A bridge across the river

During the earlier 1900s various means of spanning the Barwon River between Barwon Heads and Ocean Grove had been proposed including a punt, ferry boats and a road bridge. A road bridge was the favoured option, but true to Barwon Head’s tradition it was still met with strong opposition. The bridge finally opened on Christmas eve 1927. Today the 300-metre long bridge has been listed as State Cultural Significance by Heritage Victoria and is the longest timber road bridge in Victoria. Although it had been possible to reach either side of the river by motor launch, those wishing to drive to or from the Bellarine Peninsula had to travel to Geelong to cross the Barwon River.
   Plans for a pontoon ferry service were first put before councils in 1910, but was abandoned for several years through lack of interest.  The idea was revived in May 1925 when a pontoon ferry was again proposed to transport vehicles across the river. The pontoon would operate from a point at the end of Geelong Road across the river to the Ocean Grove side. The cost was expected to be about £600 for road making on either side of the river.
    Representatives from the councils of the time Shire of Bellarine and the Shire of South Barwon were greatly interested in the scheme with the relatively inexpensive pontoon. But the councils stated a bridge was out of the question with costs expected to be many thousands of pounds.pontoon. But the councils stated a bridge was out of the question with costs expected to be many thousands of pounds.
   By September 1925, the costs of road making and a pontoon ferry had been estimated to be £5000 and the Geelong Harbour Trust (responsible authority for the Barwon River at the time) asked for public subscription to help pay for the service.
   By mid 1926, the pontoon ferry idea was dropped in favour of a road bridge due to the dramatic increase in the number of motor vehicles and tenders were called for the construction of a bridge. However Ocean Grove fishermen opposed the bridge because they claimed they would not be able to sail their vessels under the bridge and upstream to the harbour at Ocean Grove.   The small fishermen’s marina was located at the end of Guthridge Street, Ocean Grove.
   A tender from a Gippsland contractor, Stan Patience, was accepted on 1 October 1926 for £10,400 to construct the 1000 feet (305 metre) long timber bridge.   The Country Roads Board was to bear half the costs while the Shire of Bellarine and the Shire of South Barwon would contribute £1000 each and the balance would be from public subscriptions.
    Ocean Grove fishermen still opposed the bridge and engineers examined ways of constructing the bridge to allow the tall masted couta boats to be able to sail beneath the bridge. Erection of davits was suggested on the new bridge as was supplying the boats with collapsible masts.
    No real solution was found and the construction of the bride caused the end of the Ocean Grove fishing industry.  The fishing fleet moved to the jetty at Barwon Heads where a safe harbour and more modern facilities had been promised.
    During bridge construction in 1927, tragedy struck when construction company boss Stan Patience was killed in an industrial accident at his Marshalltown timber yard. Marshall is about 10 miles on the Geelong Road from Barwon Heads.
    The Barwon Heads bridge was finally opened on Christmas Eve, 1927. Although maintained and upgraded over the past 74 years the bridge remains almost unchanged in appearance to when it was first built.
   With increased traffic flow, the decking planks were covered with bitumen in 1933 and the roadway regularly maintained.
    After severe flooding in the region in 1952, the bridge suffered stresses and undermining from abnormal river flow and major repairs were needed to make the bridge safe for traffic again.
    In 1961 the deck was remodelled and in 1965 the bridge was widened and the footway on the south side was moved to the north side of the bridge.
   Since 1927 pedestrians had used a footpath, on the ocean side of the bridge, which featured cantilevered fishing platforms. The most recent upgrade of  the bridge was carried out in 1998 when cantilevered fishing platforms were built similar to the original versions.
    The bridge is one of the most photographed icons in the region and played a major role in the popular ABC television drama series SeaChange.
    In its television role the bridge is condemned and closed, but the Barwon Heads road bridge, during its 74-year existence, has been closed to traffic for only four days during the 1952 floods and for two days following severe flooding in 1995.

-Greg Wane