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Published June 5th 2015
Be a history detective at Murray Bridge
Bridge Workers Building Murray Bridge 1875 (Image: State Library SA)
Murray Bridge is South Australia's fourth largest town, and centre of a major agricultural district. Located on the River Murray. Murray Bridge is also an important transport hub with many interstate visitors passing through the town and visiting the tourist attractions.
The importance of the Murray Bridge transport connection in South Australian history has now been formally recognised with the State Heritage Council (provisionally) declaring the Murray Bridge Transport Precinct to be a State Heritage Place. This is particularly interesting for rail enthusiasts and offers a basis for heritage tourism in the town.
The Ngarrindjeri people are the traditional owners of the land around Murray Bridge, but after the discovery of gold in Victoria in the 1850's the River Murray became an important trading route between South Australia and the eastern states. River boats travelled to Mannum and Goolwa, and Murray Bridge grew in importance as a port after the first bridge was built in 1879.
Murray Bridge Wharf Seen From Bridgeport Hotel 1917 (Image: State Library SA)
Following the establishment of the railway line from Murray Bridge to Adelaide in 1885, Murray Bridge's importance as a transport hub grew immensely. By 1886 the railway line from Adelaide to Melbourne was complete, and a large railway complex was completed in Murray Bridge by the river.
The Murray Bridge railway station, wharves, and a goods shed were supported by a large railway yards complex containing engine running sheds, turntables, and sidings. With hundreds of men working at the railway yards a stationmaster's residence and cottages provided much needed accommodation in Murray Bridge for the workers.
Murray Bridge Railway Station 1925 (Image: State Library SA)
By 1910 over 35,000 tons of freight was trans-shipped across the wharf between railway and boats, and up to sixteen trains left Murray Bridge in one day. Later, rail and river leisure cruises became very popular, with trains bringing travellers from Adelaide to Murray Bridge where they boarded paddle steamer PS Marion for a cruise.
As river trade continued expanding the South Australian Railways facilities grew to support it until 1925 when a new railway bridge was built across the River Murray to support heavier and more powerful steam locomotives. A 70 metre tunnel was also cut under Bridge Street to avoid the need for a railway crossing.
A Steam Engine Hauls a Passenger Train at Murray Bridge Railway Station
Eventually the Murray Bridge railway yards were a victim of their own success. The site was constrained by the township, river banks, and cliffs, and further growth was impossible. The South Australian Railways decided to relocate the locomotive running sheds to Tailem Bend with some three hundred staff.
The Murray Bridge railway station refreshment rooms were re-modelled in 1936 and the platform was extended in 1967 to allow the Melbourne Express to stop, but little else changed. By 1983 even control of the railway signals and points was handled from Adelaide, and the Murray Bridge transport connection faded into railway history.
Railway Cottages Tailem Bend 1925 (Image: State Library SA)
Tailem Bend later suffered a similar fate from the South Australian Railways, although there is now a railway museum at Tailem Bend to give an insight into its busy railway history. You can find many other period memorabilia and railway artifacts at the amazing Old Tailem Town Pioneer Village, but sadly the Tailem Bend Train Graveyard is not open to the public.
Fortunately some of the century old river and railway infrastructure still remains in the Murray Bridge Transport Precinct including
Murray Bridge railway station and refreshment rooms
an 1883 railway turntable
the wharf and hand crane
1910 stone railway cottages
River Murray Shipping Company shed and slipway
many other items are included in the listing
Their listing will help preserve this remaining river and railway history from damage or demolition as this area becomes redeveloped.
It's quite easy to walk along the River Murray banks through the wharf area, and follow old siding tracks back to the old railway turntable. Some of the area is currently overgrown, but you can see the railway cottages and the train control building which now houses the Murray Bridge Historical Society.
Beneath the surface of the river between Sturt Reserve and upstream from the bridges there are also nine sunken paddle steamers and barges.
Perhaps the Murray Bridge Council could establish a heritage walking trail in this new heritage precinct. With some interpretive signs to explain the sights, it would be an excellent way to turn them into heritage tourist attractions and showcase some of Murray Bridge's proud history.
For more recent photos from the Murray Bridge transport Precinct, see this article.
Good of you Dave to highlight Murray Bridge.My grandfather and his wife did such a trip on the P.S. and my father,stocked up the Pyap there for it's journey up the river,selling goods to settlements along the river.He was the manager on this floating store ,which at that time was owned by Eudunda Farmers Co-op Ltd.As you may know,the Pyap,now does short river boat tours from Swan Hill,captained by Bill Hogg.I agree that it would be a good idea to create far more awareness of those early days in Murray Bridge regarding rail and river boat history.For some reason,this town has not promoted itself enough as to it"s history and maybe this is the beginning of more things to come in this direction.As always.another worthwhile article on things South Australian.