Committee for Lorne: Erskine River Swing Bridge

June 21, 2024 BY

It is impossible to enter or leave Lorne without seeing and admiring the graceful swing bridge that links the Erskine River point and surf beach to the Great Ocean Road [GOR] and North Lorne. To use a vastly over-used word, it is iconic to Lorne … or, using a less-used word, symbolic.

Until the GOR opened, Lorne had been a remote and isolated coastal village—arguably the most isolated hamlet on the southwestern coast of Victoria. The only access to the town was [1] by a four-horse Cobb and Co. coach over a rutted, mud-deep, and often impassable track to and from Deans Marsh or [2] by sailing ketch [later by steam packet] to and from Geelong or Melbourne once a week … if the winds were fair.

Construction of the GOR began in September 1919 and took 13 years to complete. By 1922, however, the section from Geelong to Lorne was ready to open. The Lorne to Apollo Bay stretch would take another ten years and was not completed until 1932.

1922 marked the start of the transition of Lorne into ‘a tourist destination’ … a transition that continues to this day—but, in the earlier days, it took a hardy and determined tourist to drive a road almost as rutted and muddy as the Deans Marsh Road.

Once the GOR opened, intrepid motorists—their driving goggles firmly fitted to protect their eyes from the spattering mud—began to slip and slide their Chevvies and Tin Lizzies [the name given to the T-model Fords of the 20s] down the road to Lorne. But, when they arrived, they found that access to the limpid waters of the Erskine River mouth and the surf beach was limited. A bridge across the river mouth was clearly needed.

The elegant design, drawn up in 1936 and built in just under a year for a total cost of £850, was funded in large part by the mammoth effort of Horace Hammerton, then of 13 Deans Marsh Road, who sought and gained support from the residents of Lorne. Additional help to cover the shortfall came from the Shire of Winchelsea.


Early photograph, taken shortly after completion. Note the vegetation-free background.
[Photo courtesy Doug Hammerton].

Opening in 1937, within a year of the turning of the first sod, the bridge was an instant hit. Compare this with today’s tortured process where, agreeing on a suitable site, applying for the planning permits, conducting environmental impact studies, considering objections from native bird and animal lovers, obtaining the approval of the Eastern Maar, and fielding other sundry delays, would likely take two to three times that time. And as for the time it would take to build it, well, how long is a piece of string?

1937—the year the swing bridge was completed—was a year of global uncertainty dominated by gathering war clouds in Europe and far-east Asia [much as now]. Germany and Italy had announced the Rome-Berlin Axis; Japan had invaded China; Stalin had purged the Soviet high command, while in London, a Royal Commission had called for the partition of Palestine. Other notable events included the explosion of the Hindenburg airship, and the researchers of Vitamin C scooping up no less than three Nobel prizes [one in Medicine and a shared pair in Chemistry]. In the same year, Margaret Mitchell took home the Pulitzer Prize for ‘Gone With The Wind’.

Closer to home—and perhaps a portent of things yet to come—’The Trump’ won the Caulfield Cup/Melbourne Cup double, Lindsay Fox and Dawn Fraser were born, and Geelong was bathed by September sunshine in that otherwise gloomy year when it dished out a 32-point walloping to Collingwood in the 1937 Grand Final.

On the bright side, and [nearly] equal to the Geelong win, the bridge was a hit from the very start. While there are four main bridge designs … beam, arch, suspension, and truss … our swing bridge is an example of a suspension bridge, the most famous example being the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Suspension bridges begin with a vertical tower at either end, the tops of which are connected by two super-strong parallel cables. Smaller, vertical suspender cables or rods hang from the main two cables to support the bridge deck. The main cables are then tensioned to hold the deck at the correct height.

The sign next to our bridge describes it well … ‘two tapered hardwood towers support two steel suspension cables which, in turn, support its timber deck by a series of vertical cables attached to timber headstocks. Square timber balusters, handrails and diagonal braces contribute to the bridge span’s graceful character. Abutments faced in stone project beyond the river banks at the bases of the towers.’

By 2013, the original structural timber had deteriorated and needed replacement. Though some alternative materials had to be used during its renovation to conform to contemporary building codes, the resulting ‘new’ bridge is nearly identical to the original. Indeed, it represents everything that is good about preservation through sensitive restoration and is a prime example where we can genuinely say, ‘Well done, Great Ocean Road Coast Committee.’

