Driving home to the Northern Beaches from the Sydney CBD I usually choose the Miller Street exit, towards Northbridge. It’s not necessarily quicker than my other options, but it’s my favourite route for a reason. I like it because it takes me across one of the most beautiful bridges in Australia – the Long Gully Bridge.
For years I drove by believing the bridge was simply called “Northbridge”, after the suburb in which it resides. But after recent exploration I discovered not only its many names, but a very interesting history.
The Long Gully Bridge is on Strathallen Avenue, on the border between Northbridge and Cammeray.
The bridge, opened in 1892, was built as a private initiative by the North Sydney Investment and Tramway Company, to attract buyers for new residential allotments on the north side of Long Bay. The intention was to run a tramline across the bridge, conveniently linking the new suburb and beautiful Middle Harbour peninsulas to the more developed parts of North Sydney.
Unfortunately, the great financial depression of the 1890s soon followed and despite the introduction of a bridge toll the company went bankrupt. It was not until 1914 that the first tram crossed the bridge.
A nice anecdote is that in November 1894, a “dance and promenade concert” was held on the bridge. A brass band played a selection of dance music and the proceeds helped to raise funds for the local hospital and band. A contemporary report wonderfully evokes the evening:
“There was a large and orderly attendance, and as the night was fine, with a cool breeze blowing, dancing to the strains of music furnished by the North Shore Band was very pleasant.”
What is particularly fascinating about the bridge is that it was originally built as a suspension bridge – like the famous Golden Gate – and at the time was the largest of its type in Australia and fourth largest in the world.
But in the mid-1930s faults were discovered in the steel cables and anchorages in the rock below. For safety reasons public transport was interrupted with passengers having to walk across the bridge to trams waiting on either side.
It was decided that the bridge would be repaired by replacing the suspended steel girders with a concrete arch structure that was built between 1937 and 1939. It was claimed to be the largest concrete arch in the Southern Hemisphere.
The beautifully ornate Gothic-style towers, parapets and archways of the original bridge were retained. You can still see the points where the old suspension cables ran through the towers.
The bridge has been known as the North Sydney, Long Bay, Northbridge, Cammeray, Long Gully Bridge and simply the Suspension Bridge. The residential areas surrounding the bridge were also known as Suspension Bridge until they were officially named Cammeray, after the powerful Aboriginal clan, and Northbridge, after the bridge itself.
When the bridge was replaced the public voted for possible new names. Curiously, Kent Bridge was the most popular choice, but it was never officially adopted. Most people just kept calling it the Suspension Bridge.
By which name have you always known the bridge?
If you look down to the gorge below you will see a sprawling green field and may wonder why the bridge even needed to be built.
In addition to the steep slope, the reason is that the expanse used to make up the waters of Long Bay, in Middle Harbour.
At the time of the bridge’s construction the waterway was navigable up Long Bay and Flat Rock Creek to the quarry where the sandstone for the bridge was sourced.
During the 1930s Depression work began on an unemployment relief scheme to fill in the area under the bridge for sports fields. Up to 500 men were involved. Flat Rock Creek was allowed to flow underneath the new fields to Long Bay in Middle Harbour.
More recently, a wetland and weir were constructed to help prevent debris and sediment entering Middle Harbour from Flat Rock Creek.
The park is named Tunks Park after William Tunks, the first Mayor of St. Leonards.
Another impressive structure bridging the former waterway is the Tunks Park Aqueduct, completed
Tunks Park is wonderful for a picnic by the water, a scoot around the field, a kick of a ball or an explore of nearby walking tracks.
If you’re interested in bridge design, it’s a perfect place to view a bridge with a history spanning more than a century.
Despite the bridge’s original builders succumbing to an unprecedented economic crisis, we can be thankful that they had the courage to build something grand which continues to serve and delight our community.
Sources: Trove Newspaper Archiven; Sydney: Biography of a City, Lucy Turnbull; The Book of Sydney Suburbs, Pollon and Healy; All modern photos by Robert C. Johnston