There is a lot to love about this short walk, so take your time. Its stroller friendly, dog friendly, photographer friendly, train-spotter friendly, with interesting old and new infrastructure as well as great public art.
We started from Riverside Drive in South Grafton, but you could just as easily go the other way and start from the Bridge Precinct in Grafton. Just make sure you walk on the east (downstream) side of the old Grafton Bridge for the best view of the new bridge and to read the interpretive signs.
Grafton Bendy Bridge
Long before the first bridge across the Clarence was built at Grafton, a steam punt established in 1859 carried passengers across the Big River. After 10 years of planning and building, the first Grafton Bridge was opened in 1932 by the Governor General with a big party, just a few months after the opening of the more famous Sydney bridge down south.
The double-decker old Grafton Bridge is known to locals as the Bendy Bridge, as it has a bend at each approach to allow the railway to continue straight while the road diverges. The lower deck has a railway track, footpath and cycle way, while the upper deck has two lanes of traffic.
The opening of the bridge was significant as it completed the railway from Sydney to Brisbane. The bridge has concrete piers and was built with a single-leaf bascule opening span to allow river traffic to pass. The rise of railway and later trucking led to a decline in river traffic, so pipes for the water main were laid across the lower deck in 1969 and the bridge no longer opens. The bridge is heritage listed, a national engineering landmark.
The bridge isn’t only used by cars, trains and people, a hilarious story in The Land tells of driving a mob of cranky bullocks across the bridge in 1951 in the predawn, to greener pastures elsewhere.
The New Grafton Bridge
The New Grafton Bridge was opened after three years planning and construction in December 2019, at a cost of some $240 million. It is a balanced cantilever design, with concrete piers sunk to match those of the old bridge.
The east walkway of the old bridge has some great interpretive signs with more information on the building of the bridge: first the piling (3m diameter piles sunk into the river bed), the building the piers, installing the 176 bridge segments to connect the piers while still keeping everything in balance, connecting it all up with super girders and pouring the deck, and finally road barriers, markings and lighting.
The new Grafton bridge is 525m long, with two lanes, a footpath and cycleway. It is estimated 18,000 vehicles use the new bridge, taking 65% of the traffic off the old bridge.
The beautiful murals under the new bridge on the northern side (Greaves Street) are by contemporary artists Blak Douglas and Jason Wing. Kade Valja is a local artist who has contributed with others to the street art in the Grafton Bridge Precinct.
The Turntable and the Timber Viaduct
On the walkway at the southern side of the new bridge you can see an old railway turntable, used for turning locomotives around from 1915 to 2000. There used to be a roundhouse, a shed for the locomotives attached to the turntable. but it has was demolished in 1970.
A timber railway viaduct was built in 1915 on the approach to South Grafton station where trains on the North Coast Railway were halted. In 1925 two steamships, the Induna and Swallow, were used as a train ferry to take carriages and rolling stock across the Clarence until the bridge opened in 1932.
Three spans of the timber viaduct can be seen at Silver Jubilee park on Ryan Street, near the bus interchange. The viaduct was used from 1915 to 1995, when the nearby concrete viaduct was built. Nearby are small plantings of the royal species of hardwoods: grey gum, tallowwood, ironbark, white mahogany and grey box.
The Clarence River is home for three First Nations – north of the Clarence at Grafton is Bandjalung country, south is Gumbaynggirr country, while the Lower Clarence is Yaegl country.
Combine the Grafton Bridges walk with a tour of the Clarence River Ferry crossings or the longer adventures to the bridges of the upper Clarence River, or up the Old Grafton Glen Innes Road. If you like railways, explore the line of the Glenreagh to Dorrigo railway.