Valley of Bridges

Picture of the Day 26: Prince Alfred Bridge, Gundagai

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Built in 1866, the Prince Alfred Bridge is the longest wooden bridge in Australia. It was the inspiration for the captured bridge in Tomorrow When the War Began, and while it has not been crossed by a long time by car, it was open until recently to be crossed on foot. However, as you can see… crossing the bridge now could be considered an adventurer’s occupational hazard.

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Adventurous though we were, Ryan, young Sax and I elected not to cross the bridge on this occasion. If you’ll note the rotten beams visible through the hole, our main concern was that the majority of the planks would be as rotten, and in places more so. This, plus the warning sign on the viewing area (itself fenced off, although we happily ignored that ^_^) that no more than ten persons at a time should be on the bridge. Hmm. Well, I would gladly cross it solo, but I can’t speak for Ryan and Sax.

Welcome to Gundagai! 35km north of Tumut, located (very) roughly halfway between Sydney and Melbourne, Gundagai has long thrived as a highway town. Its historical bridges, old gaol and architecture and indulgence in arts and culture, such as the Irish Turning Wave Festival, the horse race Snake Gully Cup, and the hosting of the Bald Archy art competition, are big tourist draw cards. Gundagai gives a vibe of hardiness and independence, a certain indefatigability underlying the burning hot, buckled streets.

There are a few famous places in town. The Marble Masterpiece, located in the tourist info centre. The Dog on the Tuckerbox (if you’ve heard the story of Shibuya’s Hachi, the two are very similar) at the Five Mile rest stop a predictable eight kilometres outside Gundagai. The statues of Dad and Dave, which I think was a TV show a million years ago. Well, we didn’t see any of that. >:) Instead we parked outside the tourist info centre in the main street; practically all of Gundagai’s tourist attractions are accessible via the long Sheridan Street, and walked through town to the railway precinct. The day was a genial 36 degrees Celsius, and the sound of cicadas filled the air. Jii jii jiiiiii growing louder and louder as we approached the river. The smell of fig trees and late blossoms. The dry heat. The shade like a nuclear shadow. These are the elements of summer.

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From one long bridge to another, which span first Morley’s Creek, then the flood plains before the Murrumbidgee River. The Murrumbidgee is one of south-eastern Australia’s two great rivers, the other being the Murray.

From the bridges, we sauntered slightly uphill to the railway. No trains run through here, but the station has been recently revamped and its rooms stocked with artefacts and information from the industrious days of the railway.

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There’s a lot of talk of putting a magnet train between Sydney and Melbourne. So who knows? One day we might see trains here again. Hopping the tracks, listening to the chorus of cicadas, it’s wistful and pleasant to dream of a future where maglev trains pull into some slick new station. For now there is the gently decaying station buildings, the reworked track switches, the old carriages and hooks.

We walked a way down the tracks, to where the slate banks crowded in and the tall dead grass rose to meet us. Seeing not much other than paddocks that way, we turned and headed back through the station, past the enormous tower reservoir, thinking to walk along the tracks back to the bridges. We passed the remains of a turn style and passed into a channel between cut away slate banks. Ryan spied a discarded rib cage sitting by the tracks. Hmm. He wanted to go back and return to the bridges and town via the road. But I spied something further down the tracks, and we continued down to find a pig skull poised on scattered vertebrae. Then we took a look around. There were bones everywhere.

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In Ryan’s words, we didn’t know if this was something’s lair, and with that in mind we retreated to the road. On the bank, I climbed up until I had a clear view of the house on the other side of the gully. A pig dog in a derelict yard spotted me and strained at his chain on the gully’s verge, barking fiercely. He was not a happy camper. As I turned to go, the dog withdrew into the yard, and immediately we heard the grunts an squeals of a vicious dog fight. I’d say whoever owns the dogs is pushing bones into the gully, or else the dogs are losing their dinner down there.

So! Back to the street, and all this talk of vicious dogs had readied us for lunch. Our original plan was to frequent the Niagara, that most famous of Gundagai’s cafés, where my favourite prime minister, Harold Holt, had once stopped to call during war times. I believe there are other famous visitors recorded on the Niagara’s walls, but compared to Mr Holt (who disappeared whilst swimming at Cheviot Beach during his term as prime minister), they really pale in comparison.

Alas, just like in war times, the Niagara did not take EFTPOS. The ten bucks Ryan found in his wallet wasn’t enough to cover lunch, so we continued on down the street to Café on Sheridan. Fortunately the staff there were amply happy to accept our dirty, dirty electronic payments. The service was quick and exceptionally welcoming, we had a lovely table on the street, and the meals when they arrived, well…

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Well worth an instagram moment. Beautiful, fresh food. Look at that cheese dripping! I say if you’re in Gundagai and you can withstand missing soaking in Mr Holt’s ex-presence, then try Café on Sheridan.

Food lust sated, we collected our things and headed on down into the river area. There are parks, the gold course, a caravan park, the race course, show ground and war memorial all slotted between the town and the river. Parts of it are shady, and the shady parts were full of parents and kids, while the sunny avenues of ANZAC Park and the golf course were deserted. We spent some time in the war memorial looking over the 1941/1942 anti-aircraft gun they had there;

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Then passed a gigantic, albeit dead, moth on our way around the golf course to the river;

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From here on in the shade was sparse, until we, er, accessed the caravan park and helped ourselves to the river.

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Note the drowned trees. Sax wallowed here for a while, rising from the water only to shake himself on us. I assume this is payback for my tipping leftover drinking water over his head to keep him cool. Hmmm. Well, soon we were on our way again, steadily ignoring the NO DOGS sign as we left the caravan park and turned back towards town. Here we had a marvellous view of the bridges closing in together across the paddocks.

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And that was it! We could have seen the Marble Masterpiece, as we did call into the tourist info centre, but the place was very busy with people filing off the frequent coaches which stop there, and… to be honest, our desire for art had already been satiated by the Christmas tree poised outside the centre;

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It’s art, I tell you!

And that was our trip to Gundagai. We had an excellent day out, and I can’t wait to walk that bloody bridge!

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About Anneque D. Machelle

Anneque "Dangerpus" Machelle (rhymes with ranger wuss) is a rebel and a rogue from way out west. Strictly banned from interactions with other human beings, she spends her days amongst molluscs, dogs and lizards, whom she counts as her closest friends.
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