FEW could have travelled across the Indooroopilly bridge without wondering what went on behind those windows in the art deco towers at either end, especially in the days when washing flapped on the line outside.
Well now I know, thanks to the Brisbane Greeters, a group of volunteers who give informed guided tours of Brisbane’s hidden corners.
The Walter Taylor Bridge at Indooroopilly has always ranked high on the “I’d like to check that place out but how will I ever get inside” list.
I’ve now discovered that my curiosity was well-placed, as it was the only habitable bridge in the southern hemisphere.
The bridge is named after the man who built it and at the time of its opening on February 14, 1936, was Australia’s biggest suspension bridge, beaten only by Sydney Harbour Bridge to also holding the title of the country’s longest single span bridge.
In fact, the resourceful Mr Taylor sourced his cables from the Sydney construction site. They were going cheap as surplus, after being used to hold up the incomplete halves of the Sydney Harbour Bridge during its construction.
Walter Taylor Bridge is 182.88m (600ft) long and is modelled on a bridge in Floreanapolis in Brazil.
Its construction was welcomed by the people of Chelmer who were fed up with the ferry which couldn’t handle the growing number of cars that were cut off from the city by the river.
At its opening, it was boasted: “No longer will there be delays to road traffic at the brink of the river, waiting for the slow-moving punt to cross and recross. The journey over the bridge by car is a matter of seconds.”
Wow, just seconds!
Until Mr Taylor’s death in 1955, it was called the Indooroopilly Toll Bridge and it was the tollkeepers who called the bridge home.
The canny builder/designer had foreseen the benefits of having his workers living on site and the three-storey apartments at either end were built specifically for that purpose.
At the Indooroopilly end, Mort Green was installed as tollmaster and the bridge was to remain the Green family home for the next 70 years.
When he quit the job after a decade, in 1946, he handed over to his son Ron who with his good wife raised six children in the bridge tower.
Although the internal space is bigger (and quieter) than expected, it is still hard to imagine it as a home for a family of eight but it must have worked for them, as it was 2009 before the last of the Greens left the bridge.
It’s said the Greens never owned a car but then they wouldn’t have needed one as dad’s work was quite literally on the job. It was the children’s jobs to count and wrap the coins.
The tower at the Chelmer end was first occupied by John McDougall, a Scottish immigrant. It seems nepotism was alive and well even in those days, as it’s likely he scored the job – and the house – through his connection with the Graceville Methodist Church, which was designed and built by the bridge’s owner. Walter Taylor was a devout Methodist.
The Chelmer tower was rented to university students through the 1970s and ‘80s and still bears the scars of the occupation.
What was designed as a grand ballroom on the groundfloor actually became a flat where even more students could jam inside.
Nevertheless, the graffiti and signs of student occupation have also become a valid part of the bridge’s life.
The toll was finally removed from the bridge in 1965 when Brisbane City Council took it over and in 1992, it was placed on the Queensland Heritage Register. It’s a fascinating story but the best way to learn more about it is to see it for yourself with the Brisbane Greeters. It’s free! Book online HERE.