From as early as 1842, a hand operated Punt crossed the Latrobe River, connecting the road (then known as Punt Lane) from the township of Sale, to the sea port of Port Albert (the only connection to Melbourne and beyond at that time).
In 1857 the construction of a new bridge spanning the Latrobe River, the ‘Longford Bridge’, was announced, however, it was immediately apparent that the specifications of the bridge rendered it too low for steamers to pass thereunder. In a time when water transport was the fastest and most efficient, this design seemed inconceivable. The Government, in their wisdom, denied petitions to redesign the bridge to incorporate a draw bridge . . .
The bridge was built – the steamers could not pass thereunder – and hence, all passengers and cargo had to be transported overland – from the bridge to the township of Sale and vice versa.
” . . . After the banquet at Sale on Friday evening, Messrs. Gillies, Jones and Zox returned to Melbourne, but the rest of the company proceeded next morning by the steamer Tanjil to the Lakes entrance. At the present time the Latrobe River, which empties itself into Lake Wellington, the last of the group extending inland, is navigable only to a distance or some three miles below Sale, a low bridge which spans the stream preventing any nearer approach of a steamer. This obstruction it is intended to remove, and tenders have already been accepted for a swing bridge to take its place, the cost of construction being £7680 . . . “
Source: Excerpt – Age (Melbourne, Vic) – Article ‘The Ministerial Visit to Gippsland’ – 15th June 1880
Interestingly, the cost of using the bridge, or the punt in those early years, saw stockmen swim mobs of cattle across the river rather than pay the exasperating tolls.
As trade increased, the desire to connect the steamers that plied the waters of Gippsland’s lakes and rivers, directly to the evolving railway network, and the growing regional centre of Sale, saw the plans for a canal, a swing bridge and port come to fruition. The costly and cumbersome blockage of the river due to the Low Level Bridge which had forced all to unload / load at the Latrobe Wharf and travel some 3 miles (5 km) overland, had to be removed and be replaced with a structure that could allow for unencumbered passage.
Stage one was the Swing Bridge. The plans for the bridge were designed by John Grainger, who was to also design the Princes Bridge in Melbourne in 1886.
Located on the Latrobe River, just downstream from the junction of the Thomson and Latrobe Rivers, the Swing Bridge facilitated the passage of the steamers directly into the Port of Sale, via the Sale Canal.
The Swing Bridge took over three years to complete, somewhat longer than planned as a bed of quicksand made it impossible to find a substantial foundation for the central piers. A wooden foundation had to be constructed.
The bridge was opened to general traffic on the 22nd September 1883. It was not until the August of 1885 that the bridge was first swung open to allow the passage of the screw steamer SS ‘Tambo’ to proceed to McArdell’s Gap to unload her cargo.
The elegant wrought iron, trussed structure of the Swing Bridge, which has survived the ravages of time, sports a timber deck approximately 61 m in length. The balanced swing span, approximately 45 m long, revolves on a central pier via a hand operated winding winch mechanism. The bridge was swung, on average, some three times per day. However, at its peak, the bridge was opened up to 20 times per day providing two openings of 19.2 m clear for the river traffic.
A regular steamer service operated until the 1920’s.
Today, no evidence of the Latrobe Wharf, the Swan Hotel nor the Bridge Keeper’s Cottage remain.
Thankfully the Swing Bridge has survived and is protected, as it is the oldest bridge of its type in Australia. It has recently been restored and is in working order . . . Today, crossing the bridge is by foot only. The bridge is accessible from either side with some parking and picnic facilities provided. A beautiful bike / walking trail of some 5 km follows the Thomson River to the canal, terminating at the Port of Sale – with varied sceneries of rivers, parks, reserves, wetlands and boardwalks along the way.
“Boorun the pelican came down from the north west along Wirnwirndook (the Macalister River). He crossed Dartyowan (the Latrobe River) near this spot and made his canoe, which he then carried on his head as he walked to Yowung (Port Albert). As he walked he heard a strange tapping sound. When he got to the inlet, Boorun put down his canoe and was surprised to find a woman inside it. She was Tuk, the Musk Duck. He was very happy to see her and she became his wife. Boorun and Tuk are the Mother and Father Totem of the Gunnai Kurnai people.”
– Located some 4.8 km from Sale – obtain Directions here
– Car Parking available along Swing Bridge Drive
– Other Historical POI’s in Sale
– Facilities available at Sale
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- Off Street Parking
- Gravel Track
- Sealed Road