Walter Taylor Bridge: a story of suspension

Coonan Street, Indooroopilly, Brisbane

Souvenir brochure, Walter Taylor BridgeWalter Taylor Bridge, an elegant Art Deco crossing in Brisbane’s suburban west, has a cousin few might suspect – that grand and iconic bridge that graces Sydney Harbour.

The relationship is firstly a material one, with Walter Taylor Bridge (originally known as the Indooroopilly Toll Bridge) incorporating cables made from left-over wire rope used in Sydney Harbour. Secondly, both bridges are single span, meaning they are anchored at each end with no support in the middle. At the time of building, Sydney’s was the longest of this type in Australia, with Walter Taylor Bridge coming in a distant second. Today, Walter Taylor retains the distinction of being Australia’s longest span bridge of the suspension variety.

The story of the bridge’s construction is one of frustrating setbacks matched by an unwavering determination. The man at the centre of this story was Walter Taylor, a builder, inventor and member of the Graceville Progress Association who had a grand vision. Local residents had long been agitating for a vehicular bridge that would replace their dependence on the ferry service (below) to take them from Chelmer to Indooroopilly. Taylor devised a plan and design concept that could see their aspirations realised.

Indooroopilly ferry crossing the Brisbane River 1935

Taylor first advocated a concrete arched bridge be built as part of Brisbane’s centenary celebrations in 1924, but failed to secure government support. A commission into bridge building around that same time instead prioritised projects such as the Jubilee (Story) and Grey Street (William Jolly) Bridges. Not one to give up, Taylor returned seven years later in 1931 with a revised plan for a privately funded suspension bridge; one that would seek to cut costs by purchasing the remaining cables from Sydney Harbour. This time state government gave Taylor the green light, having just passed an act permitting construction of private toll bridges.

Next came the task of raising capital. Taylor took the primary lead on this as director and secretary of the entity, Indooroopilly Toll Bridge Ltd. The Depression proved a substantial obstacle and fundraising was slow. The bridge was erected in four stages as funds became available, starting in 1932 and not completed until 1936.

Facts to be noted about the ITBA notice Taylor placed in The Brisbane Courier in May 1933 is revealing, intimating he felt some pressure as the bridge became the subject of local speculation. Taylor tried to cut through the rumour mill, emphasising in bold letters, “We are making good progress”. He also promised:

The flags will be flying and the bands playing the opening marches in much less time than is generally anticipated.

Somewhat amusingly to read now, the notice attempted to deflect criticism by invoking an international bridge project delayed much longer than the Indooroopilly one; the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol was mooted in 1752 and not completed for another 112 years. It is unclear if this example appeased local residents or further escalated concerns! In the end, the project cost a total of £85,000, with £30,000 of that raised in the local district.

A venture of this scale can never be attributed to one person alone, no matter how pivotal their role. Professor Colin O’Connor (2003) identifies two prominent Brisbane engineers whose involvement was also critical to the project – Russell John McWilliam (who had worked on City Hall) for design of the towers, and Walter J. Doak (a Queensland Rail engineer) for overseeing structural integrity. Many local Brisbane labourers also worked tirelessly on the project, an important source of employment during the Depression years.

The bridge design is noteworthy on a number of levels. It is the only bridge in Australia based on the Florianopolis style, first used in the Brazilian town of the same name in 1926 and developed by famous American bridge engineer, D.B. Steinman. This essentially refers to the way the suspension cables are arranged, forming the top chord of the truss.

The international flavour of the bridge is also evident in its Art Deco styling. The concrete towers – which most unusually incorporate residential flats – reach for the sky with their stepped silhouettes. Given one of the hallmarks of the Art Deco period was a wave of ‘Egyptomania’ (following the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922), it is interesting to note The Courier Mail’s description of these modern pylons:

These towers, with their massive arches and converging front elevation lines, suggest, as they shine white in the noonday sun, that some proud monumental gate of ancient Memphis has been lifted bodily out of Egypt and planted in an Australian setting. (13 February 1936)

Material used in construction is a more local story. In addition to the aforementioned cables, over 1500 tonnesIndooroopilly Toll Bridge advertisement, Queensland Times of cement were sourced from Queensland Cement and Lime Co. Ltd in Darra on the outskirts of Brisbane, and approximately 1000 tonnes of steel brought in from Broken Hill.

Just as things were nearing completion, there was one final setback. The death of King George V in January 1936 meant the official opening of the Indooroopilly Toll Bridge had to be postponed by a fortnight, to 14 February (below). Despite all the twists and turns, the bridge created an important legacy – it stimulated residential development in the nearby Chelmer to Oxley corridor and reduced travelling time between Ipswich and Brisbane. It remained a toll bridge until 1965 when management was handed to council and the tariff removed. A decade earlier, on Walter Taylor’s death, the bridge had been renamed in honour of his unrelenting efforts to see the project through.

That is the story of the bridge’s construction, but the narrative is not complete without acknowledging how the bridge has continued to live on in people’s imaginations. It is a constant source of fascination for Brisbane locals who ponder what it must be like to live inside the towers. In 1969, an Australian Women’s Weekly spread on unusual Australian homes included an interview with resident Stephen Forest. Without a front yard for that all-important morning paper delivery, he had devised this ingenious solution:

At night he drops down a fishing line, from a reel kept for that purpose, to bring up the morning newspaper. The news vendor obligingly ties the paper to the line. No walks for him on the dewy grass.

