Timber truss bridges

Over the past one and half centuries more than 420 timber truss bridges were built across New South Wales. Roads and Maritime Services has committed to conserving 26 of the bridges as part of the state’s road network. All but unique to New South Wales, timber truss bridges originated from settlement into rugged and remote areas, serving the need to carry large freight loads and high quality hardwood timber of massive dimensions.

Picton Bridge

For more than eighty years the designs of these bridges were continually refined to improve their performance, meet changing demands and tie communities together.  Today, the remaining bridges record the ingenuity of their designers and builders and display the unique qualities of Australian hardwoods.

In 2017 Roads and Maritime will release a publication on the history of the timber truss bridges of New South Wales. Following is an introduction and outline of this upcoming publication.

Tracing history: the timber truss bridges of NSW

How did timber truss bridges become such distinctive elements of the landscapes of NSW? And why were more than 400 of these bridges built in the eighty years after responsible government was won in the 1850s?

Constantly increasing freight loads, abundant high quality hardwood timber of massive dimensions, and the abilities of some remarkable engineers offer some answers. Today, the remaining bridges record the ingenuity of their designers and builders and the unique qualities of Australian hardwoods. But their story only starts there.

Investigating why NSW became ‘the timber truss bridge state’, this publication shows the part these bridges played in shaping localities and in the development of the State. The interplay between state enterprise and local needs and skills emerges as a key theme. The stories of these bridges uncover layers of meaning as the routes of modern highways reveal the roadways used by bullock teams and mail coaches and before that, the fords and pathways of Aboriginal Australia.

These bridges also tell of their designers, whose ingenuity adapted engineering knowledge to local materials, developing the successive timber truss types that have become milestones in Australian bridge engineering.

These are stories that trace fascinating new paths through the history of NSW.

A project of Roads and Maritime Services, this publication will be fully illustrated with both colour and historic photographs. All of the authors are experts in their field and bring engineering, historical and heritage perspectives to an intriguing subject. It addresses a wide audience interested in NSW, local history, engineering and heritage. Written for the general reader with a minimum of necessary technical jargon, it is the definitive statement on these significant heritage places.

The publication will be an e-publication, freely accessible and available for download.

Tracing history: the timber truss bridges of NSW
Edited by Lenore Coltheart, with Ian Berger and Denis Gojak. To be published 2017.

Authors and content

Author(s) Section title and description About the author(s)
Don Fraser The timber truss
An overview of the evolution of the five truss types built from the 1850s to the 1930s
Dr Don Fraser is the doyen of bridge engineering and heritage in Australia
Lenore Coltheart The designers
Collective biography of the engineers whose names now identify the heritage truss types
Dr Lenore Coltheart is an historian of engineering and technology, with publications including histories of public works in NSW
Ian Bowie and Amie Nicholas Trusses and timbers
Not just any timber goes into a bridge. The engineering science and practical issues of hardwood timber for bridge building
Ian Bowie is Honorary Lecturer, Faculty of Engineering and IT, University of Sydney
Amie Nicholas is a Bridge Engineer for Roads and Maritime Services NSW and a Chartered Heritage and Conservation Engineer
Ian Jack People and places
How rural communities celebrated their bridges
Associate Professor Ian Jack is among the founders of industrial heritage studies in Australia and former senior lecturer at the University of Sydney
Ian Berger The builders
How bridge builders did what they did, and the generation of hard-won knowledge and skills
Ian Berger is Environment Officer [Heritage] at Roads and Maritime
Rex Glencross-Grant An economy of bridges
The role of timber truss bridges in the economic history of NSW
Dr Rex Glencross-Grant is Senior Lecturer, University of New England
Ray Wedgwood, Brian Pearson and Wije Ariyaratne Weighty issues
How can bridges designed for laden wagons be made to carry modern heavy freight vehicles?
These are the current and two former chief bridge engineers for Roads and Maritime and its predecessors
Denis Gojak A working legacy
History for the future – conserving timber truss bridges
Denis Gojak is Roads and Maritime’s Senior Heritage Specialist
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