Walcha history: Woolbrook's bridge campaign

Macdonald River crossing: A 2010 photo of the truss and beam road bridge across the Macdonald River at Woolbrook. It has since been replaced by a concrete bridge.
Macdonald River crossing: A 2010 photo of the truss and beam road bridge across the Macdonald River at Woolbrook. It has since been replaced by a concrete bridge.

The long campaign by Woolbrook residents to have a road bridge built to replace the wet crossing of the Macdonald River finally came to fruition in 1913.

The Public Works Department was not prepared to put up the whole of the 1350 pounds estimated cost of the bridge and eventually reached a funding agreement with all interested parties.

The Woolbrook community, Walcha’s Apsley Shire Council and Tamworth’s Cockburn Shire Council each agreed to contribute 300 pounds while the department agreed to provide the balance of 450 pounds.

In March 1913, Mr J.A. Jackson of Manilla was awarded a 2140 pounds contract to erect the much sought-after bridge but, with extras, the final cost reached 2650 pounds.

There is no information to hand as to whether Woolbrook residents or local councils were asked to fund part of the extra cost.

The road bridge was built primarily of timber and comprised a composite truss span of 91 feet, plus three beam spans each 30 feet long.

There was no official opening but there was an unofficial opening organised by the contractor, Mr Jackson. That event in 1914 included a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a picnic.

The first railway bridge across the Macdonald River at Woolbrook was a temporary timber structure erected in 1880 by A. & R. Amos Brothers as part of their contract to build the 63 mile extension of the Great Northern Rail Line from West Tamworth to Uralla.

The timber bridge was used as an interim measure pending the arrival in 1881 of the present lattice-sided wrought iron bridge, which was fabricated in England by J.O. & C.E. Brettell, disassembled, shipped to Newcastle and sent by rail from there to Woolbrook where it was reassembled by J.S. Bennett, a sub-contractor to Amos Brothers.

The 135-year-old steel bridge is still in service, but with a 30km per hour speed limit for passenger trains in deference to its advanced years.

It is one of 12 historic railway bridges of this pattern in NSW.

The late Aubrey Levingston said of the bridge: “At one time it was solidly floored and was also used as a road bridge.

“In 1914, after the road bridge was built, a lot of sleepers on the rail bridge were pulled up to leave gaps so wheeled traffic could not use it. School children, however, would still cross it and duck into the steelwork at the side if a train came along.”

The Walcha Local History Centre is situated in the Walcha Library, near the Post Office, in Derby Street.

The Local History Centre houses the Walcha and District Historical Societies paper records including family histories, local government papers, photographs, books and maps.