Troubled bridge over no water

THE Old Whitwarta Bridge will be officially closed to traffic in coming months as a public safety measure, one of several highlighted to be in poor condition in the Wakefield Regional Council area.

The closure will mark the end of an era for Whitwarta locals, with landowner, Andrew “Darkie” Tiller, the last official user of the structure when he shifts stock between paddocks.

Mr Tiller feels a close connection to the bridge, taking in the history of both the river crossing and the former Whitwarta Hotel site, located on his property.

It’s also a significant site to former council Mayor, Es Hoepner, whose father, Bill, had a hands on role while the bridge and surrounding environment was being established back in 1914.

Local lads reportedly spent many summers in the river nearby, fishing and swimming in the freshwater stream of the Wakefield River.

Mr Hoepner recalled Whitwarta Road’s notorious ‘S’ bend either side of the bridge, combined with a downhill slope that caused as least two truck crashes and many more spillages when horse-drawn carts where in vogue.

His story recounted how local men would travel in to Balaklava for their weekly shopping, stopping off at the pub while in town, but ultimately careering over the bridge and around the bend into the Whitwarta Hotel to end the day.

Mr Tiller believed a concrete truck broke through the guardrail and ended up in the bottom of the river bed about 30 years ago.

Only one building from the hotel still stands today, believed to be the former dining room.

Mr Tiller can point out where the rest of the facilities were amongst the ruins, including the former accommodation rooms, cozy enough with room for a single bed and a washing bowl but not much else.

The Old Whitwarta Bridge was one of a handful of similar structures investigated by experts in April last year. The other bridges inspected were Dunn’s Bridge, Quinlan’s Bridge, Kybunga Top Road Bridge, Adrian Clark Bridge and Watchman Road Bridge,

Council has budgeted $100,000 for works to make these bridges compliant with safety guidelines, which could include replacement of guardrails, or barrier installation and signage to limit and prevent access.