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Freotopia > bridges. See also: photographs of this bridge.

Fremantle Traffic Bridge 1939

Fremantle has had arguably five road bridges crossing the Swan River, two of which remain. A new one is now (2020) planned.
North Fremantle Bridge aka High Level Bridge, 1866-1909
Low Level Bridge, 1898-1909
Renovated High Level Bridge, 1909-1939/1947
Fremantle Traffic Bridge, 1939-
Stirling Bridge, 1974-

The present Fremantle Traffic Bridge, opened 15 December 1939. The 1940s photo shows the 1909 RHLB still in position on the right. The newer bridge was intended to be good for forty years. It is still in use.
The largest building in the right background is that of the Swan Wool Scouring Company, Edmond Antoine's family business.

The scene in 1950 from a photo posted to Facebook by Neil Smithson.

Photo courtesy of Roger Garwood, c. 1977. John Dowson's comments: 'It shows a denuded Cantonment Hill, a signal station with advertising, the original railings of the bridge before before ruined by Main Roads, traditional pavement on the right, the naval store before their hideous artwork ...'

The Fremantle Traffic Bridge was cheaply built out of timber rather than concrete because it was thought then that the Harbour would be extended further east. However, it has been repaired, notably in 1978, 1992 and 2016, and is still in use, though there are now (2020) plans to replace it. See the bottom of this page for a 2019 proposal for its use as a pedestrian bridge.

Aerial photo from 1947 showing the first rail bridge on the left, the 1939 traffic bridge in the middle, and the remains of the not-yet-demolished RHLB. The red-ringed building is a PWD depot - on what is now Beach Street Reserve, roughly where The Kiosk now stands.

traffic bridge

My photo shows the 1939 bridge with the still existing remains of some of the piles of the 1866 bridge in the foreground.


I took this photo of defensive work on the traffic bridge February 2016.

Fremantle Traffic Bridge Closed
​The Fremantle Traffic Bridge and northern river channel will be CLOSED by 7pm Friday 29 April as a precautionary safety measure, after concerns were raised following an inspection associated with current strengthening works. The examination found erosion at the foundation at one of the bridge's four piers. Further detailed investigations, as well as strengthening works, will now be undertaken. 29 April 2016


The City of Fremantle’s vision for the replacement of the Fremantle Traffic Bridge, 2019.

This map, supplied to the Fremantle Society Facebook page 5 June 2020 by Deputy Mayor Andrew Sullivan, contains a set of proposals for the replacement of the present Traffic Bridge, new train lines, and a realignment of the truck route to avoid the centre of North Fremantle.

From - Roel Looper's blog, 25 June 2020:

Fremantle community wants new bridge involvement

A late item about the new Fremantle traffic bridge was added to last night’s Fremantle Council meeting agenda, at the initiative of Mayor Brad Pettitt. This is very important because Freo Council and the community need to be proactive on this, to make sure that we not only get an outstanding new bridge of great creative design, but also that the old heritage-listed bridge will be preserved for the community.

The community wants a significant say in this and at the very early stages of planning, because we don’t want this project delayed by being presented with plans that are finalised and not negotiable. The bridge will be a new entry statement into Fremantle and hence needs to be attractive, maybe even one tourists can climb on to and get great views of Fremantle Port and the Swan River, like the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

1. Welcomes the Federal and State funding commitment of $230m for the Swan River Crossing project, a project that will see major infrastructure delivered that will have an asset life in excess of 100 years;

2. Adopts the following principles to assist with the City’s analysis and feedback to Government as the project unfolds and develops:

1. PLANNING–That the State Government provides clarity around how this project supports the long-term strategic planning scenarios for the region and how transport planning is fully integrated within this, and specifically how options will address:
• the recommendations of the Westport Taskforce in relation to the future of the Inner Harbour of Fremantle Port;
• land use, traffic, freight and passenger rail planning options for the areas on the north and south of the proposed new crossing;

2. ALIGNMENT & CONNECTIONS – That the new bridge alignment(s) are optimised in terms of:
• long-term planning scenarios;
• uninterrupted flow / connectivity of the state’s Principle Shared Path (PSP) to Fremantle and North Fremantle Rail Stations.
• low-speed cycling and pedestrian connectivity and amenity;
• cultural heritage and place-making, in particular, impact on Fremantle Traffic Bridge.

3. DESIGN–That the Swan River Crossing demonstrates excellence in design – delivering infrastructure through a multi-discipline design process that celebrates contemporary bridge design and creates a memorable gateway experience and a place for people.

