Bridge over troubled waters

There seems to be a lot happening with bridges around Forbes at the moment.  

What with the construction, or should I say deconstruction, of Camp St Bridge and repairs to the Iron Bridge over the Lachlan it came to mind that there would have to be a few stories and memories about the various crossings over our waterways. I certainly did not expect to find tales of murders, shipwrecks, nursery rhymes and electricity, but they are all there.

My first surprise was that the bridge over the Lagoon near the Bowling Club was commonly known in the early days as ‘Johnny Bates’ Bridge’. Somewhere along the line Johnny got lost and I have always known it as just, Bates’ Bridge. Of course there was a bit of controversy about it, as usually happens. Here are a couple of wonderful snippets from early Advocates to enlighten us as to its story.

Apparently Johnny Bates, a noted architect, was determined to open his bridge. And he did:

The Forbes Advocate September 2 1919       


The new bridge over the lagoon in Lachlan Street, was informally opened by ex-Mayor J.H.Bates on the first day of the show. He escorted a party back from the show on foot, especially for the purpose of leading them across the new structure. Unfortunately, some of the planking not yet being in position, he could not give them a joyride across, but valiantly he did the Blondin (a famous tightrope walker of the era) act over the dangerous places, and like heroes his party followed him to a man. “You can call that the official opening,” suggested Mr Bates to the ‘Advocate.’

Johnny Bates’ Bridge, by then just Bates’ Bridge ran into a bit of strife in 1952 when extensive repairs were needed.

Forbes Advocate Tuesday 13 May 1952  


There’s a famous old English rhyme, “London Bridge is falling down.” This has an echo under the Southern Cross, “Bates’ Bridge is falling down.” The old rhyme continues: “Who will build it up again?” The Forbes answer is, “Heaven only knows.”

The future – or lack of it – of Bates’ Bridge received attention from the Forbes Council at its last meeting.

It must be remembered that this bridge was utilised, before the bypass, as part of the highway to West Wyalong and had heavy vehicles passing over it for decades. The sympathetic restoration of the bridge a few years ago retained its character and it is now a well established part of Forbes’ heritage.  Well done Johnny Bates.

The Camp St Bridge will soon be replaced by a newer structure. Opened in January 1928 (the sign on bridge says 1927) it replaced older bridges across the Lagoon. I found it interesting reading early reports on the stability of the bridge and its foundations.

Forbes Advocate Friday 26 March 1926   


Boring the lagoon has revealed the fact that the foundation is not suitable for a concrete bridge. That, at any rate, is the opinion of Mr Hole, Supervising Engineer to the Public Works Department at Bathurst.  Mr Hole has just completed a boring in the lagoon and was unable to find a suitable hard bottom at 25 feet, and considers this a further argument against a concrete structure. “In view of the engineer’s report, it appears possible that the Board may raise some objection to a concrete structure, and if so, the loan proposal would be affected.”

From a later Advocate edition

Originally, it was intended to sink concrete piers for the work, but owing to the nature of the foundation, wooden piles had first to be driven to give adequate support to the concrete piers. Such problems are made to be overcome by bridge-builders, and this one was promptly and effectively tackled. To-day two sawn- off wooden piles support each concrete pier, which In turn supports the superstructure.

Two things strike me from that.  Firstly what a great name for a construction engineer….Mr Hole. Secondly the concrete piers had to be supported by wood. Makes you wonder if this is one of the reasons for the failure of the current bridge.

The opening of the bridge in January 1928 was also accompanied by the switching on of electricity in Forbes, the bridge was illuminated of course. We have found a supplement to the Advocate that gives a wonderful description of the opening and ‘switching on’. Perhaps we should talk to our editor and see if we can run it when the current Camp Street bridge is being demolished and replaced with the much better model.

I’m afraid you will have to wait until our next segment for the connection of the others of our bridges with murders and shipwrecks.  These stories are really interesting.

In the meantime who has memories of the suspension bridge over the Lachlan at South Lead? It was certainly a big part of my life growing up in Forbes.

Credit must be given to the National Library of Australia for its online resource, Trove. I would be lost without it.

Rob Willis is a Forbes local and oral historian with the National Library of Australia. Many of the stories and resources collected from this area are available online.