The History Of Our Sunday Creek Bridge

The Sunday Creek Bridge at present day Pfeiffer Wines is a forty-two metre, four span pile bridge with a stress-laminated timber decking which sits on riveted steel girder beams.  Whilst it is a working bridge that provides access to the Sunday Creek vineyard, it is also a much loved location to enjoy a glass of wine and a picnic, in a unique Australian setting, where you can feed the resident turtles and perhaps even spot a shy platypus or two.

Little is known about the building of the original bridge and few records are available, but there is now consensus the Sunday Creek Bridge was probably constructed sometime between 1912 and 1914, when David Masterton and Charles Leonard Dobbin owned the property and required more than a flying fox and pully system to access their important vineyard, on the other side of Sunday Creek.

This was a period of great timber infrastructure works in every state of Australia and of the cycles, bridges were the most recognised symbols of achievement in timber. Why wouldn’t Masterton and Dobbin want such a bridge? A timber bridge would have also been seen as an ideal solution for a low traffic volume, small span, remote location site, where there was a local material source.

Whilst the undertaking of building a private bridge must have been an enormous expense for the partnership (neither had yet to reach 40), Masterton and Dobbin were fortunate to have locally sourced, old growth, large hardwood Eucalyptus species on the property, that were suitable for bridge construction applications – high strength, clear round logs that were wide and 15m plus in length.

Masterton and Dobbin were also extremely sound financially at this time, having experienced incredible business success and growth. The preceding decade had seen a significant expansion in their distilling plant and by 1915 they were distilling more than 135,000 litres of wine a year on-site and almost one million litres of wine in their Mildura operations. On paper they certainly appeared to have the means to undertake such a construction.

In time it is hoped we will learn more, but there are currently no known records indicating who the bridge builders of the time were either. It was probably not John Monash, because even though his bridges were predominantly built in Victoria, and it is highly likely David Masterton moved in the same social circles, General Sir John Monash specialised in reinforced concrete bridges during this period.

Whoever it was, the Sunday Creek Bridge was constructed well…and built to last, because for the next 90 years, spare the odd natural disaster (like the major floods of 1917) and some minor changes to the deck and hand rails, the bridge remained largely, as it had been built all those years before.

With very little known about the original bridge, the challenge was to reconstruct it to its original form. A photo from the 1930’s was located and bridge engineer Graeme Walter, in consultation with the University of Technology Sydney, was able to work with that, to draw up the plans.

It was to be a short, sharp build. Eight weeks in fact, a far cry from the time it would have taken at the beginning of the 20th century. Work began in September 2003.

A barge was lowered into position and the deteriorated section of the old bridge piles were removed below the waterline using special underwater saws.

Metal sleeves were placed around the remaining section of the original piles. The new pylons were positioned directly over the original piles and then encased in concrete to hold them in place – one span was done each week.

It is incredible to think that this part of the re-build took only four weeks…..the foundations had been laid for another century. 21 timber crossbeams were then craned into position onto the original riveted steel stringers.

Finally, the 42 metres of nail, then stress laminated decking (made from 190 x 45 oil and preservative treated timbers) were positioned side by side, stressed together using high-strength, greased steel pre-stressing strands and then each pulled to a 10 tonne load.

2023 marks 20 years since the grand restoration of this special bridge. To this day, it still provides the vital link to our Sunday Creek vineyard and our vines, as it did for Masterton and Dobbin over 110 years before. But more importantly the Sunday Creek Bridge retains a link to our heritage and we have Robyn and Chris Pfeiffer to thank for preserving this special piece of history for generations to come.