4. HERITAGE – That a significant portion of the Fremantle Traffic Bridge is preserved at both ends – especially on the southern end – and adapted in a manner that:
• retains pedestrian and cycling functions on its top deck;
• retains a section over Beach Street, including its abutment and architectural embellishments;
• is activated, connected and generates a destination for people on the foreshore;
• remains an asset of the State Government.

5. CULTURE–That the Aboriginal significance of this rivercrossing/ location is clearly understood, respected and interpreted in the design and deliverables. This could be a major component of the % for Art program associated with this project.

6. PUBLIC REALM & PLACE – That all public realm either created or modified by this project is safe, attractive, connected and inviting – with the potential to be extended and further connected with future riverside enhancements and developments – specifically, that increased curtilage is created in front of the Naval Stores building on Canning Highway to assist with activating this building and connection to foreshore.

3. Requests that MRWA commence community engagement as soon as possible, and that this engagement process includes a full and transparent evaluation of design options and bridge alignments that respond to the principles noted above;

4. Determines a final position on the various aspects of the Swan River Crossing in light of the comments and results that arise during the community engagement process.

From the Mayor's Blog, 26 June 2020:
Community input crucial to design of new Fremantle Traffic Bridge

Fremantle Council is urging the state government to ensure the local community is properly consulted on the design of the replacement Fremantle Traffic Bridge.
The state and federal governments committed matching funding to the $230 million project last year, while earlier this year the new bridge was included on a list of projects to be fast tracked as part of the state government’s COVID-19 economic recovery measures.
The new bridge provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver an iconic infrastructure project in Fremantle.
The City of Fremantle has been advocating for the replacement of the Fremantle Traffic Bridge for many years, so we welcome the investment by the state and federal governments in this much needed new infrastructure.
The traffic bridge is a critical gateway into Fremantle so we want to ensure that the design of the new bridge is befitting of its prominent location and that the overall project helps to improve the connectivity between North Fremantle, Cantonment Hill, Victoria Quay and the river foreshore.
The City of Fremantle is already receiving significant community correspondence on this project and it’s important we get this right, which is why we’re encouraging the state government to consult widely with the local community and listen to what they have to say.
At a meeting on Wednesday, Fremantle Council voted to request that Main Roads WA commence community engagement on the new bridge as soon as possible, and that this engagement process include a full and transparent evaluation of at least two different design options and bridge alignments.
The council also adopted a number of design principles in relation to the project including:

The bridge should demonstrate excellence in design and create a memorable gateway experience.

The public realm resulting from the project is safe, attractive, connected and inviting.

The character of the North Fremantle townsite is protected from additional traffic impacts and extended towards the river.

The project should deliver uninterrupted connectivity of the PSP cycle path to Fremantle and North Fremantle rail stations.

A significant portion of the existing heritage-listed Fremantle Traffic Bridge is preserved, especially at the southern end, and able to be used and activated.

The significance of the location to Traditional Owners is clearly understood, respected and interpreted in the design.

We understand the community concern and the complex issues regarding this major project and we expect an open and transparent community engagement process from Main Roads WA.
While the council will reserve its final decision until after the consultation process is complete, the principles we have adopted provide a very clear message about what we see as integral to the project’s success.
The existing Fremantle Traffic Bridge was officially opened on 15 December 1939 and was originally designed as a temporary structure.
It was temporarily closed in 2016 after erosion around its pylons made it unstable.

My 2020 photo.

From Deputy Mayor Andrew Sullivan in Facebook 6 June 2020:

The Fremantle Traffic Bridge was built in 1939 as a temporary structure that was supposed to last just five years. The plan at the time was to expand the port further east and so the bridge would soon need to be relocated. Presumably the expansion never went ahead because of WWII, and then the subsequent rapid advances that were made in both shipping and cargo handling in the post war period.
The rail bridge we see today was opened in 1960 as a replacement for the original rail bridge that was 350 metres to the west. The new bridge was positioned to the east as part of plans to build the very first container berth in Australia. The new bridge was just one part of a significant re-alignment of the rail corridor through North Fremantle that also included new bridges over the soon to be widened Tydeman Road.
Bridge building in Fremantle has always been an integral part of the ongoing development of the port city. Their placement locks in how the areas around them are used and developed for decades to come. Hence, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this right!!
The current process aims to deliver new road and rail bridges to last 100 years. Unlike in the past, there has been no strategic planning review to guide how best to deliver this quarter billion dollars worth of new infrastructure.
The new bridges are proposed to be jammed in between the rail bridge and the Northbank development. This will be an absurdly tight squeeze, and inherently ugly. More critically, it will lock in regional transport routes in a way that will destroy the beautiful North Fremantle town centre that has only just been brought back to life. It also does nothing to facilitate the massive development opportunities that exist, ones that would open up our river foreshores for all to enjoy.
Bridges should bring communities together, not divide and destroy them. We need our government to pause for a moment, to rethink this, and to ensure these new structures are located so as to truly deliver community and land use benefits either side of the river.
... the Stock Rd bridge was in the earliest plans produced by Stephenson and Hepburn in the 1950s, but was politically unpalatable. Logically, the idea was to introduce a third crossing point over the Swan River. It was to connected Pt Walter to Pt Resolution being the narrowest point mid-way along the massive estuary between Perth and Fremantle. When those plans were scrapped to protect Dalkeith and Nedlands, it pretty much meant the only way to get north-south other than via the freeway would be through North Fremantle. When Stirling Bridge was built it dissected the North Fremantle community from its historic town centre.

