Galston Gorge


Macca’s trusses or feral chickens and McDonald bridges

The timber truss bridge can be a little treacherous in the wet, but its mostly reasonably grippy.

Before the turn of the millennium, feral chickens lived in Galston Gorge. For reasons we prefer not to pursue, the population was boosted from time to time by local residents who would leave chickens from their semi-rural properties on the Galston side of the gorge at the bottom of the valley.

Apart from bemusing drivers and providing moving targets to riders, they also fed the local foxes. In one of its less glorious hours, Hornsby Shire Council killed the chickens in the year 2000*.

But never mind the chooks. They’re gone. The gorge is also home to many native birds, mammals and reptiles that have taken over the chickens’ job of running out in front of passing motorcycles.

Now then, let’s get this story into some kind of order. Galston Gorge is part of the picturesque Berowra Valley Regional Park in northern Sydney. It separates Galston from Hornsby Heights. Its attraction is the narrow road with a one-way wooden bridge across Pearces Creek at its lowest point. The 1894 bridge is a McDonald truss bridge and that’s quite significant.

McDonald truss bridges are representative of early Australian methods of bridge construction. In their materials, scale and configuration they reflect 19th century technology and their design and construction demonstrate the best quality available for the time. They also have historical significance because timber truss bridges were developed and refined in Australia to achieve the highest level of timber bridge construction for the time of their design and the McDonald truss is an important design in the evolution of this type of bridge in NSW. John A McDonald, the designer, was a significant figure in bridge design and construction in NSW.

The bridge is also an example of depression relief schemes of the 1890s, built for 2651 pounds it is believed to be the only timber truss road bridge in NSW to survive with its original style deck still in use.

Timber truss road bridges were used extensively in NSW because of the high quality of local hardwoods and the shortage of steel during the early decades of settlement. The timber truss was highly developed for bridges here, perhaps more so than anywhere else in the world at that time. The McDonald truss is a significant evolutionary link in the development of timber road bridges in NSW and has three standard span lengths, 65 feet (19.96m), 75 feet (22.86m) and 90 feet (27.43m). In 1998 there were only seven McDonald truss road bridges remaining in NSW and Pearces Creek Bridge is a rare example of a 65 foot (19.96m) span. It was built to shorten the distance to market for fruit growers in the Galston area.

Timber truss road bridges played a significant role in the expansion and improvement of the NSW road network. Before they were built, river crossings were often dangerous in the wet, making bulk freight prohibitively expensive for most agricultural and mining produce. Only the high priced wool clip of the time was able to absorb the costs and inconvenience imposed by the inadequate river crossings before the truss-style bridge construction.

These bridges were preferred by the Public Works Department from the mid-19th to the early 20th century because they were relatively cheap to build and used mostly local materials. The financially troubled governments of the day (of the day! hah!) applied pressure to the Public Works Department to produce as much road and bridge work for as little cost as possible, using local materials. This condition prohibited the use of iron and steel because before the construction of the steelworks at Newcastle in the early 20th century, they had to be imported from England.

But I can tell by the way you’re shuffling your feet that all this stuff about truss bridges has exceeded your somewhat limited interest span. Fair enough.

But then again there isn’t really much I can tell anybody about Galston Gorge apart from this neat historical stuff.
After all, it’s just a short stretch of road — called, reasonably enough, Galston Road — that connects Galston to the Pacific Highway at Hookhams Corner by way of Hornsby Heights.

Apart from the bridge, it offers some spectacularly tight hairpin corners, with recommended speeds as low as 5km/h on the eastern side of the creek and wider sweepers on the western side. The best way to ride it is west to east, in my opinion, because I find hairpins more fun if they’re uphill.

But there are a couple of tricks to getting the most out of the gorge. Pardon me if this is obvious, but it took me a while to learn so there might be some of you out there who’ll benefit from these words. It is a pain to ride when you’re stuck behind a car or van (there are few trucks — the road is no longer used for the original purpose of shifting the wool clip).

First, get the timing right. It’s no good arriving when the good folk of Galston are heading off to work, returning from work, taking their offspring to school or retrieving them. Outside these times you’re still not necessarily in the clear because you might well find yourself following the likes of a Mercedes Sprinter (hah! great name — but then I suppose they wouldn’t sell many if they were called the Mercedes Slug, which would be more appropriate. The VW Vito should be renamed the VW Mort, as well, err, am I still in brackets? Ah, yes, sorry) either down into the gorge or up again. There are very few overtaking opportunities on either side of the bridge; in fact, I think there are no legal ones at all.

So what I’ve taken to doing is lurking at the top of the gorge road and waiting for a gap in the traffic; the longer the better. Then, when I finally see a car or a van coming, I duck out and enjoy the ride until I butt up against the last of the vehicles I’ve let go. Once over the bridge I pull over and do the same thing again, to give me as much of a run up to Hornsby Heights as possible. Simple but quite effective, but there aren’t many other places where you can do this.

Should you find yourself in northern Sydney for any reason you can combine it with the Berowra Waters ferry to make a wonderful loop — Hornsby, Berowra, Arcadia, Galston, Hornsby. There is at least one good nursery/café in Galston, which makes the perfect halfway stop.

Keep your eyes open, especially during the week. We’re quite often in the loop.

*All right, I admit it. I have something against Hornsby Shire Council. It dates back to a parking ticket received after photographer Lou Martin and I were cynically detained by two of NSW’s finest until the council’s parking inspector could get there and book us. Never let it be said that I don’t carry grudges. BECAUSE I DO!!