The Amazing Grafton Bridge.
We knew before we arrived in Grafton on our Travel Australia adventure we’d like Chike and Bridget. We’d emailed and phoned Chike about the house-sitting a couple of times so it was a great meeting them in person. It was one week to Christmas and they were all but packed up tapping their foot at the door (not really) when we drove up.
We were introduced to the neighbour Lyndon who would help out if we needed anything and met our new furry friends, Leonard a Chihuahua and Norman a Jack Russell.
That afternoon a very determined storm made its way over Grafton, splitting a large tree at the end of the street and generally spreading debris across the area. Norman and Leonard didn’t seem to notice, which was a relief. The last thing we needed was panicked dogs within hours of our arrival.
The house was great, a long timber-themed home with history but it was sitting on a rather small block of land. On the southern side one could literally reach out and close the neighbour’s window, which also meant, there was the smallish problem of having no driveway. Repairs and maintenance was not going to be easy. I unhitched the trailer and put a chain on the wheel, just because it was parked on the street, not that I expected any trouble. Then I sat down and had a good think, for a week or so.
For the next week I was happy to take some research time-out to write another entry for the Diary of The universe, this one being titled “How to make a galaxy”. This essay (which opens in another window if you want to take a peek) covers the 4th page of the Diary, the formation of the galaxies, including our own Milky Way.
On Christmas morning we fed the dogs, said hello to the neighbour Lyndon and drove the 2 hours north to Ballina for a family lunch. Driving back the next morning, I became increasingly concerned about the steering, as one does, every noise or extra twitch in the road stimulated my worry gland, if one has one.
In an effort to solve the problem within reasonable budget constraints, I tried every source of information I could think of, mechanical repair shops, part suppliers, mobile mechanics, even the local ‘Men’s Shed’ hoping inspiration would come. It did not. What I did notice was an adjustment screw on the side of the steering box which seemed to ease ‘the wanders’ to some extent but still the biggest obstacle was the lack knowledge, special equipment and a place to work.
Of course the big draw is the mighty and mysterious Clarence River. Mighty because it is so big and mysterious because the 17,000 locals seemed to have forgotten it exists. There are no facilities on the river, no cruises, no marinas (none with boats in them that is) no lunch-time big bands and prawns, nothing.
Even the buildings seem to have their backs to this beautiful river. Aside from a couple of water skiers on a Sunday morning and a handful of rowing teams, there is little else happening that we saw and if there was more, we should have seen it as the house was only 25 metres from the water.
The original bridge was constructed to accommodate trains on the National rail network linking the capitals of Sydney and Brisbane. Astonishingly, prior to the 1930’s people and goods travelling by train were stopped by the immense task of bridging the mighty Clarence River, still a major engineering feat today. Trains were loaded onto barges and hauled across the river and restarted on their journey on the other side.
Once the rail bridge was operational, it occurred to some that a road bridge might come in handy too. They came up with a very clever solution, build another bridge on top. The photo shows a bus crossing the bridge.On either bank, ramps were constructed to one side of the track linking to the new road deck on top of the rail line. This meant the road bridge was far from straight, but it has two lanes that still today require opposing traffic to ‘hold back’ from the bends to allow larger vehicles room to move over into the oncoming lane.
In those days the river was still used for shipping so the design included a span that was raised to allow vessels to pass further upstream. This was no mean feat mind you with a road running along the top but it had some sort of counterweight. I’m not sure how that part worked. By 1969 there was not much traffic on the river and some bright spark decided the new water main would be cheaper to lay on the bridge than on the river bed so that was the last time the bridge was opened.
In a lesson to those who have a driving passion for ‘protecting’ us from ourselves, the two lanes that carry all the traffic is a self-regulating system, which for decades was the national highway. It has operated magnificently for thousands of vehicles every day, for all these years, without the need for ‘lolipop ladies’ traffic lights or warning bells and whistles, telling drivers when to stop and go.
What a simple pleasure it is, to be treated as an adult capable of making one’s own decisions about how to manage one’s transit across a bridge. Long live the Grafton Bridge. If you’ve never driven over it, do it before some damm do-gooder has it closed down in the name of ‘safety’. Mind you, if it wasn’t for the estimated $100 million dollar price tag for a replacement, no doubt someone who knows what’s best for us would have done it by now.
If one put aside concerns about the generous play in the steering and the ‘clunk’ that accompanied every bump in the corners, travelling about the countryside was a joy. Perhaps it was the time of year perhaps it was because of unseasonal rain, but whatever the cause, the countryside in every direction held a view of low green hills, back country bitumen roads and farm gates.
No matter where you travelled, one was always conscious of the mighty Clarence, the arbiter of whether you continued along this road for another 30 kilometres or whether you were permitted to cross to the other side.
There are few bridges, understandable when one considers the width of the river but several ferries, operated free of charge and a delight to use. This one is at Lawrence and is the second one from Grafton on the back road towards the coast. The village of Lawrence is picturesque and among other things, it is the location for an unusual looking round house on one stump, a big stump mind you, but just the one anyway. The round house probably has an interesting story but I don’t know what it is.
Just a little further down the road is the ferry, which is free. There is no chance of its being replaced anytime soon given the price tag for a bridge to a couple of villages and a menage of farms. The Pacific Highway runs along the opposite (eastern) side of the river and the Harwood Bridge is only 20 kilometres or so north east and downstream from Lawrence. If you want to go anywhere from Lawrence that will take you in a northerly direction, crossing on the ferry to meet the highway is about the only way.
Little leaky Leonard
Leonard and Norman were dogs with personality and although very much compatible, as different as dogs can be. Norman the Jack Russell, was laid back and may have been an appliance salesman in a previous life. He certainly had a keen interest in the fridge.
Leonard on the other hand was bright and liked to annoy Norman and me. I don’t think he approved of inertia. He also had a phobia about getting his feet wet and if it was raining, which was frequently, he preferred to piss in the bathroom. Little leaky Leonard we called him and he was banned from the bathroom. For all that he was fond of kissing and although he never gave up, I’m pleased to say he never succeeded with me anyway.
Every morning we partook in the racing ritual. If I was a little tardy in dragging my lazy bones from the bed, my friends would come around to the external door that joins our bedroom to the backyard. For a short time they would, in the most polite manner, suggest that I arise and prepare their breakfast. Once they knew I was moving, they would then retreat to the laundry door, ready to pounce as I opened for business.
I may have mentioned, the house is long and while not especially narrow, the hallway that runs from front to back is very much like the straightway on a race track. The opening of the laundry door was the starter’s signal and eight little legs proceeded to propel two little dogs down the straight and back at truly breakneck speeds. Stopping on the polished surface was another matter altogether.
After a short break to regain wind, it was time for breakfast and another day begins.