The landscape at Gundagai is dominated by three bridges spanning the Murrumbidgee river and its floodplain: the Prince Alfred Bridge, the Railway Bridge, and the new Sheahan Bridge which forms part of the Hume Highway linking Sydney to Melbourne.
Prior to the floods of 1852 (refer my separate review) Gundagai was located on the flats of the Murrumbidgee River (where the major part of the bridges now stand). Apart from one building, the town was totally destroyed in those floods and, over time, was rebuilt some distance back from the river on the slopes of the Mount Parnassus. North Gundagai was now some distance from South Gundagai and two bridges (one road and one railway) were built spanning the river and its floodplain to connect the two (picture 1 above).
The original pin jointed, metal truss Prince Alfred (road) Bridge was built between 1865 and 1867 on the crossing used by stockmen and explorers. This was replaced, and extended to 921 metres, by the current wooden truss viaduct in 1896-98.
The Prince Alfred (above) was the longest bridge of any type in New South Wales until the Sydney Harbour Bridge was completed in 1932 and formed part of the Hume Highway for 110 years until the new and certainly less aesthetically pleasing, though more functional, pre-stressed concrete Sheahan Bridge was built across the river in 1977, bypassing Gundagai. The Sheahan Bridge (pictured at the end of this review), at 1,143 metres long, is just 6 metres shorter than the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, after whom the Prince Alfred Bridge is named, was Queen Victoria’s second son and the first member of a British royal family to visit Australia, in 1867-68 at the age of 23. His visit caused quite a stir with the low-light being an assassination attempt at Clontarf (Sydney) when an Irishman, Henry James O’Farrell, succeeded in seriously wounding the Prince. O’Farrell was hung for his misdemeanour. Despite this and many other incidents (a story for another day), the Prince’s tour was considered a great success, and helped to create a sense of unity for the young colony.
The adjacent wooden railway bridge at 819 metres and the longest timber truss structure ever built in Australia was constructed in 1901 and opened in 1903 when the branch railway line from Cootamundra to Gundagai was extended to Tumut. It remained in use until the line to Tumut closed in 1984.
Until 2003 you could walk out a short distance onto the road bridge (at either end) but this is no longer possible for safety reasons. You can view the bridges up close from various locations but the most convenient spot for a visitor is the North Gundagai end where the two bridges almost come together near the Cenotaph at Rusconi Place.
An even better view (but just of the road bridge) is that from the southern end adjacent to the Old Gundagai Waterworks – Pumping Station (picture 2 above was taken here).
Both bridges are National Trust listed but sadly funds are not available to preserve these massive structures. As I understand it, sections will be preserved and the remainder will be allowed to age and decay, gracefully – a concept that many conversationalists find difficult to accept, but ultimately money talks.
For completeness, a distant picture of the Sheahan Bridge taken from Mount Parnassus.
Address: Rusconi Place
Directions: Rusconi Place is the most convenient location to see the bridges close-up. Note my second photograph was taken at the other end of the Prince Alfred Bridge and my first from Rotary Lookout, South Gundagai.