above water for environmental stuff. So we want to get the timber stuff out of the way first and then regroup and go out and make contact and get a specialist into finish that last little bit.

Gennavieve Lyons [00:20:33] Thanks for listening. Hopefully, you've come away with a little more insight into Saltwater Creek Bridge. Tune in again next month, where we'll hear about another of Bundaberg's heritage buildings and structures.

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