OFF THE HUME #4 – along the old road to Gundagai

The Prince Alfred Bridge - the road over the Murrumbidgee until 1977. Photo: Wikicommons.

The Prince Alfred Bridge – part of the Hume Highway until 1977. Photo: Wikicommons.

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.

The present bridge over the river. Less interesting, but flatter.

The replacement bridge. Not exactly a tourist attraction.

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 viaduct - Wood

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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.

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*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!

13 Comments

Filed under Travel-Australia

13 responses to “OFF THE HUME #4 – along the old road to Gundagai

  1. There’s so much raw beauty in the old ones, revealed in the photos that “replacements” are just…falling flat.

  2. Getting off the highway to discover all these old places that lay mainly forgotten are one of the delights of travel. Yes that bridge is very photogenic in its rustic, decaying beauty

    • We don’t do this sort of thing often enough, pp, especially in Australia.

      In other places we’re always looking for quirky little towns and buildings. In Australia we usually just want to get there. Note to self: Slow down!

      • Our round Australia trip, That “must-do” for grey nomads, was made memorable by exploring side roads and keeping off the highway whenever possible. It took us a year to get round and still lots more to see…

  3. Angela Highstead

    Reminded me a bit of Bridges of Madison County. Is there a story that includes more of our old bridges here in Australia?

    • The elaborate wooden construction reminds me of the one in Bridge on the River Kwai. The present day bridge there is steel and much less spectacular than the one Alec Guinness and the lads built.

  4. Great bridges. It looks like it will take a lot of dollars to preserve them for the future so probably a good job you saw them when you did!
    I had never heard that Prince Albert story either.

  5. Richard, so interesting to read of the assassination attempt. I wonder why that piece of history hasn’t been spoken of more.
    Gorgeous old bridge.

    (ps. my eldest recently read one of your kids books, and was tickled pink when I showed him your blog.)

  6. john

    you did not mention that the bridges are a “managed ruin”

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