Crossing Mosman Bay to reach the track to Neutral Bay was difficult from the earliest times. At high tide boats could be used, but at low tide the slippery mud flats were hazardous. Before reclamation for Reid Park, the alternative was a long walk around the head of the bay, scrambling over rocks and around waterfalls.
From the days of whaling in the 1830s various solutions were attempted. Stones were piled across the bay to create a rough causeway, but were constantly displaced by the tides. The first bridge was constructed around 1880 by local resident Captain Blix. Photos show a rudimentary structure with split palings for planking, and railings made from saplings and bamboo from the nearby Rangers estate. Despite its fragile appearance it survived for almost 20 years.
In 1899 a decision was made by the New South Wales government to dredge the upper part of Mosman Bay, and use the silt, to be pumped behind a new retaining wall, to create what would become Reid Park. In order to allow access for the dredges however, it was ‘necessary to remove the old rustic bridge…between the eastern and western shores’. Following the dredging and filling, and simultaneously with associated storm water works in the park, a new passenger bridge was to be erected. By March 1901 the new bridge, much more substantial that its predecessor, was under construction. It was a low level pile bridge with a footway six feet wide, and a set of landing steps to water level to allow access to small craft. It featured a large central span, designed to allow its temporary removal to enable access for dredging, which would be necessary from time to time. Construction was delayed due to difficulties obtaining enough timber, but by 1902 the bridge was completed, allowing a safer approach from the far shore to the ferry wharf.
Over the years the bridge became a feature in photographs, post cards and paintings of Mosman Bay, but its maintenance was an ongoing burden for Mosman Council. In January 1940 Alderman Osborne complained to the Council that the Mosman Bay footbridge was in a deplorable condition. It was a picturesque addition to the landscape, ‘a very fine structure which we would be sorry to lose’, but was in urgent need of repair and painting. The Council Engineer reported that the landing steps were dangerous and had been closed for 12 months, and a girder and 75 per cent of the planking needed replacement. Various temporary repairs had been made just to keep it patched up, as it was understood the government planned to remove it altogether to facilitate dredging. This had not happened. The question of ownership then arose, and who had built it. It was concluded that though the footbridge had been built by the New South Wales Works Department for the benefit of Mosman residents, the municipality had always maintained it and was responsible for the repairs required. The use of Employment Relief Labour was suggested but rejected. Eventually the Council agreed to pay the 175 Pounds for the necessary work. Later photos show the bridge without the landing steps, so it was likely that they were removed rather than repaired at this time.
Around 1956 the Mosman Bay Marina was constructed adjacent to the footbridge, and by the 1960s the Marina owners were keen to expand. The bridge was in their way and its demolition was requested. In addition, the Maritime Services Board complained to Council that it interfered with dredging of the bay. By this time the bridge was over 60 years old, in disrepair and beginning to rot, and by early 1967 was closed due to its dangerous condition, In November that year it partially collapsed at the western end. Mosman Council claimed that the $10,000 required for repairs was too expensive, and in early 1968 the bridge was demolished. Residents protested about having a longer walk around the bay via Reid Park but, despite Council promises to the contrary, the bridge was never replaced.
Graeme Andrews, ‘The Mosman Bay Footbridge’, in Afloat, August 2008.
Evening News, 25 January 1899.
Mosman Daily, 19 January 1940, 20 February 1940, 8 November 1967, 1 June 1968, 9 March 1973.
Rob Sturrock, A Pictorial History of Mosman, vol 1, Griffin Press, Netley, 1982, p 62.
Sydney Morning Herald, 19 June 1900, 1 March 1901.
Old footbridge (1880-1899) at Mosman Bay (Mosman Library)
New bridge (1901-1968) at Mosman Bay in 1966 (Mosman Library)
Mosman Bay and Marina in 2016. The seat is placed in the spot where the eastern end of the footbridge joined the shore. (Phillipa Morris)