Fremantle Stuff > Bridges
Fremantle has arguably had five road bridges crossing the Swan River, two of which remain.
North Fremantle Bridge aka High Level Bridge, 1866-1909
Low Level Bridge, 1898-1909
Renovated High Level Bridge, 1909-1939/1947
Fremantle Traffic Bridge, 1939-
Stirling Bridge, 1974-
Before the bridges, it was necessary to go by ferry to cross the Swan River from Fremantle, either from Richmond (later East Fremantle) to North Fremantle or at Preston Point. The first bridge across the River was not at Fremantle, but at the Perth Causeway, east of the city, in 1843.
The first Fremantle bridge, 1866, was built out of timber by convict labour 1863-7. It was called the North Fremantle Bridge, and then, after the second bridge was constructed, the High Level Bridge.
The second bridge was built 1896-8 just downstream of the first and called the Low Level Bridge. It was wider and stronger but much lower. It was required by the increased commercial traffic mostly as a result of gold discoveries. It was, however, not suitable for the tramway which Councils wished to extend to North Fremantle in 1908. (photo 1907, Battye Library)
The two bridges in 1906. Photo from Hitchcock: 95, credited Nixon.
The Renovated High Level Bridge was a renovation of the original bridge so extensive that it is considered to be a third bridge. It was opened 18 June 1909 and the Low Level Bridge was closed and then demolished. By the 1930s the RHLB was found to have deteriorated to a point where it was necessary to replace it. It was eventually demolished in 1947.
The photo (right) shows the Renovated High Level Bridge with two traffic lanes and the tramway on the eastern side, and the Low Level Bridge in the process of demolition. >
The photo above is of the Renovated Bridge seen from the upstream side, avec tram, c1908. This is #352 from the Fremantle History Collection. Text:
Tram coming over North Fremantle traffic bridge. In 1908 when Fremantle and North Fremantle wished to extend the tramway system to North Fremantle, the old humpbacked bridge (built 1866) was renovated, ie the hump was removed and the bridge widened. Apart from being redecked in 1915, the bridge continued in service until December 1939, when the present bridge was opened. The building at the end of the bridge is the Swan Hotel. This was rebuilt in 1922.
The present Fremantle Traffic Bridge, opened 15 December 1939. The 1940s photo shows the RHLB still in position on the right. The newer bridge was intended to be used for not more than five years. It is still in use.
My photo shows the still existing remains of some of the piles of the 1866 bridge. The Fremantle Traffic Bridge was cheaply built out of timber rather than concrete because it was thought then that the Harbour would be extended further east. However, it has been repaired, notably in 1978 and 1992, and is still in use, though there is currently much debate about the need to replace it.
This photo of work on the traffic bridge, February 2016, shows that there is no doubt in the 'mind' of the state government about replacing the 1939 bridge: it's defending it.
Fremantle Traffic Bridge Closed
The Fremantle Traffic Bridge and northern river channel will be CLOSED by 7pm Friday 29 April as a precautionary safety measure, after concerns were raised following an inspection associated with current strengthening works. The examination found erosion at the foundation at one of the bridge's four piers. Further detailed investigations, as well as strengthening works, will now be undertaken. 29 April 2016
The Stirling Bridge, over which Stirling Highway goes, was opened in 1974 by Premier Charles Court. Like the road, it's named for the first Governor of WA, James Stirling. So that's five road bridges.
A rail bridge also crosses the river. In a storm in 2014 a large ship was driven from its mooring into the current bridge, resulting in its closure for a number of weeks. There was an earlier railway bridge further downstream from about 1880. It collapsed in floods in 1926 but was repaired. I took the photo above from the top of the Signal Station on Cantonment Hill during a rare opportunity to enter the area.
This inadequate photo, Feb 2016, gives some idea of the defences being constructed to the west of the railway bridge, leaving no doubt that this is not to be moved. The huge crane platform at the right of the photo should have been in the centre, to show the extent of the works being carried out.
In March 2016 the crane is being moved to a different position by two boats.
It was the 1866 Bridge of Styx that saved the Swan River from destruction. Once that bridge was built, and the railway bridge soon afterwards, it was just too hard to get the bridges out of the way to expand the port further upriver. Various plans had the port expanding all the way to Perth, with Freshwater Bay being totally filled in. The railway bridge built in the 1880s was later moved closer to the traffic bridge but thank goodness for Governor Hampton's Folly. The other thing that saved the Swan River of course was the limestone bar across the mouth of the river. If that hadn't been there the lovely river would have been a commercial traffic sewer all the way to Perth. The bar wasn't able to be removed until 26 years after the traffic bridge was built. (John Dowson, personal communication)
The Fremantle History Society met 24 February 2015 at the Traffic Bridge for a talk about it from the Heritage Panel of Engineers Australia. The FHS reproduced the handouts on their website, but they are Word documents and you'll have to download them to see them. Look for Fremantle Bridges 1 and Fremantle Bridges 2.
The bridge in the above photograph is not today's rail bridge, and is not in the same place as the present one. The current bridge comes to the shore further east (to the left). A second bridge was built upstream to allow the harbour to be expanded eastwards, following the Tydeman Report of 1949. This first rail bridge was built in 1880 or shortly afterwards. It collapsed in a flood in 1926, raising the question of the eastern extension of the harbour, but it was decided then to repair the old bridge for the time being.
Fremantle Railway Bridge looking from North Fremantle. The reclamation visible on the farther shore was spoil from the building of Dalgety's wool store in the early 1920's. Several homes on both the Beach Street and Queen Victoria Street frontages were demolished for the building of the wool store. George Shenton's barge the Gazelle, built 1864, was buried by the reclamation. For many years it lay abandoned and partly submerged in the river and was used by local children as a diving platform and place to fish from. From c1881-1896 the bridge had a single track. After 1896 the tracks were duplicated. A few years later a narrow four foot wide walkway (eastern side of bridge) was added for cyclists and pedestrians. The Port Brewery (in centre) was in Beach Street. Construction began on 15th November 1892, central portion collapsed 4th March 1893. Demolished c1963 to permit relocation of road and rail facilities. Obelisk on Monument Hill erected 1867, demolished 1924. Replaced by Fallen Soldiers and Sailors Memorial 1928. 1976 - the railway embankment occupies the middle scene. From Fremantle History Centre: text, and Izzy Orloff photo #468.
Audrey Fowler's notes on the oldest traffic bridge in Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle Society, March 1974.
Wikipedia article on Queen Victoria Street.
Engineering Heritage Panel, Swan & Canning Rivers Bridges: Australian Engineering Week Tour 2009.
Brief note about the Stirling Bridge construction in Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle Society: November 2000.
ABC article about the four Canning Bridges.
Garry Gillard | New: 5 October, 2014 | Now: 10 July, 2017