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Notes on Monash bridges in South Australia

based on research by:
Lesley Alves (in University of Melbourne Archives and in South Australia),
Alan Holgate (in University of Melbourne Archives).

On this page:
1. "Hindmarsh [River] Bridge", Victor Harbor. 2. "Thebarton-Hindmarsh Tramway Bridge", Adelaide. 3. "Port Bridge", Port River, Port Adelaide. 4. "Mitcham Bridge". 5. "Reedy Creek Bridge", Palmer.


After Monash established the South Australian Reinforced Concrete Co. (SARC) in 1906, its main work seems to have been in the field of city buildings, and in elevated water tanks from 1909. There was initial and notable success with the Hindmarsh River railway bridge (below). Then came the Thebarton Tramway Bridge and the substructure of the Port River railway bridge (also below). However, SARC won only two contracts for road bridges (judging from the records of Monash's Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co.) during our study period up to December 1914. This contrasts strongly with RCMPC's activities in Victoria, where road bridges were a staple source of income. There are two likely reasons for this. Reinforced concrete construction had been established in South Australia before Monash started operations there, so he was not in the dominant position he maintained in Victoria. Secondly, SA government engineers, perhaps even more than in other states, were content to produce their own designs and construct them using day labour. This seems to have been the approach of W M Stevens, the Engineer for Roads and Bridges in South Australia.

The formation of the Country Roads Board in the same year brought Victoria more into line with other states. Monash complained of the dominance of government engineers in his 1913 Presidential Address to the Victorian Institute of Engineers.

While the Reedy Creek bridge near Palmer was being built by SARC in November 1913 - the only significant SA bridge of theirs clearly mentioned in the RCMPC records - Monash arranged an interview with Stevens. He told H G Jenkinson, his Resident Engineer in Adelaide: "I had a short interview with him during which he was very agreeable. Discussed Reedy Creek Bridge, and progress there. He expressed himself pleased with the way we had established business relations". They discussed the Department's day-labour bridge work, including the use of timber decks supported by steel girders. At Yacka, a bridge had been half decked with karri, which was "quite decayed", and half with jarrah which seemed satifactory. But Stevens was not sure whether to use timber again. Monash continued: "I discussed generally the policy of letting the work to specialist firms and he quite concurred in the view that he would let no contract work except to a Company of standing under a guarantee." Roadworks of £100,000 were in prospect, and might include one or two cases in which reinforced concrete would be suitable. Monash added that he had made the most of RCMPC's rapid expansion of business in bridges and that Stevens had seemed very interested. (Jenkinson seemed less convinced and replied inter alia "I note from your memo of 28th ult that you had a pleasant conversation with Mr Stevens".)

Hindmarsh [River] Bridge, Victor Harbor

University of Melbourne Archives BWP/23746.

This bridge was known to Monash and his colleagues as "The Hindmarsh Bridge". It carries a railway over the Hindmarsh River near the town of Victor Harbor. It has five spans, the inner three being shown on a drawing of 5 February 1907 as 30'-4" (9.25m) and the outer ones as 28'-10". (8.79m). These correspond with the figures given in Colin O'Connor's Spanning Two Centuries: Historic Bridges of Australia, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1985, pp.160-161. The client was the South Australian Railways represented by A. B. Moncrieff, who signed himself "Chief Engineer, South Australia". The SARCC engineer in Adelaide was W. W. Harvey. Their foreman for most of the project was Tom McCartney.

Monash's "Hindmarsh Bridge" is distinct from his "Hindmarsh-Thebarton" bridge in suburban Adelaide, now known as the "Holland St Bridge", which was built to carry the tramway over the Torrens River (see below).

