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Ford's Creek Monier arch bridge
Mansfield, Victoria

Under test, 31 October 1903. Photo: Mansfield Historical Society.

For more Historic images see University of Melbourne Archives Image Collection or Picture Australia.
Within UMAIC search under Record ID for: UMA/I/6289, 6359, 6360, 6513. Any enquires to UMA should refer to the Location Numbers of these images, respectively: BWP/23879, BWP/23880, BWP/23881, BWP/24364. (A fifth image, BWP/23882, is similar to 23881.)

Introduction.

This bridge was entirely Monash's responsibility, as his partner, J.T.N. Anderson left for New Zealand a week after they first learned of the proposal.

The Monier system of construction was patented in 1867 by Joseph Monier, a French manufacturer of garden ware who made planter pots of coarse mortar reinforced with a grid of small-diameter iron bars. The technique and patents were gradually extended to cover, amongst other things, arch bridges. These applications were forcefully developed and promoted in the German-speaking world by a number of licensees, amongst whom G. A. Wayss became dominant. W. J. Baltzer, a German immigrant working for the NSW Public Works Department, was kept informed of these developments by his brother and in 1890 returned to Germany to gather information [Fraser, 1985]. Back in Australia he tried unsuccessfully to interest his superiors in the new technique; then joined several businessmen to obtain licences through Wayss to cover the Australian Colonies. Their vehicle was the firm of Carter Gummow & Co. which, after small trial projects, obtained contracts to build two large arched sewage aqueducts in Annandale, now a suburb of Sydney. These were completed in 1896.

In 1894 Monash formed a partnership with J. T. N. Anderson. In 1897 the latter contacted Gummow, negotiated a licence for the partners to exploit the Monier patent in the Colony of Victoria, and helped Carter Gummow & Co. win a contract to build what is now the Morell Bridge over the Yarra in Melbourne. Thereafter Monash & Anderson designed and built a number of Monier arch bridges in Victoria, with the Sydney firm carrying out parallel designs as a check and providing general advice. In May 1902, with the partnership experiencing severe cash flow problems, Anderson left for a salaried post in Dunedin, New Zealand. The partnership was not dissolved at this stage, but Monash from then on carried the full burden of operations in Victoria.

Initial approach, 1902.

The Ford's Creek bridge was the fourteenth Monier arch designed and built by the partners. The new technique threatened to displace bridges built of timber or of steel girders resting on masonry supports (usually brick). It faced intense opposition from owners and workers in the affected industries and the partners normally had to lobby hard to win contracts from municipalities. Often the municipal engineer was ambivalent about the new technology as he would normally have designed the alternative type of bridge. He thus lost the satisfaction of putting his own ideas into effect, and in many cases a fee which he would have been paid for design and supervision of a project using timber or steel.

It is noteworthy that in this case the Shire Engineer, James Cleeland, made the initial move, approaching Monash & Anderson in May 1902. Monash prepared a "rough estimate" of £266 for a bridge of approximately 40 feet span utilising the timber falsework, or centering, made for the Coliban Spillway Bridge project. A further estimate "for definite quotation" of £214-12-0 allowed for "local supervision", which probably meant relying on Cleeland for general on-site administration. Monash also proposed a version with a 50-foot span which would have provided a larger waterway in times of flood. This would have used the centres previously employed on most of M&A's Bendigo arches.

In June 1902, Monash wrote to the Mansfield Shire Council offering to build the 40-foot bridge for £265 or the 50-foot version for £292. The M&A archives suggest that at this point there was a strange failure in communication. Councillors appear to have been convinced that Monash was insisting on a 50 foot span, which they considered too expensive. His assertion in reply that he was quite ready to build the 40-foot span, if that was what they wanted, seems to have had no effect, and the proposal was allowed to lapse.

Later events at Mansfield and the history of previous Monier arch projects suggest that there may have been intense opposition from an element within the Council, possibly connected with the timber industry. It is also possible that Cleeland was manoeuvring in the hope of getting a 50-foot span. (No attempt has been made to check Council Minutes or the "Mansfield Courier" of this period for possible information on this point.)

The tender is let (1903).

In June 1903 Cleeland reminded Council that the existing timber bridge was in a dangerous condition and it was decided to call tenders for a replacement either in timber or Monier. Cleeland advised Monash to offer a 40-foot arch and, after prompting, revealed that his design for timber in the "best material and workmanship" would cost about £160 and that Council would probably pay up to £260 for a more durable structure.

On previous occasions Monash had used 'present value' accounting to prove to councils that the high maintenance costs of timber bridges meant they were no cheaper than reinforced concrete structures in the long run. Everyone failed to foresee that these early reinforced concrete bridges would become obsolete because of their narrowness long before their durability was seriously in question. A width of 18 feet (5.5m) was typical for country bridges.

