I was first introduced to timber structures by Colin Crisp, a gentleman engineer of the old school, back in the early 1980s. Colin’s knowledge of timber construction was formidable but, more than that was his obvious enthusiasm for the material and its uses. It was this enthusiasm, expressed with a quizzical smile as, with head cocked, he tapped a small hammer along a timber girder listening to the sound of the wood to gauge its integrity, that was his lasting gift. The simple question: “What are you listening for, Colin?” brought forth words such as “the bounce”, the “ring”, the “heart”…organic words which were tailed with “You get to know the ‘right’ sounds with time”. This is the key to understanding the magic of timber bridges; timber is an organic material; it was once alive and, even after having been sliced, diced and contorted into strange shapes, it retains that sensory allure, the aura of life and a spiritual connection through having been born from the soil of the earth.
The people of NSW have been fortunate, indeed, for nowhere else has the art of timber bridge building been taken as far and exercised as many times as here in this corner of the world. This was only possible because of Australia’s unique ecology and flora providing hardwood timber of rare length, strength and durability. By designing and building timber bridges at a quarter of the cost of any alternative, the road engineers of NSW created the infrastructure that allowed the state to grow and evolve, without ‘breaking the bank’. That this was done amidst a rapidly growing population, rapidly evolving technology and a continually changing economic context makes their achievement all the more remarkable.
Sadly, the timber truss bridges of NSW have become an anachronism on today’s highways; they were never expected to carry vehicles weighing over forty tonnes and modern traffic is bigger, wider and faster than could have been imagined in the late nineteenth century.
Supplanted first by steel and then by concrete, timber bridges are becoming increasingly rare on the roads of NSW.
Roads and Maritime Services is the heir to a proud history of bridge design and building in NSW and has set itself the task of recognising and celebrating the achievements of its forebears through the Timber Truss Bridge Conservation Strategy. A careful selection of special timber truss bridges will be maintained in selected locations and others will be discreetly modernised.
So, this book sets out to tell the story of timber truss bridges of NSW, the people who designed them and the corner of the world that they helped to shape. It is a grand story, melding tradition and science; talented individuals and nameless boffins; public servants and pioneers. Most of all, it is the story of a great achievement, which deserves to be recognised and remembered long into the future.
Member of the Roads and Maritime Services Heritage Committee