A new bridge and a new road
The idea of a coast road linking Cairns and Port Douglas was first suggested in 1918, but it was considered too difficult and expensive. Councillor Raymond David Rex and eight Douglas Shire residents walked 45 miles from Mowbray to Cairns to demonstrate the feasibility of the road and by 1927 surveyors were assessing the route. When the Farmers' Bridge over the Barron at Stratford was damaged in the 1929 floods, the Main Roads Department decided to build a new bridge over the Barron as part of the new road.
In 1932 the Main Roads Department adopted the 'Stratford deviation' for the new road to Double Island and on to Port Douglas. The new Barron Bridge was built by W E Kelly as a contractor to the Main Roads Department. (Jones p.447). This bridge was made of eighteen 30-foot sections of concrete piles with timber girders and decking. Construction cost £10,605. (Road bridges, Broughton).
At the time there were only about 20 or 30 houses at Stratford (Laura Saint, Cairns Sun, 11 June 1997). Workers moved to Stratford to build the bridge and approach roads, and they lived in tents and humpies along what is now Rinks Close and the Bowls Club. (Aggie Humphries, Cairns Post, 1992).
Driving the first pile
A ceremony was held on Saturday, 16 April 1933 to drive the first pile for the bridge. About 500 people took the train, railmotor and autobuses to Stratford to see Councillor W M Simmonds, Chairman of the Cairns Shire Council, release the 'monkey' to strike the pile driver's first blow. Mr Dave Smart of Stratford held a working bee with Stratford residents and Cairns Combined School committee members and they prepared 'an excellent sports ground and erected refreshment stalls.'
At 3.30pm Mr Dave Smart, who was Chairman of the Stratford Sports Committee and in charge of arrangements, addressed the crowd. He said the new bridge would be of vast importance to Cairns and the district and the Council, in its wisdom, had selected the site at Stratford. The bridge would be 'a boon to persons desirous of spending their weekends at nearby beaches.' He called on Councillor Simmonds to strike the first blow. Simmonds addressed the crowd, followed by speeches from Alderman W A Collins, Mayor of Cairns Shire Council, W B Andreassen, Chairman of Douglas Shire Council, N P Draper, Chairman of the Cairns Chamber of Commerce, W C Griffin, representative of the Cairns Harbour Board and W H Kelly, bridge contractor.
Mr Griffin said to applause that it was pleasing to know when the road was through to Port Douglas 'they could populate the valuable land opened up with people of their own race and ideals'.
After the speeches, Simmonds mounted the frame of the pile driver, and, using power supplied by the Harbor Board's punt, Paddy Atherton, he released the monkey and struck the first blow.
A sports program was held in the afternoon in aid of the Cairns Boys' Band, who 'rendered musical items' during the ceremony. Competitions included a men's cycle race over six miles, (won by L Logan in 16 minutes 38 seconds), a ladies cycle race (won my Mrs Newell), wood chops (the standing wood chop being won by H Frazer) and tossing the caber. In the tug-o'-war competition, the Redlynch team beat Barron Falls and the Finn team beat Stratford. In the evening a dance and euchre party was held at the hall behind Tully's Hotel.
It was expected that the bridge would be completed by November 1933, before the first floods of the wet season and in time for the opening of the road to Port Douglas. However there were delays in construction and problems supplying sufficient timber and the bridge was not finished by the time the road Cook Highway was completed. On 17 December 1933 the Hon Henry Adam Bruce (1884-1958), Secretary of Public Works and MLA for the Tablelands, opened the new road. About 86 vehicles assembled at the hill to the north of Hartleys Creek for the ceremony, but they had to travel via Kamerunga to get to Cairns as the Stratford Bridge was far from finished.
Once the wet season floods began, contruction was delayed further and by mid-February, the contractor, Kelly, didn't expect the bridge to be completed until mid-April. Rains and floods continued through March, not only hampering construction, but washing away equipment.
A Category 3 cyclone on 12 March 1934 that crossed the coast near Cape Tribulation caused widespread flooding and at least 75 people perished at sea in the Cairns area. There was major flooding on the Barron, with the river reaching 10.5 metres at Myola. Construction was suspended as sctions of the bridge washed away.
The low level bridge at Kamerunga was under water and there was no access to the north side of the Barron for much of March. Towards the end of March the incomplete section of the new Stratford Bridge was temporarily spanned to allow traffic over the river. Construction was completed once the flood subsided. The new bridge did not have tram lines on it like the older Farmer's Bridge, so cane had to be trucked across the river to the rail line for transport to Hambledon mill.
Demolishing the Bridge
By 1976 the volume of traffic over the Barron meant a new bridge was needed. The wooden bridge closed to traffic in May 1978. It was used by fishermen and was vandalised and the wooden bridge sections burnt.
The Transport Department offered the Mulgrave Shire Council $120,000 to take control of the bridge, this being their estimated cost of demolition. Council believed the demolition costs to be double this figure and by the end of February 1992 it was decided to remove the bridge. Work began shortly before Easter 1993. Most of the bridge was removed except for a small section attached to the south bank which was rebuilt for use as a fishing platform.