Main Roads August 2020 Statement (part)

The State Government is committed to retaining a significant part of the existing Fremantle Traffic Bridge on the southern foreshore. Full retention is not possible due to constraints including:
after 80 years of service and costly ongoing repairs, the existing structure is at the end of its life and retention presents a safety risk; and
retaining pylons will create further navigational hazards for boat users on this busy part of the Swan River.

Steel and Concrete Favoured (in 1936! - from the Western Mail, 17 September 1936)

Steel and Concrete Favoured.
That the importance of Fremantle warranted the construction of a steel and concrete bridge to replace the present traffic bridge across the Swan River was contended at a meeting of the Melville Road Board on Tuesday night. A letter received from Mr. J. B. Sleeman, M.L.A., asked for an expression of opinion on the respective merits of a wooden and a steel and concrete structure, and the board decided to inform him that, in the interests of the district, the bridge should be of modern concrete construction.
The secretary (Mr. E. C. Tompkins) said the Government seemed to think that anything was good enough for Fremantle. Fremantle was the chief port of the State and Australia's first port of call for British shipping and yet it did not receive any more consideration than other parts of the State. The Government appeared to be willing to pro vide a timber bridge, but this was not good enough. Such a bridge could hardly be a thing of beauty. Sooner or later the Government would have to do something to remedy the present conditions, and it should be remembered that Fremantle was worthy of a bridge equal to those built elsewhere in Australia.
Mr. F. W. Cann said that concrete piles had been provided at the Fremantle wharves and there seemed no reason why they should not be provided for the proposed bridge. If wooden piles were used the teredo worm would eat them out in a few years and the authorities would have the same swinging piles to contend with as at present. It was common talk that cement works were to be opened at South Fremantle and there seemed little difficulty in the way of building a concrete structure.

The existing rail and road bridges in 2021, from a photo supplied by Main Roads.

References and Links

Fowler, Audrey 1974, Notes on the oldest traffic bridge in Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle Society, March.

Pettitt, Brad, 2019, The mayor's blog entry welcoming the bridge funding commitment, 28 March: 'Our plan is for a new bridge to be built between the existing traffic bridge and the rail bridge, and to convert the old bridge into a pedestrian and cycleway.'

Wikipedia article on Queen Victoria Street.

Engineering Heritage Panel, Swan & Canning Rivers Bridges: Australian Engineering Week Tour 2009.

Brief note about the Stirling Bridge construction in Fremantle, the newsletter of the Fremantle Society: November 2000.

ABC article about the four Canning Bridges.

'New Fremantle Traffic Bridge funded in State Budget', govt media statement, 22 April 2019.

See also: page for Fremantle Society campaign to keep the wooden bridge.


