Who else besides me is also just a little bit (or a lot) fascinated by bridges? I don’t have a full-on obsession about them, but for me there is still something intriguing and compelling about them, especially old bridges. Maybe it’s because they light up my imagination with the stories, both known and unknown, that are, or might be, associated with them. I appreciate a magnificent bridge as much as an utilitarian one – they all have their own aura of mystery, history, and vitality. So, yeah – spotting a book about bridges in the library is exactly the sort of thing I’d stop and grab.
I wasn’t really surprised to see that this particular book had no New Zealand bridges in it. Australia was as far as author David Ross was prepared to venture in his quest to build a bridge book. New Zealand is often just a step too far – and we can’t deny that the most of the rest of the world is a helluva long way away from us. Plus, if I’m being honest, no-one’s going to find a real live wonder-of-the-world bridge here. However, we do have many and varied bridges in New Zealand. In fact, because of its climate and topography, we have more bridges than any other country in the world, on a population basis. However, they only date back to the beginning of European settlement in the mid 19th century, so they don’t really cut it with the grand old survivors elsewhere. Neither do we have vast swathes of land or water to cross, so our bridges are comparatively modest in size.
Like everywhere else, our bridges have many styles and designs. They were built for railway, road, horse and foot traffic. When a pioneer bridge opened, it was often a cause for a district celebration, as life without it was brutal. Because we had so many bridges to build, and were not a prosperous country, many cost saving approaches were necessary: wooden bridges, suspension bridges, single lane bridges, and combined road / rail bridges. New Zealand engineers went to great lengths to develop economic designs as epitomised by the ‘multiple cable’ suspension bridge, which (just to have some bragging rights), was the subject of a 1922 paper to the Institution of Civil Engineers in London.
Over time, many of the pioneer bridges have been replaced, making the early cost-saving designs just a piece of history now. The Department of Conservation is a major manager of bridge heritage, which includes a collection of pioneering bridges. I can’t go past this point without mentioning that DoC’s budget was heavily slashed by the previous neo-liberal government, as per the style of all right-wing governments, who have an aversion to spending money on anything that doesn’t make their buddies even richer. I haven’t discovered how the old bridges fared from their possible nine years of neglect, but I surmise that the ones on the tourist trails would have been maintained, at least.
Anyway, enough growling (for now) – here are some of our bridges:
I was a tad reluctant to post this link, because of the tagline “100% Pure New Zealand”, that Tourism New Zealand uses. I know it’s a play on words, but it still gives me some annoyance that we can no longer use it about our land. We’ve been savage with our exploitation of it and the extraction of resources for economic gain, aided and abetted by successive governments who have been extremely negligent in their management, especially right-wing governments OF COURSE. Naturally, we humans are always going to have an impact on the world, because of how we live, but jaysus, we’ve surpassed anything ever imagined with the thumping we’ve given it!
Interestingly, although the Tourism New Zealand page has a header picture of the Bridge to Nowhere, it doesn’t list it amongst its ‘best’. The Bridge to Nowhere was originally built to give returned WW1 soldiers access to the land offered by the government, as part of the returned soldiers settlement scheme. However, the land proved too hard to make productive, and was eventually abandoned by all who had tried to settle there.
Later this year, I’m going to the UK with my nephew, so I shall look forward to getting a good old bridge ‘fix’ while I’m there 😊