By this stage in his career, Monash had become convinced that reinforced concrete T-girder bridges were preferable to Monier arches in most situations. He had recently obtained copies of German and French texts on reinforced concrete construction and familiarised himself with methods for design of the girders. He therefore submitted two tenders, one for a 40 foot arch for £270 and the other for a T-girder bridge with a central pier and two 20-foot spans for £248. He had earlier told Cleeland that the latter would be "very handsome". The Council, however, selected the arch - probably because it provided more waterway, free of impediment to floating debris in time of flood, and possibly because Monier arches inherited some of the prestige of the much more attractive (and expensive) stone masonry arch.

In mid-1903 Monash was preoccupied with difficulties in the construction of the Koondrook-Barham lift bridge across the Murray River for the NSW Department of Public Works. He was also lobbying and preparing designs for the Grant Street Bridge project in Ballarat, educating himself on theory of reinforced concrete, and supervising a number of lesser projects. He had so far resisted Cleeland's invitations to pay a visit to Mansfield, as train timetabling made it difficult to fit a visit plus the round trip via Yea into a single day. It was not until 22 July that he finally made the journey to meet Cleeland to finalise design and presumably make preliminary arrangements for construction.

Construction.

Jack Anderson (JTNA's brother) was given the task of on-site manager, having just completed this role at the Coliban Spillway project. Charley (A C) Savage was appointed ganger. The correspondence indicates some tension with the local community, including a difficulty in obtaining labour for the unpleasant task of breaking stone. (Not surprisingly, this problem is mentioned in connection with several M&A projects.) Mansfield workers demanded three shillings per hour, whereas Savage considered two shillings and threepence adequate. He managed to find some outsiders willing to work for this, but they were soon persuaded by the locals to refuse to continue for less than 3/-.

Removal of the old bridge, and excavation and concreting of the abutments, progressed with only minor interruptions caused by floods. However, after the centering and formwork had been erected and the reinforcing grids tied in place, a heavy flood threatened to sweep it all away. Floods had been a constant threat on the Bendigo project, and one newly-cast arch had been destroyed. Jack Anderson and Savage spent a day fending off debris and channelling it through the supports of the centering, but the bed logs supporting the props were undermined, allowing the falsework to sink.

It is likely that the figure against the skyline holding plans is Monash.
University of Melbourne Archives BWP/23879
Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Co Collection.

It was apparently necessary to dismantle the centering in order to restore it to proper condition. When this had been done and the reinforcement once again placed, Monash travelled to Mansfield on the first two days of October and supervised turning of the arch on 3rd. On 6th, bricklayers started building the spandrel walls and, as these rose, compacting earth fill between them to form the roadway. [Sketch.] Monash proposed to keep the centering under the arch until 21st to allow the concrete plenty of time to gain strength. However on 13th another heavy flood arrived. Anderson and Savage knew from their Bendigo experiences that if the centering were destroyed piecemeal the arch would be damaged in the process. They therefore removed the wedges and lowered the timber away from the concrete, hoping it had gained sufficient strength to support itself. Their faith was justified and the arch successfully bore its own weight, but parts of the centering were washed away and had to be "brought back from some distance down the creek".

The construction of the spandrel walls and placement of the road fill between them went quite smoothly. The road surface of crushed rock (or 'metal') could then be applied and the timber handrails completed. An element of continuing local hostility was indicated by vandalism to one of the newly-finished rail posts; but on 23 October, Anderson wired Monash that all was complete. The next day two citizens sent a wire saying that a Monier pipe culvert had been washed out by floodwater and asking if they should close the new bridge to traffic. As Cleeland wired on 27th that neither culvert nor bridge was a cause for concern, this might have been an attempt to stampede Monash into authorising a closure which would have reflected badly on the new technique. The same day youngsters damaged the rendering on the parapets, which was admittedly of poor quality. Despite these travails, the load test of the bridge and the opening ceremony took place on 31 October with Monash present. (See photo at top of page. Monash can be discerned in front of the driving wheel of the traction engine, with his hand on the rail.)

Unfortunately a dispute arose over the parapet rendering, the Councillors withholding final payment until it had been replaced. Monash was not impressed and in a personal letter to Jack Anderson referred to them as "those brutes at Mansfield". [The origin and nature of the mutual animosity at Mansfield has not been researched for this mainly technical study.] Cleeland remained in favour of the Monier technique but felt it would not be worth his trouble to recommend another such bridge in the face of such opposition. This bridge was more clearly Monash's than any of M&A's previous arch projects (in which J. T. N. Anderson took a major and initially leading role) and it is unfortunate that it was demolished in 1972.

Engineering drawings.

Longitudinal: half section, half elevation.
Cross-section: half behind abutment, half at centre.

Footnote

The above history was extracted from our Dossier on Ford's Creek Bridge and edited for presentation here. The Dossier includes details of archival sources, dimensions, a list of personalities, and a 'Timeline' in which all relevant correspondence known to our research team was recorded chronologically in precis or verbatim form.