Feature Image: Koo Wee Rup First Bridge, Track View
In support of the Cardinia Shire Council, the National Trust has written to VicTrack, urging them to reconsider a plan to remove six heritage bridges in the Koo Wee Rup Swamp. This month we were advised that the state government’s responsible authority for rail land, buildings and infrastructure intends to remove the heritage bridges since Council could not afford to lease the land they are located on.
The Koo Wee Rup swamp drains & timber bridges are included in the Heritage Overlay of the Cardinia Shire Planning Scheme: HO139, HO134, HO138, HO136, HO33, HO135, HO137. Six of the bridges located in the Koo Wee Rup Swamp have also been classified by the National Trust at the state level of significance, B6913.
The bridges in Koo Wee Rup Swamp were built as part of the Great Southern Railway. When the Great Southern Railway was constructed through the swamp in the late 1880s, very long timber railway bridges were required to allow adequate movement of surface water. The Great Southern Railway was instrumental in the opening up of South Gippsland for settlement and agriculture, and the Koo Wee Rup swamp bridges were a crucial part of that railway, enabling very difficult terrain to be crossed. Six of the bridges are of technical significance as their style of short span longitudinal deck bridge is now rare due to widespread replacement by embankments and culverts. Additionally, the bridges are of historical significance as they represent the last vestiges of major timber-bridge-engineering projects dating from the 1880s. As a series of contiguous small timber and rail-deck railway bridges that remain intact, they are now unique in Victoria.
The National Trust believes there is great potential for the adaptive reuse of the bridges as part of the Great Southern Rail Trail. Cardinia Shire has already invested in this program through the construction of a 1.7km bike path and the restoration of the Koo Wee Rup station platform.
Council and have requested that VicTrack reconsider the decision to demolish any of the bridges and encouraged that the bridges be renovated to make them safe, until a decision is made as to the future use of the land. The National Trust supports Cardinia Shire in their objection to the proposed demolition. We believe this approach to the management of heritage assets is completely at odds with recent amendments to the Planning & Environment Act 1987 introduced through the Planning & Environment Amendment Bill 2021 by the State Government to strengthen local and state government powers to penalise property owners for unlawful demolition and allowing properties to fall into disrepair.
The National Trust believes the demolition of these bridges would signal an unacceptable double standard to the Victorian community: that the State Government seeks to punish private property owners for allowing their properties to fall into disrepair, while allowing the demolition of its own heritage assets—which have apparently fallen into disrepair—without community consultation.
The National Trust is seeking an urgent commitment from VicTrack to secure and retain these historically significant bridges and engage with Cardinia Shire to find a suitable use and management for them.
Image: Koo Wee Rup Bunyip River, Station Street