Today in Transportation History – 1895: A New Bridge Opens up Canberra to the South

In southeastern Australia, a truss bridge crossing the Murrumbidgee River was officially opened to connect the village of Tharwa with the city (and Australia’s present-day capital) of Canberra. The bridge reported the Queanbeyan Observer at the time, “is a stupendous but withal a light and very graceful structure.”

Tharwa Bridge, looking northeast from Tharwa across the Murrumbidgee River

As a truss bridge, Tharwa Bridge was built with closely spaced triangular components. More specifically, Tharwa Bridge is an Allan truss bridge; these bridges, which were designed by civil engineer Percy Allan, are characterized by the use of comparatively smaller and shorter timbers to help keep costs down and facilitate any needed future repairs. Tharwa Bridge was only the second of about 100 Allan truss bridges that Percy Allan designed over the course of nearly four decades.

Approximately 1,500 people were on hand for the grand opening of Tharwa Bridge. A local citizen named Mrs. Elizabeth McKeanhie, whom the Goulburn Herald identified as “the oldest resident in the neighborhood” was given the honor of christening the new structure. She did so at the center of the bridge, using gold-plated scissors to cut a blue ribbon that was holding up a bottle of champagne. “I name this structure the Tharwa Bridge,” proclaimed Mrs. McKeanhie after the loosened bottle had swung up against the side of the bridge and broken apart.

A procession led by a brass band then crossed the entire bridge. “A hundred carriages and horsemen were included in the procession,” reported the Goulburn Herald. The newspaper also noted, “The bridge was magnificently decorated with greenery and flags.”

Tharwa Bridge is the oldest surviving bridge in what is now the federal district of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). In 1998, the bridge was entered in the ACT Heritage Register.

For more information on this bridge, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tharwa_Bridge and the 29 March 1895 Goulburn Herald article “Opening of the Tharwa Bridge” at https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/100450380.

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