Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Centenary Bridge, Port Melbourne

In 1934 Victoria celebrated the centenary of European settlement in grand style. A royal visit was planned with Prince George representing his father King George V however his engagement to Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark meant that his brother Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, came to Australia instead.

The Board of the Homoeopathic Hospital, which had been founded in Spring St in 1869 before moving to St Kilda Road in the 1880s, had considered changing the name of the hospital to Prince George's however the change of visiting royal saw it become Prince Henry's. It was demolished sixty years after this change of name in 1994.

The Royal Visit led to a lot of concern about where the party would land and how they would be conveyed to Melbourne. St Kilda believed that the Prince should land at their pier and make his way to the City along Melbourne's grand boulevard, St Kilda Road. Port Melbourne argued that their piers were the gateway to Melbourne and it was fitting that the Prince should be landed there.

The argument raged back and forth during the early part of 1933 with the foreshore at Port Melbourne considered a dreary wasteland and not beautiful enough to welcome a member of the Royal Family. A grand Centenary Boulevard via Williamstown Road or Beaconsfield Parade was proposed but was abandoned by September 1933 when the Chief Commissioner of Railways, Mr H Clapp, pointed out that a level crossing was inappropriate for the amount of rail traffic accessing Station & Princes Piers at Port Melbourne.

As early as 1924, the Melbourne Harbor Trust (MHT) had proposed that Port Melbourne Council (PMC) that they should build a bridge over the pier with all interested parties contributing to the cost. MHT offered to pay half the cost but Council rejected the idea saying it was entirely a matter for the MHT.

With the Centenary Boulevard proposal a non-starter, the possibility of a bridge was resurrected and The Record, 23 Dec 1933, reported that 12 designs for a bridge at Port Melbourne had been proposed. The cost would be £60,000 with MHT prepared to meet ⅔ of the cost if the Government found the remaining ⅓ and vested certain land to the MHT.

The Record, 17 Feb 1934, reported that 20 men had begun preparations for the new bridge the previous Monday. The following edition reported that 30 men had started work on the western ramp of the bridge itself.

In May, the MHT requested PMC to pay for roadworks in connection with Centenary Bridge. Council refused claiming that the MHT had changed the alignment of the road without consultation and therefore it was not Council's responsibility.

Things seemed to be looking up in June when an ad in The Record stated 'Make a bee(r) line for The London Hotel right at the foot of the new bridge'. June and July, however, also saw further correspondence between Port Council and the MHT regarding the roadworks with the issue now deadlocked and neither party wishing to take responsibility for the costs.

At least one issue had been resolved. In April it was confirmed that Prince Henry would land at Port Melbourne. The Mayor of St Kilda, Cr Burnett gray sending a personal letter of congratulations to PMC.

The Prince disembarked from the Sussex at Princes Pier on 18 Oct 1934. A reception by PMC was planned at Stokes Street before he would be driven along Beaconsfield Parade to St Kilda, then up Fitzroy Street and along St Kilda Road to the Melbourne Town Hall.

During his time in Melbourne, Prince Henry also opened the newly constructed Shirne of remembrance. He departed on 12 Nov 1934 but not before thousands of people flocked to Port Melbourne to see the warships Sussex, Canberra, Dunedin, Diomede and Augusta over the previous weekend.

The saga of Centenary Bridge did not end with the Royal Visit. The roadworks for the approaches to the bridge were not resolved and the eastern ramp sat at a strange angle to the existing road.

In March 1935, Cr J P Crichton drew Council's attention to the unsatisfactory state of road on the eastern approach of new bridge and moved that PMC ask MHT to finish the job.

In fact it was worse than that. The Railways had got involved soon after the Royal Visit and had closed the approach to the bridge, since it was their land and they required the MHT to meet certain conditions before the bridge could be re-opened.

Almost a year after Prince Henry had been driven over Centenary Bridge it was still not open to the public. The Record reported on 12 Oct 1935 that the approach to the bridge was going to be made. After several conferences between PMC and the MHT a compromise had been reached. They would share the estimated costs of £800.

Even this is not the end of the story. In February 1936, The Record reported that the road on the western side of the bridge connecting the bridge with Williamstown Road was still blocked. Traffic was routed along Swallow Street which was unsuitable for the volume of cars using the bridge. The City Engineer proposed improvements to Swallow Street to relieve the congestion and the issue disappeared somewhat until later that year.

The Record, 5 Dec 1936 reported that the road connecting Williamstown Road with Port Melbourne beach was open, but not officially. It had taken over 2 years from Prince Henry's visit to complete the project due to the wrangling between the Railways, Port Melbourne Council and the Melbourne Harbor Trust.

The bridge itself had some art deco feature especially the pylons on the approaches to the bridge, the street lamps and the stairways down the the Port Melbourne railway station and Station Pier. The pylons and lamps included the hexagonal monogram of the MHT.

Centenary Bridge may even have been unique in its design. From the air it resembled a large aeroplane with the normal span of the bridge over the railway line forming the 'wings'. The unusual part of the design comes from a third roadway that ran from the apex of the bridge onto Station Pier forming the 'fuselage'.

It was an amazing bridge and just about impossible to photograph. You could never get far enough away from it and still have a clear view.

You've notice I am using the past tense.

Centenary Bridge was demolished in 1991 by the State Government.

Centenary Bridge Pylon, Port MelbourneAll that remains is one of the pylons on the eastern approach to Station Pier opposite The London Hotel. Obviously they didn't think something that commemorated the centenary of the State was worth preserving.

It will be interesting to see what the people of 2034 think of this as they celebrate the bicentennial. Perhaps as an old man I can tell anyone who is interested what this marvellous bridge was like and pass on what the older Port residents are telling me now about what the area was like when Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester came to town and caused a bridge to be built in Port Melbourne.


  1. This is a fantastically rich and detailed account of the relationships between different authorities as well as of the Bridge itself.

    1. Unfortunately it is much easier to photograph now with just that one lonely pylon on the foreshore.