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Monier Arch Bridges in the Shire of Ballan.

Paddock Creek Bridge
University of Melbourne Archives. Image NN/1070.
Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Co Collection

Current state of our knowledge.

Our research has turned up several references in the RCMPC archives to arch bridges in the Shire of Ballan; but it is difficult to unscramble them. In 1905 there was mention in correspondence of a proposed bridge over Paddock Creek and another(?) "near Bradshaw's Creek". The bridge over Paddock Creek was definitely built. Letterbooks in NLA suggest it had a single 20 foot (6.1m) span. A photograph in UMA labelled "Paddock Creek" does show a single-span Monier arch bridge, though we do not know who added the inscription, or when. A contemporary newspaper report gives the location of Paddock Creek Bridge as "a few miles" east of the town of Gordon, on the Ballarat-Melbourne Road.

In May 2006 Gary Vines, researching reinforced concrete bridges for the National Trust, informed us of an existing bridge with two 3.1m arches carrying Spargo Creek Road over the Moorabool River East Branch, near Ballan. This is almost certainly a Monier arch bridge - it has the characteristic profile and the usual spalling soffit, and is dated in VicRoads records to 1905.

Is this a bridge built by RCMPC but not picked up in our researches? Have we conflated references to two separate bridges being built at the same time? Might it have been built by the Shire or their contractors 'on the quiet'? The Shire engineer for Ballan seems to have been enthusiastic about arches at a time when Monash had decided that for routine work they could not compete with the T-girder form that he had recently introduced to Victoria. The situation might be clarified by research in the records of the Shire Engineer (if preserved) or those of the Public Works Department.

In January 1907, RCMPC was asked for an approximate price for a Monier arch in Ballan with non-parallel abutments having a span of 50 feet along one edge, and 40 feet along the other. In November 1907 options for a bridge over Myer's Creek, proposed in connection with a Water Supply Department project, included a Monier bridge with three arches, each about 86 feet span. We have not found any evidence that either of these projects were built by RCMPC. However, they did build a T-girder bridge over Bradshaw's Creek, near Bradshaw Station, in 1914. Monash had very little to do with it.

Paddock Creek Bridge.

The Shire Engineer for Ballan in 1905 was J N Muntz, member of a large family of engineers. On 2 February JNM's father told Monash that his son wanted a small bridge of 20 feet span over Paddock Creek in the Shire. Monash asked for details of the site. On 6th, JM sent Muntz junior a design costed at £54. It is possible that the Shire Engineer had prepared a design of his own, possibly in mass concrete, because Monash explained that he had made the arch flatter than a semicircle, allowing him to place the springings 3 feet higher and provide a greater waterway. JM sent a copy of the drawing to Catani, Chief Engineer of the PWD, as his approval would be necessary, but directed it through T B Muntz for the sake of propriety.

On 12 February, Monash informed J N Muntz that the price of the abutments was not included in the quote of £54, the plan being to have a local contractor do all work except the arch itself. He provided a lengthy justification of unit prices making up his cost estimate, and the thorny problem of measuring granular materials for payment. After further discussion, he announced on 23rd: "With respect to your suggestion ... I think a very serviceable bridge could be built for not much more than £100."

Contractors McCusker & Ford were engaged to supply materials, build the abutments and erect the centering. This work was completed in the second half of March, and Monash gave his man Tom McCartney instructions for the 'turning' of the arch. Tom reported that the contractors had left the tops of the abutments flat, instead of canted towards the arch. Extras would be claimed for rectifying this. Furthermore, there had been a problem with the ordering of the gravel so that only one half of the width of the arch could be built on this occasion. Monash told the contractors that, after a few days to allow the concrete to set, they could start building the spandrel wall on that side.

On 14th, a team of RCMPC men went to Ballan to turn the other half of the arch. Monash advised J N Muntz that after three days the contractor could build the other spandrel wall and start filling over the arch with earth to form the road surface. He provided a long explanation of the importance of keeping the weight of earth balanced evenly on each end of the arch as its level rose, insisting that extreme care was necessary because of the delicate state of equilibrium at this stage. The practice was to form a roadway of earth on the first end, just enough to allow drays to get over to start filling at the other end. He told Muntz that, as no RCMPC staff would be present, it was up to Muntz to supervise the process with care.

On 3 May, Monash advised the contractors that they could remove the centering, as long as the fill was properly balanced. As usual, wrangling over extras and final payment lasted many weeks.