The earliest record in the RCMPC files is a blueprint of the site sent by Moncrieff to Monash in July 1906. Monash prepared initial computations and sent off the resulting design "in accordance with best European practice for railway bridges", advising that the price would be under £3500. Moncrieff replied that though he could not guarantee that Monash's tender would be accepted, it was safe for him to visit the site and continue with detailed design. The submission of the tender on 26 December 1906 was followed by technical correspondence between the two on design principles: Moncrieff urging the use of simply-supported, rather than continuous girders, and questioning Monash's design for impact loading, shear strength, and pile capacity. Monash pointed out that his design was based on the Imperial German Regulations for Reinforced Concrete issued by the Ministry of Public Works, Berlin in April 1905. "These are not only the most authoritative, but also as a whole the most stringent Regulations hitherto published." Agreement was reached by early February 1907, and the documents were signed on 4 March for a price of £3560.

University of Melbourne Archives BWP/23747.

This is the most 'architectural' of Monash's bridges. The piers are solid, thick walls - seen here at low water. The bridge is on the skew, with the piers parallel to the stream flow; but the ends of the pier walls are kinked in plan so that their end faces are parallel to the girders. The walls are topped by a string course. There is a baluster at each pier, supported on twin scrolled corbels. In most T-girder bridges produced by RCMPC, the edge of the deck cantilevers straight out from the edge girder (e.g. Strathallan 1). Here, the outer side of the girder is given a generous curvature, and the underside of the deck is merely suggested. The low 'parapet' required to retain the ballast for the track has string courses to emphasise the horizontal line.

Monash sent the design to Gummow Forrest & Co in Sydney, and in April they (probably their chief engineer W. J. Baltzer) advised further strengthening. Casting of piles seems to have commenced in May 1907, and driving in June. Problems with crushing of the piles led to a halt in construction to allow more time for the concrete to gain strength, and questions in Parliament as to whether the bridge would be ready for summer traffic by the contract date in September. In August, Monash wrote to Harvey that "punctual and rapid completion" was of the utmost importance "from the point of view of gaining credit in the public mind for strict fulfilment of obligations". "We should aim at utmost speed practically 'regardless of expense' ".

Pile driving was completed in September, and concreting of the first span commenced. The fifth span was concreted on 2 October. Moncrieff applied pressure to have the bridge opened to traffic as early as possible. This was resisted by Monash and his staff, who wanted to allow the concrete to gain strength. Ten ballast trucks passed over on 10 October, and Monash agreed to let light locomotives cross from 4 November. The formal test, with two locos, took place on 28 November. Harvey reported that the government officers were very impressed with the job and especially with the performance of the piles.

University of Melbourne Archives BWP/23751.

The historic images above, and many more, are held in the University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers BWP/23734 to /23755, BWP/24365, and GPNB/1131. Most of these show the bridge under construction and under test by locomotives and trains.

Research by Lesley Alves revealed references to progress in the Southern Argus on 30/5, 27/6, 4/7, 25/7, 29/8, 3/10, 17/10, 18/11, and 28/11/1907. The bridge was fully written up in the journal Building of January 1908, pp.54-6. The Victor Harbor Times of 23/8/1912 reported that seismograph readings had been taken on the bridge in the presence of the Chief Engineer. The Victor Harbor line now serves as a tourist railway and the bridge is listed in O'Connor, C. Register of Australian Historic Bridges, Institution of Engineers, Australia and Australian Heritage Commission, Canberra, 1983.

Sir William Goodman Bridge, Adelaide
alias Holland Street Bridge
alias Thebarton-Hindmarsh Tramway Bridge

Two more historic images are held in the University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers BWP/23773 and /24366.

Early history

This bridge was built in 1908 to carry the tramway over the Torrens River, joining Manton St, Hindmarsh with Holland St, Thebarton. It was normally referred to in the RCMPC files as the "Thebarton Bridge". For part of its life it was generally known as the Holland Street Bridge, but in 2014 it was renamed in honour of the General Manager of the Adelaide Municipal Tramways Trust who was both an Electrical and Civil Engineer (MIEE, MICE) [ADB]. A Mr Bowman held the positon of civil engineer for the Trust. The SARCC's engineer resident in Adelaide at the time was W. W. Harvey and their foreman on the job was Tom McCartney. The bridge has three spans of 38 feet (11.6m) and is 16 feet wide (4.88m). A duplicate tramway bridge was built in 1922 to join Orsmond St, Hindmarsh to Cawthorne St, Thebarton.