Heritage Council: Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base

Statement of Significance
Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base collectively mark the crossing of the Swan River between Fremantle and North Fremantle and the transition from the Swan River to Fremantle Harbour.
Constructed in 1939, the Fremantle Traffic Bridge is located at a site that has been a river crossing point since 1866, when an earlier bridge was built by convict labour. The convict built bridge was replaced in 1898 when Fremantle Harbour was developed as part of the expansion of public works in Western Australia funded by the Gold Boom of the 1890s.
The existing (1939) bridge is on the same site as the 1898 bridge and demonstrates the continued use of timber in bridge building in Western Australia into the 1930s, when its qualities were well understood and was low cost compared to other materials. The bridge was designed by engineer E W (Ernie) Godfrey, who was in charge of the Bridge Section of Main Roads from 1928 until his retirement in 1957. Godfrey was responsible for the design of all bridges built in Western Australia, and the construction of major bridges such as this, during this period.
The capstan base is a rare surviving example of the technology used to haul river vessels in the nineteenth century. It may be the only extant capstan base in Western Australia and is one of a few in Australia.
The light fixtures to the vehicular deck and the 1991/92 safety rails (although designed to be sympathetic to the original bridge design) are of little significance.
This statement of significance is based on the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s Register Entry for Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base (2006).
The date of construction and particulars of use for the Ferry Capstan Base are unknown. Ferry services were established at strategic points along the Swan River from the earliest years of the Swan River Colony. Early maps of Fremantle do not show the capstan and no documentary evidence has been located [ref 2006 HCWA documentation] that provides insight into the workings of the structure. It is generally believed that the ferry capstan was connected to a ferry boat by a moving rope cable. The wood and iron capstan rotated around a vertical axle in the centre, supposedly moved by 10 convicts (according to some accounts; by animals according to others). It is also generally held that the capstan and hauling mechanism was used to tow boats onto the river bank for repairs and maintenance.
Designs for a traffic bridge across the Swan River at North Fremantle were prepared under the direction of James Manning and Captain Grain of the Royal Engineers in 1863. Located adjacent to and upstream from the Queen Victoria Avenue Jetty, convict labour was used for the construction. The bridge sloped upwards (the hump) to allow for ships to pass underneath and due to the design and amount of timber used, it was commonly referred to as the ‘Bridge of Styx’. The bridge was officially opened on 21 November 1866 and regulations were introduced to control traffic over the bridge. Only milch cows and oxen were to be driven over the bridge during the hours of 8am and 10pm – other stock had to be driven during the night.
The bridge was found to be unsafe in the early 1890s, and in 1898, a second was built alongside the 1866 bridge as a low level road bridge. The old bridge was closed to all but pedestrian traffic. The new bridge was intended as a temporary structure but no further action was taken until 1908 when the Fremantle and North Fremantle councils wanted to extend the tramway system to North Fremantle. After investigation, it was decided to ‘renovate’ the old bridge, which was cut down to remove the hump and widened to allow for both cars and trams. The low level bridge closed in June 1909 and was later demolished, although the northern approaches were used by fishermen until the 1920s.
Until the 1920s, trains had provided the most popular form of public transport, but from then on, parlour coaches, buses and taxis run by private firms became increasingly common along the Perth to Fremantle road.
By the mid-1930s, the bridge was in poor condition and Ernie W Godfrey, Main Roads Bridge Engineer, designed a replacement bridge. Estimated to cost £78,000, the bridge was designed as a temporary structure (though with a lifespan of 40 years), as it was thought that it would be demolished should the Port of Fremantle expand.
Work on the new structure commenced in May 1937. The jarrah supporting piers were up to 65 feet long and were encased in concrete sleeves to protect them against marine borers. The bridge was 720 feet long with a 40 foot roadway between the curbs and a 6 foot footpath. There were three navigation openings in the middle of the bridge, and essential services such as water and gas mains and electricity cables were installed under the roadway. The majority of the bridge above the waterline was constructed of timber: wandoo stringers and jarrah bearers under a deck of jarrah. Ornamental concrete pylons topped by cast bronze lanterns were placed on the approaches to the bridge. Safety precautions for pedestrians consisted of a mesh and timber post fence topped with wrought iron handrails.
Officially called the Fremantle-North Fremantle Traffic Bridge, the new bridge was opened by Premier J C Willcock on 15 December 1939 (although it was not completed until early the following year). The ceremony was held on the north side of the river. Being war time, the Government delayed the plan to demolish the old 1866 bridge in case the new bridge was damaged in an enemy attack.
In 1992, the Fremantle Gazette reported that $1.3 million had been spent on major repairs to the bridge, including safety railing, replacement of piles and timber supports.
The original bridge was demolished in 1947 and the southern approach in 1951. Jarrah posts cut off below the water are all that remain of the 1866 bridge. These are located on the northern bank, to the east of the existing bridge.
For a more detailed account, see the documentary evidence prepared by Wayne Moredount in the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s Register Entry for the Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base (2006).
