RESOURCES: Heritage Highlights

What lies beneath.

Words and pictures by Peter Ogden

How does 377 metres of concrete and steel get on with the stunning natural environment on which it all sits?

Quite well, apparently…

As a landscape photographer, one of my favourite places is also one of the most convenient – just a 10-minute drive from home. The Roseville Bridge opened in 1966 and this giant concrete behemoth sits astride Sydney’s Middle Harbour – the west end, at Roseville Chase, links to Killarney Heights on the eastern side. I commuted across it for years before I got to wondering what was beneath my car tyres. But first, some history. 

The Roseville Bridge was opened by the NSW Premier Robert Askin and this new structure, an engineering marvel in sheer size alone, replaced the existing bridge, which opened in 1924. The pre-stressed concrete box girder construction is 377m long and rises more than 17m above Middle Harbour. But when you’re standing in its shadow, it feels a lot higher than that…

The old timber bridge was one of two direct links between the Northern Beaches and Sydney, the second being the first Spit Bridge at Mosman which opened the same year. The original bridge stuck around for another eight years after its new, shiny big brother opened, used as a pedestrian footbridge until 1974, when it was finally demolished. 

The 1966 price tag was almost A$4.5m. Today, you wouldn’t get much change out of A$50m. Back in the day, on average 20,000 cars a day used it. Now, that number is more than 65,000 a day. Hmmm…that may be the official number, but I have been sitting in traffic for many hours on that stretch of road, so I’d be inclined to say it’s a much higher number. 

The bridge’s design reflects the aesthetics of the time and makes the most of the incredible natural surroundings. Now that more than 50 years has flowed under its gaze the natural environment has become ‘at one’ with the concrete – an oxymoron if ever there was one. The mangroves on the western shore are incredible in the morning light and the concrete provides a stunning backdrop. They are creeping ever higher up its pylons and if you stand at certain angles, the bush seems to swallow the bridge. Surely what the Department of Main Roads’ architect Donald Maclurcan envisaged all those years ago…

There are several ways to explore beneath the bridge. On the western side is the Two Creeks track, which starts at Echo Point Park and runs under the bridge to Lindfield. This is the track where you can get up close and personal with the bridge, actually touching the concrete, if that’s your thing. The track meanders past the Pipe Bridge, literally a big pipe that used to carry drinking water before falling under the shadow of the bridge itself. 

There is subsidence on the track, but it does allow for some interesting angles of the structure. Try and do this at dawn if possible – the golden light makes it glow. Several of these images were taken during our ‘Summer from Hell’…the 2019/20 bushfire season. I find the smoke adds another layer of beauty and intrigue. 

On the eastern side of the bridge is Davidson Park. This is a wonderful place to explore beyond the bridge. The road loops from Warringah road at the top and goes back under the bridge itself, affording a close up look at the structure. If you park at the end of Davidson Park, you can then walk or mountain bike along the Lyrebird Track and explore the creek beyond. 

But that’s another story…

Explore further:

References and acknowledgements:

Beneath Roseville Bridge by Robert C. Johnston

Roseville Bridge stands the test of time – North Shore Times

Donald Maclurcan papers, 1953-1982 – State Library of NSW Archives