Initial feelers concerning the original bridge were put out in August 1907. Goodman also approached Gummow Forrest & Co. in Sydney, who let Monash know of this. It took some time for the parties involved to reach a decision on whether the local Councils would participate (in which case the bridge would be more ornamental, with provision for general traffic as well as trams) and to decide whether it should be an arch or a T-girder bridge. Bowman was keen to have a single arch with a span of 100 feet. Monash, as usual after 1903, argued strongly for the T-girder alternative for economy and efficiency. Foundation conditions and waterway requirements clinched the argument, but vigilance was required to ensure the specification was written so as to leave an opening for the RCMPC design. Their drawing of 14 April 1908 showed two versions: 38 feet between railings to carry road traffic and trams, or 16 feet wide to carry only trams.

Sets of calculations are preserved in which Monash studied the effect on the girders as the load of a tram moved across the bridge. On 2 July 1908, he wrote to Harvey that most of the detailed design work and requisitions for materials would come from Melbourne, leaving a few type details for the Adelaide office. The tender was accepted for the tram-only version, and the first requisitions were issued in July 1908. Work was completed in December, and Monash commented that photographs showed "this work will be very creditable architecturally". Two years later, on the expiry of the maintenance period, representatives of the Tramway Board and SARCC inspected the bridge and "found no structural faults whatever". The cost was £1550.

Repair and strengthening 2014

Information supplied by Richard Venus and John Woodside.

In 1953 Adelaide's trams were replaced by buses. The tramway bridge was considered unsuitable for vehicular traffic, so in 1954 the adjoining Councils took possession of it as a useful link for pedestrian and cycle traffic. By 2010 it was so badly corroded that it was no longer safe even for this purpose. A number of options were considered:

After lengthy discussions between interested parties, the third option was adopted. A trial repair of one girder proved the practicability and economy of the proposal and work was completed in 2014.
Details of Restoration.

Port Bridge, Port Adelaide

Steel girders being placed on the piers built by SARC 1909-1910.
University of Melbourne Archives BWP/23724

Another historic image is held by University of Melbourne Archives, with Location Number BWP/23723, showing a closer view of the pile caps.

This railway bridge over the Port River, Port Adelaide, was known to SARC as the "Port Bridge". Monash heard news of it in December 1908 and proposed ten reinforced concrete T-girder spans of approximately 30 feet (9.1m). He made calculations on 31 January and 1 February 1909, and suggested a price of £13400 which included a healthy allowance for contingencies and profit. Chief Engineer Moncrieff felt this was too high and put government engineers to work to design steel girders for an alternative superstructure. While the two principals considered their positions, the government designers increased the spans to 34 feet, a more appropriate figure for steel girders. Monash decided his firms "at the present stage of our development" could not take responsibility for reinforced concrete girders of such span subjected to railway loads. He tendered for the reinforced concrete piling, piers and abutments at a price of £5772. The contract was signed at the end of August 1909 and the first pile was driven on 14 October. The job was "basically finished" in August 1910.

Port River Bridge 2014, with apartment buildings in the distance. Photo: John Woodside.

Mitcham Bridge, South Australia

This project is mentioned very briefly in the records of the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. (RCMPC). It was simply to place a reinforced concrete deck 24 × 22 feet (7.32 × 6.71m) on existing stone abutments. The Mitcham District Council accepted SARC's tender at its meeting on 4 September 1911 (reported in The Register of 11 September 1911). For some reason, SARC's Resident Engineer, H G Jenkinson, did not inform Monash until 28 October. Late in November, he reported that SARC's workers were carrying on the project despite industrial troubles.

