News From the Timberzoo

      NOVEMBER 2010

  • Demolition of the Barwon Heads Bridge
    Dismantling and Reconstruction of the Barwon River Crossing

dismantling and reconstruction of the barwon river crossing

There are aspects of the Barwon Heads Bridge redevelopment saga that read like an unfunny version of Monty Python's Dead Parrot tale. As usual, language is the chief villain. Seeking to do the most good for government and their departments and doing only self-harm. The language of bureaucrats, crafted with precision by a PR team, seeks to douse fires that might erupt - but haven't. To counter arguments that are never raised. Or to insulate, protect, monitor and deny. Essential verbs in the language of the Nanny State.

The old timber bridge at Barwon Heads had stood since 1927 and was remembered as a   
place for summer holidays popular with young families and fishermen.   


Was the Old Barwon Bridge demolished  or was it restored?  VicRoads have a media unit to tailor the bigger messages. A primary message has been: the old bridge is knackered - even for a fishing platform. And the new bridge is '... a rebuilding of the crossing using salvageable components and design elements of the evolved bridge'.

And doesn't it look good. I genuinely like it. The builder can be justly proud of his craft and his efforts on a wet and windy location. It is a modern copy of the old with pedestrian amenity. Concrete and steel, with timber corbelling the main bearers and pretending to be stringers on the outer runs. An eau-de-recycled splash of hardwood.

The new bridge is modelled on the old with timber used as 'decoration' rather than essential structural elements


Still, the VicRoads spin is so precious it veers dangerously towards nonsense. The conscious avoidance of terms like demolition, wreck, remove or cart away. Instead the old structure is 'dismantled' and 'reconstructed'. 

A media release sets the tone for the project: ' Work to reconstruct the historic Barwon Heads Bridge started earlier this year and will ensure it retains its iconic status well into the future...' There are references to 'the importance of repairing, ... adaptation and redevelopment'. The piece of resistance found in all this reassurance endeavours '... to develop a refined option that delivers the best heritage outcome'.

Buried in detail, the truth is reluctantly told. No, it is not 'restoration' of the bridge - a term which implies 'retention of the existing fabric'. But it is 'reconstruction'. There follows a Sir Humphrey Appleby favourite. It is proposed to '... reuse sound timber members salvaged from existing bridge where possible'. Unhappily the 'scope for reuse is limited, but will be assessed as work progresses'. Naturally the reconstructed bridge needs to be 'code-compliant'. It may 'feature the heritage character of the existing landmark while ensuring safety'. 

The implied message that the bridge was not really demolished would have me worried if I truly believed it, because the old bridge is sitting in the front yard at Portarlington Road. Timberzoo has salvaged most of the top decking timbers and the best portion of the supporting bearers, and would like to offer these timbers to good citizens of the Bellarine keen to retain an important piece of history. In a Berlin Wall kinda way, but with less emotion. Just a quiet appreciation for old hardwoods. 

Heavy stringers in the round supported the other dimension-cut bearers and decking timbers in the main bridge structure.
The cross heads and braces on the pilings were reused by the builder in some elements of the new crossing.


Timberzoo worked closely with the demolition contractor to salvage the bridge hardwoods for reuse. Derek Wilson, from Industrial Group, formed the view that although salvage and sorting of timbers was a time-consuming and expensive process -  with many rusted fixings and metal bracket connections to be removed - the environmental cost of delivering the timber to landfill or chip reduction exceeded this in dollar terms, as the load profiles were so unmanageable. Semi-tippers with load capacities of 30 cubic metres were removing 3 to 4 cubic metres of bridge timber per load. It made better sense to organise a dumping site in a nearby industrial estate for short tipping runs, and seek a cost-return formula for the additional processing. That's where Timberzoo comes in. 

Decking timbers 180 x 90mm in lengths from 2.0m to 7.0m are available in four grades from Landscape Grade to Structural Grade at Timberzoo, and hardwood 220 x 170mm bearers 2.0m - 4.0m can be used for landscaping or outdoor structures. You can obtain your piece of Bellarine history now.

Removal of the top decking timbers by Industrial Group was performed during the Bellarine's wettest,
coldest and windiest weather in more than a decade.

In Pearl Bay - the Seachange  series alter-identity for Barwon Heads - a sort of philosophical summation of the moment happens in a laconic style at every episode's conclusion. Usually the characters are watching the waves or container ships departing the distant heads. In a mad moment I imagine that day's end finds Derek and me on the seawall - instead of Trevor and Kevin - casting seashells on a shallow wash.

When this bridge caper is all over, Derek, you gunna go back to calling yourselves 'Industrial Wreckers'?

Dunno mate. Kinda fond of the reconstruction game now. You know ... utilising components of the evolved design and umm ... developing a sympathetic but distinct heritage aesthetic in the reconstructed fabric. But Phrani wants me to open a Vegetarian Takeaway and Healing Centre.


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