Mosman Bay about 1950. Photo by Fred Saxon
For the best part of 100 years a series of footbridges crossed the upper reaches of Mosman Bay. The bridges were just to the south of the 1831 Old Barn on the eastern side to alongside the present Mosman Bay marina’s office building on the other side.
Despite this length of public use and the almost permanent position of the bridge in the foreground of so many postcards of Mosman Bay, there seems to be little or no mention of the bridge in the annals of Mosman Bay writing. A search of possible websites produced nothing, even though there are sites dedicated to various historic sites around the Mosman area.
In view of the interesting circumstances of the demise there may well be something in the records of the then Mosman Council. Perhaps some keen Mosman history enthusiast may have something to add?
The earliest images I have seen of a crossing at this point show what looks like a rock groyne built out from either side with a light timber structure – a few planks – bridging the gap.
It seems likely workers at the Mosman whale station may have built the crossing to save a long walk around the mud flats to the north. These mudflats would have made a fine site for the maintenance of small craft, hence the gap. In a photo of perhaps 1875 the bridge over the gap has become well defined and it seems the structure was regularly improved in an ad hoc manner. It seems the stone supports may have been removed and the whole structure replaced by a properly-built timber footbridge in the late 1880s or early 1890s. Certainly by about 1900 there was a well-designed public footbridge, complete with an integral set of steps to a boat landing.
It is possible to make a reasonable estimate of dates by noting the styles and (in some cases) the names of the steam ferries that appear in some of the images. The first timber bridge was flat all the way across. This was replaced by a larger bridge which had a raised centre section, perhaps by about 1920, and its was this design of bridge which lasted until the eventual demise of the facility.
The bridge became an important part of the pedestrian commuter route from the western side of the bay towards trams and ferries. The alternative was a long walk around the headwaters of the bay. Even when Reid Park replaced much of the tidal flats it was still a long walk and this maintains today. Perhaps this is one small factor in the relatively limited commuter use of the Mosman ferries of today?
As a schoolboy at Mosman Preparatory School and a little later as a Cub and then a Scout at Third Mosman Bay Sea Scouts, I knew the bridge well and enjoyed it. I would meander over it on the way to the original scout hall, in the shadows the Mosman Rowing Club, admiring the boats and always fascinated by Mulgannon’s Boatshed which adjoined the western root of the bridge.
Then along came the Mosman Bay marina during the 1950s. From the boatshed, the wharf structure reached in a wide ‘L’ towards the ferry wharf, with room on both side for boats to be secured in pens. In the early 1960s I had a boat on a mooring in front of the scout shed – now replaced by the present building. Having such a boat was no mean feat for a young naval rating and looking at the present occupants of the marina might well be out of the question in these less egalitarian times. The company attitude to the bridge was hostile. Many times I heard the comment that it was in the way of expansion – no concern for pedestrians seemed to be apparent.
Comments were made to me that my business was a waste of time and that the owners would much prefer to service a marina full of millionaires.
Eventually I moved elsewhere and was not around when the old bridge was so badly damaged by an electrical fire that it had to be demolished, without replacement. Strain my brain as much as I could, I could recall only one electric light on the structure. I wonder if Council ever had any sort of public investigation into the matter?
I did note that the mudflats remained undredged and the marina did not extend north nor has it much extended into the area originally protected by the bridge. Noting the size of the private ‘ships’ now berthed on the marina, it is probable that the then management’s hope to have only millionaires on the marina was reached, long ago.
*Graeme Andrews’ book The Watermen of Sydney can be had from Boat Books, ABC books and all good book stores. Mail order enquiries may be made to Stannard Marine at 02 9418 3711.
The Watermen of Sydney