Under the Bridge......by Grahame Wilson.


The Spit Bridge, the one we see there today, was finally completed in 1958. This was to replace a timber bridge built in 1924. Originally, the area was known as the Sand-Spit.
The first regular ferry back in 1829, was from Chinaman’s Beach over to Clontarf Beach. Around 1850 Peter Ellery owned farm land on the flats at the Spit and was often requested to row people over the shorter stretch of water.  He charged 6d (about 2cents) per person. Sometimes he even ferried a horse and cart. He became ever busy and started using a punt, pulled over by rope. The government took over, and in 1888, used a punt driven by a steam engine.

Soon after its completion in 1924, the timber bridge was found to be inadequate to deal with ever increasing traffic, and discussions began over a replacement. Proposals came and went, politicians argued, then the project was shelved as World War II began.
By the time construction began on the present bridge, some said the design was already obsolete. The steel was fabricated in England, and repeated problems arose with many aspects of the design and engineering. Adding to that, long and numerous delays were brought on by disputes between union and management.

Finally, in 1958 the project concluded, and it was time to dismantle the steel scaffolding. The scaffolding consisted of steel pipes held together with clamps. There were hundreds, if not thousands of these valuable clamps. Strangely most of them had disappeared.
Some workers claimed that they had simply thrown them into the water, believing that they were of little value.

Howard Couch was an underwater diver, and I often helped him out on small salvage projects. We were asked to go down and retrieve the clamps. We would be paid several dollars per clamp. On the appointed day Howard and I were ferried across to the deck of a floating crane moored alongside the main pylon. Strong currents run under that bridge and we checked our scuba gear as we waited for the tide to turn. At slack water, we lowered ourselves in and followed a line down to the bottom. It was suprisingly clear, and unlike most of Sydney Harbour free from any mud or silt. It had been washed clean by the currents leaving only firm clay. Not a shred of life could be seen except for blankets of black mussels clinging to the concrete pylons. Clinging to each mussel, a bright orange sea anenome.  

We found a few large bolts, but not a single clamp could be seen. Our dreams of riches began to fade. We returned to the pontoon, then went down again with a small pick and shovel. The harbour floor was as firm as it looked. There was no way those clamps could have sunk into the bottom.
Perhaps though, all was not lost. As we approached the main concrete pylon, we discovered that near the sea bed, it divided in two. This formed an underwater tunnel. Possibly the clamps could have been swept into that tunnel. We swam into the entrance and immediately felt the tide pushing us in further. We were on one side of the bridge and could just see the far end of the tunnel as it opened into middle harbour. We had no desire to run out of air in there.
An alarming clunking and grinding began. Above us the mechanical roadbridge was being raised.
There were no clamps.
Disappointed, we clambered back onto the pontoon and described our findings.
The police began an investigation. They discovered that the clamps had not been thrown into the harbour but into small workboats. These had been rowed further up the harbour until out of sight, then brought ashore. They were quietly spirited away and sold.
Our only reward for our efforts was the memory.

Copyright... Grahame Wilson