Physical Description
Fremantle Traffic Bridge is located across the Swan River between Fremantle and North Fremantle and marks the transition of the Swan River (to the east) in to Fremantle Harbour (to the west). The bridge carries traffic on Queen Victoria Street across the river in both the north and south directions. At the southern end, Beach Street runs along the embankment and under the bridge. The Ferry Capstan Base is located on the western side of this southern embankment.
The northern embankment to the bridge is retained by a limestone wall to the east and bartered to the west, and runs directly into the river. An access stair with timber treads and galvanized metal handrails is located on the eastern side of the northern embankment. The southern embankment, accessed at its base from Beach Street, and from the top (on the eastern side) by concrete steps with galvanized metal handrails.
Fremantle Traffic Bridge (1939) is 222.9 metres in length and 14.23 metres wide. It has a predominantly timber superstructure with a flat bituminised concrete deck carrying four lanes of traffic and a concrete pedestrian deck. The vehicular deck is approximately 12 metres wide and is marked with painted lines for the two lanes of traffic in each direction. Metal safety rails are located to either side of the vehicular deck. Standard Main Roads lights are located at fixed intervals to the eastern side. The concrete pedestrian deck, which is approximately 2 metres wide, is located to the western side of the bridge. It has a timber, steel and wire mesh handrail, which is distinguished by the white painted handrail posts, which have curved heads, and the circular steel rails.
The north and south abutments to the bridge are painted reinforced concrete. The abutments, which have bartered wings are tapered back to the top of the embankments. The bridge is defined by four pillars, which mark the entry points to the bridge, rising from the abutments. These painted, square concrete pillars have moulded string courses and are adorned with distinctive lanterns, capped by hooded bronze spheres.
The circular timber piles which form the superstructure of the bridge have concrete bases. Each of the concrete bases has been fitted with a pair of galvanized metal straps around the circumference. The timber piles, which are predominately jarrah, have been inscribed with roman numerals. While varying in size they are approximately 450mm in diameter. They are set in rows, called piers. There are a set of thirteen piers of seven timber piles each supporting the northern end of the bridge and a set of eleven piers of seven timber piles each supporting the southern end of the bridge. These sets of piers are half-capped and cross-braced, above the high water line, with sawn timber.
Ten rows of circular timber stringers, reinforced by timber corbels, are carried by the timber piles. A section of stringers to the southern end of the bridge has been replaced with steel I beams. Timber joists and bearers support the concrete deck, which has a concrete kerb. Timber access planks with galvanized metal handrails provide access at water level to the piers from either end. These access planks are well utilised by local residents for recreational fishing.
The central section of the bridge has two navigation spans approximately 16 metres wide with a central span of approximately 12.5 metres wide. This central section of the bridge comprises four double pile piers with nine pairs of timber piles each. These piers support a system of five riveted steel girders across each of the navigation spans. Steel bearers are fixed to the girders across the width of the bridge and are sway braced to both sides of the bridge. Concrete fenders have been constructed to the double pile piers to prevent river vessels from striking the timber piles.
The Ferry Capstan Base is located to south western embankment of the bridge, towards the base of the embankment on Beach Street. The embankment comprises a grassed area to Beach Street and shrubs to the upper section adjoining Queen Victoria Street. A concrete path winds up the embankment to the south of the capstan base.
The capstan base is almost completely hidden from view by vegetation, which has grown on and around it. It comprises a circular limestone base approximately 6 to 8 metres in diameter, which sits proud of the embankment at its north western side. The base is supported by dressed limestone blocks, approximately 400mm high ranging in size from 400mm to 700mm in length, arranged in a circular pattern. The base has a cementitious screed applied across its surface. A slight indent is visible in the centre of the base.
The Fremantle Traffic Bridge (1939) is in a good condition and shows evidence of ongoing maintenance and repairs. The Ferry Capstan Base is in a poor condition and has been only intermittently maintained. The growth of vegetation and the cementitious screed are contributing to deterioration of the fabric.
The physical evidence was prepared by Palassis Architects for the Heritage Council of Western Australia’s Register of Heritage Places Assessment Documentation for Fremantle Traffic Bridge and Ferry Capstan Base (2006). It has been slightly edited here.
Fremantle Traffic Bridge has a moderate to high level of authenticity. Some timber elements in the superstructure have been replaced with timber and steel components; concrete bases have been installed to timber piles; concrete fenders fitted to navigation piers and the deck has been overlaid with bituminised concrete. The handrails and light fittings on the deck have been replaced.
The Ferry Capstan Base has a moderate level of authenticity despite the loss of associated parts.
Fremantle Traffic Bridge is in a fair condition. It shows evidence of ongoing maintenance and repairs. The Ferry Capstan Base is in poor condition, having been only intermittently maintained. The screed cement applied to the top of the capstan and overgrowing vegetation are contributing to the deterioration of the fabric.

Garry Gillard | New: 27 June, 2020 | Now: 11 December, 2023