Phillip Island & District Historical Society

The First Phillip Island Bridge

Last updated on 08-Jul-21

In 1936 a branch of the Victorian Country Party was formed on Phillip Island to bring greater pressure on the government of the day to build a bridge. Mr Richard A Grayden was elected President and Mr Rupe T Harris was elected Secretary. Mr Harris moved at the first meeting that all in their power be done to persuade the government to build a bridge. Both Richard Grayden and Rupe Harris subsequently gave unstintingly of their time and limited finances - travelling many times to Melbourne - until this became a reality.


In November 1938, after three years of persuasion from residents and others, the government, with the co-operation of the Country Roads Board (CRB), decided to build a suspension brdige to link the island with the mainland. Owing to the depth of the water, tidal conditions, and the need for a 40 foot (12 metre) height clearance for fishing boats, a suspension span of 550 feet (165 metres) was incorporated in the structure. The design allowed for a load capacity of 6 tons. The cost was to be about 50,000 Australian pounds ($100,000).


Work began in November 1938 on a bridge 1765 feet (c 500 metres) long, 18 feet (5.4 metres) wide between kerbs. There was no footway but six pedestrian refuges along its length. The suspension span crossed deep and fast tidal waters eliminating the need for costly foundations. The main cables were second hand from the North Shore Bridge in Sydney, and tramway cable hangers supported the wooden deck.


The bridge gave good service but the load limite caused difficulties - some larger passenger busses having to offload and ask passengers to walk across. Stock transport was also limited. Rumour suggests also that some heavy loads were transported in the dead of night!


By June 1940 anchors for a temporary trestle were completed, piers in the approach spans to the Newhaven end completed for a total cost of 32,683 Australian pounds (c$65,000). Seventy five sets of plans had been drawn for the project. Substantial support was needed to erect the steel towers for the main suspension cables as they swayed up to two feet (600mm) at the top before being loaded with the weight of the suspension span. Experiments showed that concrete piers with tapering sides resisted further penetration into the clay and sand by up to 40% more than those with parallel sides. This only applied under certain conditions, not as a general rule.


Bridge design was by CRB staff under Mr M G Dempster, CRB bridge engineer; drawings by Mr C A Masterton, MCEA, MIE Australia. The engineer in charge of field construction until the outbreak of World War II (when he was called up for active service) was Mr J O'Donnell, BCE, AMIE  Australia. Resident overseers in control of the work were E S Wilson and J Baker. Contractors were Austral Otis Engineering Co. Ltd.