HISTORY | Landmark Harris Creek Bridge turns 100 on Friday

COMMEMORATING HISTORY: Moorebank Heritage Group's Phil Hurren and historian John Oakes at the Harris Creek Rail Bridge. Picture: Anna Warr
COMMEMORATING HISTORY: Moorebank Heritage Group's Phil Hurren and historian John Oakes at the Harris Creek Rail Bridge. Picture: Anna Warr

Each day thousands of motorists drive past one of Liverpool’s last relics of World War I, with barely a glance. It’s the old metal pedestrian bridge over Harris Creek, on Heathcote Road near Wattle Grove.

No, it wasn’t a pedestrian bridge when it opened 100 years ago, in October 1917.

The Harris Creek Bridge is the only military rail bridge left in Australia built by WWI prisoners. And it’s the only bit of the rail line still intact.

John Oates

It was actually a railway bridge – part of a line which was built to transport World War I ordinance, ammunition, stores, cavalry and artillery horses, military equipment and personnel back and forth between Liverpool station and Holdsworthy (as it was spelt at the time).

And one of the most intriguing things about it is that it was built by our supposed enemy – German internees.

GCC : German Concentration Camp, a bit of a misnomer these days.

GCC : German Concentration Camp, a bit of a misnomer these days.

This Friday, October 20, Moorebank Heritage Group is commemorating the centenary of the local wartime landmark – and everyone is invited.

Special guests will include former Governor-General Major General Michael Jeffery, NSW German Consul-General Lothar Freischlader, Holsworthy MP Melanie Gibbons.and Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller.

Pam Browne, projects manager of the Moorebank Heritage Group, is thrilled that the public is taking such an interest.

1917: German prisoners finished building the bridge on October 20, 1917. The train line was built to transport WWI supplies. Picture Australian War Memorial

1917: German prisoners finished building the bridge on October 20, 1917. The train line was built to transport WWI supplies. Picture Australian War Memorial

“We’d like everyone to be there about 10.30am as John Oakes and Bill Phippen of the Australian Railway Historical Society will be showing people over the bridge,” she said.

The initials GCC – for German Concentration Camp – can still be seen embedded in the structure of the bridge.

As the Champion explained recently, the internment camp at Holdsworthy was officially known as a “concentration camp”, until that word got a more evil definition under Hitler in World War II.

The Holdsworthy camp was the largest of three internment camps set up in NSW, the others being at Berrima in the Southern Highlands and Trial Bay on the North Coast.

2017: No doubt, you've driven past the WWI bridge over Harris Creek, next to  Heathcote Road, at Wattle Grove. Picture: Anna Warr

2017: No doubt, you've driven past the WWI bridge over Harris Creek, next to Heathcote Road, at Wattle Grove. Picture: Anna Warr

Almost 7000 people were herded behind barbed wire, without a trial, simply because they were originally from the German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires.

The rail bridge was constructed between April and September in 1917 and the original steel girders are still present, although the track – rails and timber transoms – have been removed and replaced by a Bailey Bridge deck supported directly on these original steel girders.

History of the railway line

BY JOHN OATES

This is the only military train line in Australia which was built, in part, by prisoners in WW1. And it’s one of the few railway lines owned by the Commonwealth but run by NSW Railways.

At the end of WW1, the traffic on the line dropped dramatically. The condition of the line between the rifle range and Holsworthy terminus was allowed to deteriorate, resulting in all trains terminating at the rifle range platform in 1923.

Despite calls from NSW Railways for repairs, the Commonwealth suspended services for this section in 1930. The track was sold to the Moorebank Sand Company and the abandoned ballast bought by Liverpool Council.

It was only the deteriorating international position in 1939 leading to the outbreak of war that saved it from closure. Needing the line to be restored for military purposes, the Commonwealth paid for repairs.

The war effort saw increased facilities built at Moorebank, the ammunition siding was extended and new ordinance sidings were commissioned in 1945.

The Cable Makers Siding on the eastern bank of the Georges River was opened in 1940. In the years after the war’s end, traffic on the branch declined though some non-military traffic still used the Cable Makers line which was closed in 1973.

A special train ran from Moorebank on March 11, 1970 en route to Bathurst Racecourse Siding carrying military equipment.

The Liverpool-to-Holsworthy military line was ended in June 1977 when the junction points at Liverpool were spiked, pending removal. In mid-1979, the steel used in the Georges River Rail Bridge was cut up and sent to the blast furnaces at Port Kembla. 

The Harris Creek Rail Bridge is the only remaining military rail bridge in Australia built by WWI prisoners. And it’s the only bit of the line still intact, except for pipework added later. It’s a three-span bridge and the steel work and rails were retrieved from duplications. In 1988 it was converted to a pedestrian bridge with a deck on the original piers, abutments and steel superstructure.

The six remnant piers of the Georges River Rail Bridge, and the Harris Creek Rail Bridge are the only remaining built elements of the railway viewable by the public. Other remnants of the line are cuttings and embankments on Defence land at Holsworthy.

  • Royal Australian Historical Society: rahs.org.au.

FRIDAY’S PROGRAM

Centenary event: Harris Creek Reserve, Heathcote Road, Holsworthy, October 20, 10.30am. MC Major Walter Robinson. Guides Phil Hurren, John Oakes, Bill Phippen. Songs performed by St Christopher’s Catholic Primary School Choir and Concordia Club ChoirHolsworthy High School 2018 captains Jeremy Arp and Madison Cram read story of internee Carl Zoeller. Other guests: Major General Michael Jeffery, German Consul-General Lothar Freischlader, Holsworthy MP Melanie Gibbons, Liverpool mayor Wendy Waller.