Historic bridge celebrates 145 years of crossings

By Vanessa Wiltshire

FOR those who have driven, walked or cycled it, the bridge on Sugarloaf Rd, Axedale, facilitates a quick and convenient passage across Axe Creek. It is fascinating to look at — the structure is nearly a century and a half old.

But there is more to it. You see, it is not just a bridge. Having nearly met its demise 26 years ago, the bridge is an important connection to the past. And maybe even a pathway into the future.

On Saturday, October 5, members of the Axedale community gathered for an occasion that had been a long time coming.

Forty people gathered in the front paddock of Matt and Sue Parkinson’s property, to mark the 145th anniversary of the Sugarloaf Rd Bridge opening, and the finalisation of restoration works.

This event was auspiced by Axedale Our Town Our Future, with support from City of Greater Bendigo, Timber Restoration Systems and the SES.

Frances Ford, a member of AOTOF and an Axedale resident, welcomed 60 curious gatherers.

“This beautiful, historic bridge is important, not just to the heritage of Axedale but as an important transport and access link for an area that is growing in population,” Ms Ford said.

“The City of Greater Bendigo awarded a contract for major repairs to the bridge to Timber Restoration Systems, and Sugarloaf Road has been closed since early June so these works could be undertaken. The project was more complex than originally anticipated but the road re-opened to traffic on October 1.”

Ms Ford said residents campaigned for 12 years from 1862 onwards for a bridge to be built and it was finally opened in 1874.

“The bridge was almost destroyed 120 years later when the then Shire of Strathfieldsaye tendered for works to demolish the bridge and replace it with a floodway, in 1993. It was only saved by residents campaigning for the preservation and maintenance of the bridge until council reversed its decision and agreed to fund repairs.

“We are very pleased that the City of Greater Bendigo has taken action to restore the bridge, and the works crew from Timber Restoration Systems have done a wonderful job. It is great to see the bridge open to traffic again.”

City of Greater Bendigo Mayor Margaret O’Rourke spoke at the event.

“The City is pleased and proud to have made a $720,000 investment into the restoration of Sugarloaf Rd Bridge,” Cr O'Rourke said.

“We know the restorations have taken longer than anticipated and we thank the community for their understanding and patience.”

“I’d like to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of the Axedale community, in particular AOTOF. The bridge is 145 years old and it's incredible to think that 70 per cent of its wooden pylons were actually in perfect condition. It says a lot about the workmanship of the time and the strength of the community.”

The history attached to the bridge, and the lengths to which the community have gone to save it, says much about its significance.

The bridge represents the history of a community, a crossing built upon sacred Dja Dja Wurrung land. A place where mighty scarred trees, hundreds of years old, sunk their roots deep into the earth and provided shade for countless generations.

The bridge is a marker, from where histories can be traced. It's a place where communities connect: first nations and post-settlement.

May it stand for another 145 years — at least.