Bridge to the past
Grandad built the original bridge, hewed the planks from jarrah he felled in the back bush. He sunk the posts into the creek bed in the middle of a dry summer and laid the boards. Barely a metre wide it gave dry passage to cross the creek and bring the cows in for milking. The cows walked through the water.
Sometime along the way the original bridge was taken down and replaced with a new one, same design as the first, but a fraction wider and a bit longer, so there was less mud to walk through before stepping up onto the bridge. The ‘new bridge’ was built by Grandad and my uncles, with the wood once again sourced from the back bush. In time the new bridge also weathered grey. Pale green lichen splotched its surface as it settled into the landscape.
The bridge spanned the creek at the edge of a wide shallow part where the cows walked through. The bottom was sandy there and the tractor could be driven through, even when the creek was wide and swollen with winter rain. A fence ran along one side of the bridge. Downstream, the creek narrowed and deepened in a series of sharp bends. In winter, the water swirled in whirlpools and tugged at reeds that grew along the edge. In summer, it dwindled to a trickle through thick grass. It was the winter creek I loved best.
As kids we would drop leaves and sticks off the bridge on one side, and watch them come out the other. We would race along the bank as they were caught in the eddies, until we lost them when the creek disappeared among the thick tea tree. From there the creek wound on, joining a larger creek and then flowing into the Blackwood River and on down to the coast at Augusta.
The bridge was the easiest way to cross the creek, to get to the paddocks and bush beyond. But there were other places where it was possible to find a dry-footed way across. Upstream from the bridge, there was a place where a large fallen tree almost spanned the creek. You had to push your way through prickly scrub and mind your footing on the log; its charred and mossy bark was slippery underfoot. The log didn’t make it quite all the way across, so you had to jump the last bit, and hope you didn’t land where the water would come over the top of your boots and soak your socks. It was easier to take the bridge, but childhood isn’t usually about taking the easy route.
The grandest adventures where when, rugged up against the cold, we would go down to the bridge in the darkness to go gilgie-ing. Gilgies are small freshwater crustaceans, similar to crayfish. I never liked the taste of them but I loved to catch them. We would hang baits, usually bits of kangaroo meat, on the end of strings and try to catch the gilgies with scoop nets. Or we would bait drop nets and set them near the creek banks in the late afternoon, then return when it was dark to pull them up. I was scared to lift the gilgies from the nets; their nippers looked ferocious.
As a teenager, I liked to sit on the bridge, my wellington-booted feet dangling in the drag of the water, the cows grazing in the paddock beyond. Swallows and swifts dipped in flight, plucking insects from above the water. The peppermints admired their reflections. I watched bubbles emerge from gilgies hidden in their burrows. I would sit and soak it all in, wishing I could stay, wishing I didn’t have to walk back up the hill and get in the car and go home to town and school and teenage drama.
Over the years, whenever I have visited the farm, which is still in the family, I always take a walk down to the bridge. It is decades since the bridge has been needed for daily traversing to bring cows in to milk. Maintenance has fallen by the wayside. Time has taken its toll.
The boards Grandad hewed are desiccated with age and weathering, split and broken. The nails Grandad hammered are rusted and loosened. Some stick up precariously while others fall through, lost in the creek bed. The bridge no longer offers a dry-footed passage across the creek. The posts hold fast, for now, but one of these days a winter storm will send a deluge of water and debris and it will break those last holds and sweep the bridge away. It may snag on the reeds as it rounds the creek’s curve, but will ultimately be washed down to the river, out to sea. The peppermints will see it go. Perhaps it will turn up as driftwood on some far away beach and someone will pick it up and wonder from whence it came. I will know.
Thanks for reading