Modern road-building has taken some of the fun out of crossing the Murrumbidgee at Gundagai.
As flashy Sydneysiders on our way to holidays in Victoria, we zipped down the Hume Highway from Sydney to Melbourne as fast as the speed limits would allow.
On our way back, we took time to explore the old route, meandering through towns which are now bypassed by the traffic.
Of course a new bridge was needed. The Murrumbidgee River (I do love the name) is famed for breaking its banks. In 1852 this spelled tragedy for Gundagai when at least 78 of the town’s 250 residents drowned in a flash flood, one of Australia’s worst natural disasters.
The Prince Alfred Bridge and the rail viaduct beside it were constructed in 1896-98. Prince Alfred was Queen Victoria’s second son, and in 1866 was the first member of the British royal family to visit Australia.
It was a popular visit, according to the information by the bridge, though not with everybody. The prince was shot in an assassination attempt in Clontarf, Sydney and never made it to Gundagai. Henry James O’Farrell was arrested on the spot, tried and hanged for the crime in 1868.*
Since the highway was re-routed in 1977, a small group of local enthusiasts has been struggling to raise funds to preserve the historic bridges. Meanwhile they’ve been left to decay gently beneath river red gums on the flood plains outside the town.
They’re a tourist attraction now, and a magnet for photographers, self included.
The bridges are no longer in use, and even walking on them is banned by a bossy sign. I got as close as I could. It’s hard to resist the texture of that timber.
*That was the first time I’d heard the Prince Alfred story, despite having once spent a short time in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney. The things you learn from researching ruined country bridges!