Farmer’s Bridge 1921

The farmers build their own bridge

In 1920 William Walter Mason sold Acacia Bank for £10,000 to the Acacia Bank Farming Co which was a consortium of local farmers and Cairns businessmen. In June 1921 the company applied to the Cairns Harbour Board for permission to erect a bridge and borrow their pile driver and gear. The bridge spans were supported braced pairs of piles, 20 feet long and driven six to ten feet into the river bed. The deck was just wide enough to carry a wagon and tram tracks were laid on the bridge. (Road bridges, Broughton).

The public were allowed to use the bridge which provided more direct access to Cairns for farmers on the northern side of the Barron like Dave Smart and Ah Ching. This meant they no longer had to travel to Kamerunga to cross the Barron. Apart from farmers there was little other traffic as the Kuranda Range road was not built until WWII and the Captain Cook Highway was not built until 1933.

The bridge crossed the river at the same place as the punt and ferry. In 1923 Councillor Draper proposed that because the bridge was used by the public, the Cairns Shire Council should improve the approach road on the Stratford side of the river. The Council decided that as the bridge had been privately funded it was not good economic sense for public money to be spent on improving it. Draper, who lived less than ½ mile from the bridge, was less than happy with the result and explained to the Chairman that he had not attended the Council meeting to be given a lesson in economics.

Mr Hughes got a full time job cutting cane for Dave Smart at Stratford and when crossing the low level bridge at Stratford a cane truck came off the rails and toppled into the river taking the horses with it. Mr Hughes quickly leapt into the river to unhook the horses but unfortunately the six Clydesdales drowned. He claimed if he had a pocket-knife he could have cut the harness and freed the horses.
“Redlynch in the 1920s, Part 2” by Major W Hughes, Cairns Historical Society Bulletin, No. 416, August 1995.

Original Barron River bridge, Stratford.
Image: Cairns Historical Society (B3669).

Farmers’ Bridge being repaired, 1927.
Image: Les Humphries.

Wet season damage

Although the bridge was higher above the water than the Kamerunga Bridge, it still went underwater in the wet season and minor repairs were funded by the Acacia Bank Farming Co and public donations. After the opening of the bridge in 1921 there was no major flooding on the Barron until the wet season of 1926-7 when moderate flooding caused substantial damage. Initial estimates to repair the damage came to £900, but by April 1927 that had risen to nearly £1,500. Cairns Shire Council replaced 220 feet of the bridge with a wider decked section on 40 foot long turpentine piles driven twenty feet into the river. 320 feet of the old narrow bridge remained, which the Shire expected to replace at a later date.

The repaired Stratford bridge was opened. Present were Aldermen Keirle, Friend [?], Egan and Hoare, Crs Armanasco and W M Simmonds. Chairman of the Shire Mr [S H] Warner.

Mr Atherton, chairman of the Stratford Bridge Committee remembered that the farmers used to have to row over the river and he himself had risked the alligators and swum horses across the river. When the sugar industry began to develop the opposite side of the river came more into demand and there was a need for a bridge. Mr Mason had put a punt on the river but in the end the farmers had decided to throw a bridge across the river. The bridge was not the last thing in efficient construction but it had served its purpose and the public had used the bridge. In the big floods a month or two ago part of the bridge had washed away. Appeals for £900 were made to the public, Council and Shire and in the end £1,445 was needed. 220 feet had been replaced but 320 feet of the original bridge remained to be completed at a later date.

Mr Rutherford foreman and surveyor was congratulated and Mr Warner broke champagne over the bridge. A car was driven over the bridge…the new section was wider than the old bridge and on forty foot turpentine piles driven 20 feet into the river.
Cairns Post, 18 July 1927.

The Council did not get around to replacing the original narrow section of the bridge and it was closed during the wet as it was not considered safe. Moderate flooding in the wet season of 1928-9 caused considerable damage to the bridge and repairs were estimated at £650. However Cairns Shire Council decided not to commit the funds until the alignment of the proposed Cairns-Port Douglas Road had been decided.

A coastal road linking Cairns and Port Douglas was first suggested in 1918, but the mountainous terrain along the coast north of Buchan Point was considered too difficult, or certainly too expensive, for road construction. In May 1925 Councillor Rex and eight other Douglas Shire residents walked the 45 miles from Mowbray to Cairns to demonstrate the feasibility of the road and in 1927 surveyors Day and Phillips were assessing the route. (Jones p.446). The Main Roads Department were surveying a new alignment for the Stratford-Double Island Road and it was decided to build a new bridge over the Barron, some 250 metres downstream of the Farmers’ Bridge.

Some of the bridge piles from the Farmers’ Bridge could still be seen until the 1950s, but today there is no evidence remaining.

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