For those keen to see inside, here is a one-minute video from the 1950s showing toll keeper, Mr McDougall, and his wife at home. It is well worth a watch not only for the sneak peek inside the bridge, but also as an insight into 1950s marriage.

If this glimpse has whet your appetite to see the bridge up-close for yourself, Brisbane City Council offers tours – refer to their website for more information.

The Walter Taylor Bridge was added to the Queensland Heritage Register in 1992.

 

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Image and video acknowledgement

Front cover, The Indooroopilly Toll Bridge: A Souvenir of the Official Opening Day, 1936. Courtesy of Libraries Australia.

Indooroopilly ferry crossing the Brisbane River, 1935. Courtesy of State Library of Queensland.

Gallery: Walter Taylor Bridge construction – Indooroopilly, c.1930. Courtesy of Brisbane City Council.

Walter Taylor Bridge. Photographed by Colin O’Connor. Courtesy of Department of the Environment. This image may not be reproduced without permission of the Department of the Environment.

The Chelmer Bridge, 16 April 2007. Photographed by Michael Jefferies. Reproduced from flickr under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License. The original image has been slightly cropped.

Gallery: (L) and (Centre) – Official opening of the Indooroopilly Toll Bridge, Brisbane, 1936; (R) Indooroopilly Toll Bridge, Brisbane, 1936. Courtesy of State Library of Queensland.

Australian Diary 77: New Australians Live in Unusual Home (film), 1954. Courtesy of NFSA Films.

Remaining images are drawn from newspaper references below.

References

’24 Hours.’ The Queensland Times7 April 1938, p.11.

‘Facts to be Noted About the I.T.B.’ The Brisbane Courier. 11 May 1933, p.3.

‘Home is Where You Make It.’ The Australian Women’s Weekly1 October 1969, p.20.

‘Indooroopilly Bridge Scheme.’ The Brisbane Courier. 26 May 1931, p.17.

‘Indooroopilly Bridge To Be Opened Tomorrow.’ The Courier Mail13 February 1936, p.19.

O’Connor, Colin. Walter Taylor Bridge: Conservation Plan for Brisbane City Council. Brisbane City Council, Brisbane, 2003.

‘Walter Taylor Bridge.’ Queensland Heritage Register. Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, Brisbane, 1992.



Categories: Architecture

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8 replies

  1. The video is priceless! Nice writing, too.

    Like

  2. Loving your blog! Thanks for bringing to light all the interest and richness of Qld! (before I come home… :)) So much fascinating history within one building… It’s a delight to follow your blog! The variety is great.

    Like

  3. There’s a mistake in the article. 1924 was the centenary of the founding of the Moreton Bay penal colony in 1824 in what is now Brisbane’s CBD. The convict settlement was closed in 1839 and “Brisbane town” was open to free settlement in 1842.

    1959 was the centenary of the creation of the British colony of Queensland in 1859 (separate from the colony of NSW).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi DJB, Thanks for picking up this oversight, you are completely correct! There were centenary celebrations in Brisbane in 1924. I have amended the article accordingly. Cheers, Iona

      Like

      • Being a *little* pedantic here, but the settlement in the Brisbane CBD location didn’t occur until 1825, when Commandant Henry Miller moved it from Redcliffe.

        The Redcliffe site was established in 1824 — the centenary celebrations would have been for the original Moreton Bay penal colony.

        Great article about the bridge — thanks (it appeared today on the Lost Brisbane Facebook page).

        Regards

        Peter

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Peter, thanks for getting in touch, glad you enjoyed the article. Technically you are correct, however the celebrations held in 1924 were branded the “Brisbane centenary” at the time. Perhaps they just wanted a party that year at the expense of the facts! Cheers, Iona

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  4. Hello Queensland Deco Project,

    I am writing on behalf of my Grandmother (Valerie) in regards to the “Walter Taylor Bridge: a story of suspension [by queenslanddecoproject on October 29, 2014]” article, in particular the short video. The following is the letter she wrote for me to type and send:

    To whom it may concern,
    This note is offered as an ‘add-on’ to the “Australian Diary No. 77: New Australians Live in Unusual Home” video.
    While the McDougalls were indeed there… some year between 1962-1969, a Brisbane radio station ran a competition for the best- or certainly along those lines- talking Budgie.
    Well the McDougalls had a capable blue (I think) Budgie, and as far as I know his name was submitted and they must have taught him to say a particular phrase (as you will see).
    Unfortunately “Jimmy” McDougall escaped… So no entrant. Sad McDougalls I expect.
    Some weeks later, “Jimmy” and family were reunited as the small fellow had been rescued those previous weeks back.
    There he had sat, very quietly, in his new cage with “new” owners until the day he piped up and said: “I’m Jimmy McDougall from the Toll Bridge”.
    Now that happening was reported on through the media so happy end of that story!
    Valerie

    Your article jogged my Grandmother’s memory as she had heard of this story via a letter from her mother. I am not sure as to whether or not the bird was actually a Budgie or a different type of parrot.
    Thank you for your time and I hope you find the story delightful.
    Kind regards,
    Niamh.

    P.S. As this story is from memory, any specific details such as names and dates may be incorrect and are not published with the intention of claiming to be exact and correct, merely what can be remembered at this time.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Valerie and Niamh. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful story. You’ve told it so beautifully – what a punchline! It is a special thing to hear these kinds of memories and associations and I really appreciate you taking the time to contribute. The little details such as dates don’t matter at all – it’s the tale that brings the bridge to life! I’m sure others who read this article will find your story as delightful as I do. Kind regards, Iona

    Like

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