Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Rooney's Bridge

A long awaited bridge that connected the suburbs of Oonoonba and Railway Estate opened in Townsville with the usual ribbon-cutting fanfare in December 1954 and was duly named in honour of a pioneering Townsville family – the Rooney family.

Rooney’s Bridge, Abbott Street, under construction in June 1953. The sawmill in the background (formerly Rooney’s sawmill) was by that time owned by the Stanply Timber Corporation, Pty Ltd.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
The proposal for the bridge was first put forward in the 1930s, and a loan was approved by the Treasury Department in 1939, but the Second World War interrupted any plans to start work on the bridge and the project was placed on hold.

It was originally planned to construct the bridge of concrete and timber, but shortages of materials after the war prompted the Council to consider constructing the bridge from steel.

Unfortunately, when it came time to make a start on the bridge in 1949, no girder steel could be obtained in Australia and the Council reluctantly had to resort to importing the steel from Britain. The steel for the bridge did not arrive until late 1952.

Another bridge project affected by the national steel shortage was the Burdekin River Bridge, between Ayr and Home Hill, which had commenced construction in 1947.

The bridge between Railway Estate and Oonoonba represented a significant investment by the Council, as it was expected to cost £50,000. It was hoped that it would not only be of great benefit to residents living in Oonoonba, but also a catalyst for industrial development in the Stuart area.

Strangely, no provision was made for pedestrians, as it was expected that pedestrians would continue to use the existing footway on the railway bridge.

One resident wrote to the Townsville Daily Bulletin about this, saying that he felt the bridge design lacked vision. He suggested, rather hopefully, that since the old railway bridge and footbridge was in such a “parlous state” it should be pulled down, and the new road bridge built to accommodate rail and pedestrians as well.

Aerial view of Rooney's Bridge at Ross River, connecting Railway Avenue with Abbott Street, 1969.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
Once complete, the new bridge meant that Oonoonba was only minutes away from the city by road, whereas the journey had previously taken half an hour via the bridge next to the Ross River Meatworks. Although it was soon discovered that the route from the General Post Office in Flinders Street to the Fairfield Hotel in Oonoonba using the new bridge, was only two miles shorter than the old route.

Early in the planning stages, the bridge was simply referred to as the Oonoonba Traffic Bridge, but in late 1954 the council announced that it had chosen to name the bridge Rooney’s – after the Rooney family – who had been associated with the development of Townsville from around the mid 1870s.

Brothers John and Matthew Rooney established the firms Rooney Bros. (architects, builders and contractors) and Rooney and Co. (timber merchants, sawmillers and joiners) in Townsville in the 1880s, obtaining red cedar, silky oak and other timbers from throughout north Queensland.

Staff of Rooney & Co.'s Steam Saw Mills & Joinery Works, Townsville, 1934.
Photo: City Libraries Townsville.
Rooney’s built a number of buildings in Townsville, and supplied prefabricated buildings to western Queensland mining towns. To accommodate their expanding business empire, the Rooney’s built a new sawmill on banks of the Ross River, near the site of the future bridge that would bear their name.

Employing 100 men by 1897, the North Queensland Register described Rooney and Co. as “the biggest timber business in North Queensland”.


  1. An unusual choice of topic but you have made it an interesting read. I didn't realise before this bridge was built, there was only rail access to Oonoonba.

    I grew up in a Railway Estate house almost certainly built from Rooney's Mill timber. Once again, I like your researchin'

    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Ashley!
      Much appreciated.

  2. Good info., Trisha.I watched Rooney's Bridge being built. Before that, there was the Rail Bridge, and a Bicycle/ Foot Bridge next to the Rail Bridge. Thursday Islander People working here on the Railway Lines would go there on the Weekends with their long fishing spears, and spear large Mullet which lay against the side of the piers, in the water, of course, of the Railway Bridge. Typographical error. The Firm that took over the Mill from Rooneys was Stanply, not Stanfly.Their major Product was Plywood, which they made starting from Veneer, Glue, more Veneer, and massive pressure on the Plywood from a large steel Press, until the Glue was dry. Keep them coming, Trisha, great History.

    1. Hi Ken, thanks for your comments! Also thanks for alerting me to the error. That's what I get for trusting old newspaper reports!

    2. Another 2 Facts have come to mind. There was a small Railway siding across the road [Railway Avenue] from Rooney's Mill. It was "Yenoor", Rooney spelled backwards. Also, if you go to Trove, go TDB, 11/04/51, Page 2, in the [Bits and Pieces] segment above the Obituary, it shows where the Railway Estate Progress Association, which had obviously been pushing for a Bridge, had received a Letter from the Transport Minister, stating that a "High Level Dual Purpose Bridge" at Rooney's is not necessary.Fell over that one when going through the '51 Bully. All good stuff. Love reading your History things.

  3. My Grandfather Jack Whiteford, who lived in Oonoonba, and some of his mates, formed a local branch of the ALP and pressured the government in 1938 to build Rooney's Bridge. He recalled that the tender for the job was 32,000 pounds but the plan was scrapped. By the time the decision to build it was finally made, it cost more than 120,000 pounds to construct it.

  4. Thanks for your comment Paul. Yes, sometimes it was years, even decades, before these projects happened.