No structure, view or aspect in Lorne is more photographed than the swing bridge. Whether a photograph of the sunrise beneath its graceful span in the early dawn, its reflections when the Erskine pond is mirror-still, as a backdrop to a hearty breakfast or just a cup of coffee at the adjacent Swing Bridge Café, or when thronged with spectators on Easter Sunday at the Annual Men’s Shed Model Boat Regatta … these and many more scenarios tell of its moods, emotional impact, and meaning to the town.

During the three weeks of the 2022 Lorne Sculpture Biennale, the bridge was briefly festooned in soft, blue lights [courtesy of Lenny Tank] … and it looked magical. Many in town expressed a hope that it might remain so—but that was not to be, as the permit was only for the duration of the event. Still, there is always the next time!

The bridge is a place for reflection—both for the soul and for its simple structure. Indeed, the sight of it calms the spirit when contemplated at sunrise or sunset from the boardwalk up-river. Whether it is the hopeful look as a child casts a line for bream, the swaying disequilibrium of its free-hanging deck as walkers pass on its narrow deck or taking the inevitable best-shot-ever for the family photo album, the bridge weaves magic into memory with a skill all its own.

When I came to select a photograph to accompany this article, it proved surprisingly difficult, as there were so many magical shots to choose from. I have lifted one—almost at random—from the hundreds that grace the web, and when it comes to our bridge, grace is the operative word.

John Agar
Feature Writer


A word from the chairman

As the wintry blanket falls on Lorne, it is tempting to curl up and hibernate, or to run away to warmer places, which many of us do from time to time, and some do for the whole of winter! But many stay behind to keep the wheels turning in our town, providing much-needed health and education services, construction, maintenance, social support, and hearty food and warming soup and coffee.
As the water temperature drops below 15 degrees, we marvel at the commitment of the 300 plus competitors who descended on Lorne last weekend for the Victorian IRB (inflatable rescue boats) Championships. Despite adverse conditions on Saturday morning, they completed their competition as darkness fell on Sunday. While they may look like they are just for fun, IRBs have become a vital part of lifesaving equipment enabling ultra-quick response to emergency water situations. We thank all lifesavers (including our Lorne locals) for your commitment to keeping our beaches safe.
Meanwhile, our intrepid mermaids are preparing for their winter solstice dip on June 21st. This happy, chatty bunch of dippers are in the water every morning at 7.30 and welcome new recruits.
I thought I should share with you some reflections from our recent trip to Europe:

  • The importance of personal mobility to making the most of your travel experiences. Whether you are travelling by aircraft, bus or train, there are always significant distances to walk (and carry or pull bags). In addition many of the best places to visit have cobblestone streets and laneways which are hard to manage with walking aids. Another reason to get out from under the doona and walk, ride or swim!
  • The respect for history and tradition. In each of the countries we visited, the people have enormous respect and pride in their history and its monuments. Most European countries have emerged from a succession of wars, conflicts and religious ideologies, but they honour and respect all their history. Most southern Europeans still identify as Catholic even though most are no longer active participants, and this is reflected in the preservation of their churches. There is no greater thrill than to open a plain wooden door in a non-descript wall to discover a breathtaking church with up to 12 incredibly ornate altars. You cannot help but be awestruck at how these edifices were designed and built 600-800 years ago, without the assistance of today’s technology and machinery.
  • On another note, smoking and vaping seem to be widespread and unregulated in Europe. There are no restrictions on their use in indoor or dining situations, and the cost of a packet of cigarettes (20) in Italy is 5-6 Euro ($A8-10) whereas in Australia they would cost $50-60. It is clear that the policy of increasing cost, together with the health warning messaging, is having an impact on the level of smoking in Australia. The price differential may also explain the so-called “tobacco wars”, given the opportunity to make substantial profits from illegal imports.

Wishing you a wonderful week as we cruise through winter.



Lorne Ward Events Calendar


22nd – Deans Marsh Winter Solstice Celebration, 5pm at the Deans Marsh Reserve.



13th – Lorne Dolphins Football and Netball V Irrewarra-Beeac, at Stribling Reserve, juniors match from 9am, seniors at 2pm

27th – Lorne Dolphins Football and Netball V Apollo Bay, at Stribling Reserve, juniors match from 9am, seniors at 2pm



17th – Lorne Dolphins Football and Netball V Alive, at Stribling Reserve, juniors match from 9am, seniors at 2pm

17th – Surfcoast Wonderfalls Trail Run, Starting at Cumberland River/Lorne from Distances: 5km 13km 25km 42km 52km


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