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
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