In March 1912, Jenkinson carried out a routine analysis of costs which showed that "sundry items, supervision, cartage etc, were underestimated for this small job". He continued: "The extremely high cost of concrete materials 16.4d. per cu ft [0.028m³] has never been accounted for though enquiry was made at the time. A possible solution is that some thieving took place. There were several concrete houses being built in the vicinity. In cases such as this it is extremely difficult to ascertain the true state of affairs."

An advertisement in The Register of 1 August 1911, inviting tenders for "Completion of bridge in Devonshire St, Hawthorn" probably relates to this project.

Reedy Creek Bridge, South Australia.

General characteristics, extracted from a copy of the original blueprint (Plan No. 324) courtesy of the Department of Transport, Planning and Industry, Government of South Australia.

Photo courtesy of the DTPI, South Australia.

This bridge is extant (2014). It has been by-passed due to a re-alignment of the road, and now stands in private property. Thanks to Chantelle Snart, Senior Records Management Officer, Mid-Murray Council, for her help in making contact with the DTPI, and locating this bridge.

The brief records in the files of the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Co. (RCMPC) provide an interesting example of Monash's mentoring of his Resident Engineer in Adelaide, H G Jenkinson. Reedy Creek intersects the Palmer-Mannum road about 2 km from Palmer, which is about 56 km east of central Adelaide.

Sketches dated 13 August 1913 show a bridge with three spans of 40 feet (12.2m). It has four longitudinal girders, 18 feet (5.49m) above the bed of the creek. The piers are of the wall type, but with an arched opening, leaving two broad pillars, 4 feet wide and 18 inches thick (1220 × 457 mm). The abutments have four columns 24" × 18" (610 × 457 mm), one under each girder, and integral with the abutment face plate.

Photo: John Woodside 2014.

Jenkinson saw W M Stevens, Engineer for Roads and Bridges in South Australia, as his "client". On 5 August 1913, Jenkinson sent his sketch design and estimate to Monash, asking for his opinion particularly with respect to rates. He continued: "We are more favourably situated with regard to this bridge than we have ever been in relation to work from Mr Steven's department. Tenders have not been called, and our quoting for the work is purely an arrangement with Mr Stevens. His officers prepared a design for a single span of 100 feet [30.5m], which proved too costly and they are now working on a timber design. Mr Stevens has promised to give our offer the very best consideration, and if the price is favourable will recommend it to the Minister." His estimate included: basic cost £1225; standing charges £100; margin £200; and handrailing £48, giving a total of £1573.

HGJ was referring to the type of contract in which a Schedule of Rates is prepared, quoting the price per unit of the major items, e.g. per cubic metre of concrete, per ton of reinforcing steel, etc.

Monash's reply was detailed. "We have a rough rule in Melbourne for determining sale value of bridges. We multiply net length between abutments by overall width and then divide by 2, the answer being in £'s. This would give for this bridge 120 × 20 ÷ 2 = £1200. / This would be our Victorian tender price for a bridge complete including metal or gravel on deck and iron handrails at a normally convenient site where the piers and abutment are not abnormally deep, but covers no approach work. Our actual tenders in recent times under normal conditions have seldom departed much from this rule. / It is to be remembered, however, that we design bridges very closely and put in a minimum of concrete thus cutting down transport charges. / To impress Mr Stevens you will doubtless have to use greater bulk than the conditions really warrant. / Adopting your design and cost rate, the proposed margin for £200 is really not enough for the trouble and risks involved, and £300 would be more nearly fair margin, especially as that would not bring the total to anything like the £2000 limit set by Mr Stevens."

