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Bridge over the Shoalhaven River

August 21, 2018

History of the Bridge over the Shoalhaven River at Nowra

On 1 August 1881, something BIG was happening around Nowra. A link between the North and South sides of the Shoalhaven River was finally coming to fruition, changing the lives of many people living in the area at the time.

But this was not the only bridge being opened to the public on this day.  A bridge constructed of timber, called the Bunberra Bridge, was being opened over Bomaderry Creek. Although not far apart, the Bunberra Bridge opening paled in significance to the opening of the Bridge over the Shoalhaven River at Nowra.

Initial discussions around building a bridge over the Shoalhaven River began in 1871 after David Berry of Coolangatta Estate came up with the idea, some 10 years before the bridge was finally built. His plan varied greatly from the bridge that was eventually built as he dreamt of a 1600-foot-long bridge with a drawbridge to allow vessels to pass upstream.


Initially, there was discussion based on building a double track railway bridge but unfortunately plans for a South Coast Railway line all the way to Bega never eventuated. The railway line, when completed in 1893, stopped in Bomaderry instead.

Prior to the construction of the bridge, a series of punts and ferries were used to transport a range of people and products from one side of the river to the other.

Further discussions did not occur until 1873 when the idea of a railway bridge was discussed.

The bridge was designed in America by a famous civil engineer and specialist bridge designer named C Shaler Smith. He designed the bridge for the Edgemoor Iron Company of Delaware.

Construction Stage

The wrought iron superstructure was manufactured in Australia by Onward Bates who was an agent for the Edgemoor Iron Company based in NSW and spans a length of 342 metres. The 12 iron cylinders that support the bridge were cast at the Atlas Foundry in Sydney.

In 1879 a 150 ft long span, the first example based on the American Truss Principal to be seen in Australia, was sent from the US and was exhibited at the International Exhibition in Sydney. These spans of the bridge were originally built in America and then shipped out to Australia. It took 6 days and 15 men to swing this first of seven spans into place in June 1880. This span weighed more than 70 ton so took enormous skill to achieve the correct placement. The following 6 spans were then swung into place and completed by November 1880.

More than one Bridge over the Shoalhaven River

The Nowra Bridge is unique because it is the only American pin-jointed Whipple truss in service in New South Wales.

Although more than 135 years old the Nowra Bridge still stands strong and is a well known structure in the Shoalhaven. It doesn’t stand alone however.

A 2nd, newer bridge over the Shoalhaven River, was built almost 100 years later and officially opened in September 1980. This bridge is constructed of concrete and is a contrast to the original wrought iron bridge.

But these two bridges are struggling under the huge number of vehicles that pass over them every day.

Yet another Bridge to be built

The NSW State and the Federal Governments are now planning to build a third, 4 lane bridge to the west alongside the existing bridges. This bridge is being built to cope with increased vehicle traffic in the area.

Once completed there has been mention that the original steel bridge may remain and be turned into a bicycle and foot traffic bridge.

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