Monash felt that the pillars looked very extravagant. He suggested an 18" × 18" [457mm square] column under each girder, no arch, and no transom reinforcement. "These four columns could stand on a single common footing, and would not be subject to long column action [see Technical Note below]. The 8 columns all to one scantling [i.e. all of the same cross-sectional dimensions] would mean less timbering and also less weight of timber to transport. In the superstructure you can easily cut down your deck to 5½" [140mm] allowing separately for kerbs." Regarding the rubble concrete wing walls - "there is obviously a mistake here" - the average thickness of 9" [229mm] was insufficient for the height of material retained. (The height scales from the drawing at about 15 feet [4.57m].) "The thickness would more nearly average out at 1'-6" [457mm]. Nine inches is about the minimum thickness at the coping." Jenkinson's rate for this item appeared high, and if he could get good spalls locally at 10/- per cubic yard, the rubble concrete should not cost more than 30/-. The vertical plates in the front wall of the abutment, between the columns, appeared to be 9" thick, but 4" (102mm) at the top and 6" (152mm) at bottom should be adequate for the bending moments involved. "A bridge in the country scarcely justifies expensive rendering at 4/- per [square] yard and it would be better to try Stevens merely on a thick coat of cement wash on 'concrete left as stripped'. This makes a very presentable job." Monash's final comment was that the item for freight was large and required careful scrutiny. Did the rate of £2/12/- mean cartage from Adelaide all the way, or rail to Montana and cartage from there?".

Technical Note on the reference to "long column action". In reinforced concrete design practice during much of the 20th Century, it was considered that a column whose height was less than 15 times its smallest horizontal dimension was safe against buckling. If this ratio was higher, the column was considered a "long column" and more complex computations were required to determine its safe load.

On 12 August, HGJ wrote: "We have tendered £1623. Subsequently I had a long chat with Mr Stephens [sic]. Our price was about the same as they estimated for timber." Stevens had promised to recommend reinforced concrete to the Minister. On 23 September, he reported that the tender had been accepted, with a 10% provision for contingencies bringing the price to £1785. Monash was delighted that SARC had a foot in the door with the state government's Roads and Bridges Department; but was worried about the risk to his intellectual property. "Glad this work has been booked. / This ought to be a fine opportunity to display our competency to deal with bridge construction for the Government. / You should strive very energetically to avoid imparting to Mr Stevens more information regarding details of reinforcements than you can possibly help. Dodge this aspect as much, and as long as you can, so that we do not find ourselves in the position, hereafter, of having our ideas stolen and public tenders called on copies of our designs." To help Jenkinson with detailed bridge design, Monash lent a copy of the original drawing for his Janevale bridge. "This drawing will chiefly be helpful to you in regard to the design of the superstructure, but I want to warn you that our experience is that it is most necessary to put stirrups throughout the whole length of the girder and not leave the central third of the girder unreinforced for shear. The 5½" deck has proved amply sufficient for girders at 5 ft centres. / Regarding pier design, do not use the Janevale bridge as a precedent. The justification for the skeleton type of piers there is the same as applied to the Thebarton bridge, viz: the great height of the piers. Where piers are shallow, I prefer a separate post under each girder standing on a common foundation." In Victoria we think £1200 a good price for a bridge like this, so you should do well at the price arranged. "We recently completed a bridge over the Goulburn at Cremona, a long way from Melbourne, with very difficult river foundations, including pile driving, 186 ft long by 15 ft roadway at a total working cost of under £1200, including £150 of approach work."

Jenkinson replied that "Mr Stevens is strongly opposed to lightening up the scantlings of the substructure". Despite this, there was promise of good business. "While the design is not ideal from our point of view we must be patient and aim at bringing Mr Stevens round to our ideas in time."

Work started in November while reinforcing bars were on their way from the Lion Iron Works in Melbourne aboard the Lodorer. HGJ reported on 17th that the footings of one abutment had been placed, and that splendid deposits of gravel had been found, so that there would be no need to cart it from elsewhere. By 12 December 1913, the abutment walls and piers had been concreted up to the bottom of the girders. The local council had indicated that they would like an extra span added (in place of an equivalent length of approach embankment) to allow freer passage of flood waters. After that, the RCMPC file contains no further news except a covering letter to the final cost analysis, sent to Monash in August 1914. (The cost analysis itself is not in the file.)