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City causeway turns 60
Workers on the causeway construction project. Picture: Main Roads Department

It was probably Perth's first traffic gridlock - and it happened 60 years ago today.

Drivers of cars, trucks and buses and riders on motorcycles and bikes clamoured to be among the first to cross the new Causeway at the eastern end of the city after it was officially opened by premier Ross McLarty at 4pm on September 19, 1952.

At the front of the queue was the utility driven by 53-year-old Claude Lennox Brabazon, a builder from North Perth.

According to The West Australian's report, the "keen" Mr Brabazon had queued for 30 minutes waiting for the Causeway to open.

"Immediately the barrier was removed, he roared up his engine and vied with a motorcyclist for first place across the bridge," the report said.

It was not the first time Mr Brabazon's exploits had made head- lines. Twelve years earlier, he narrowly escaped death when he crashed a sailplane into Lake Pinjar, north of Wanneroo, and suffered multiple fractures of both legs.

While Mr Brabazon took the "official" honours, the "technical" winner in the race across the Causeway was the car that took the premier to the middle of the bridge where he used golden scissors to cut a black-and-gold ribbon and officially open the concrete and steel bridge.

Sir Ross, who was knighted in 1953, was a Pinjarra farmer and World War I veteran. He had been elected to State Parliament as a Nationalist candidate in 1933 and became leader of the newly formed Liberal Party in 1946.

When the Liberal-Country coalition surprisingly won the 1947 election, Sir Ross became premier.

His premiership coincided with rapid postwar expansion in WA, including 1.2 million hectares opened for farming, the Kwinana industrial area established, housing shortages alleviated and improved power supplies.

It also included building the Causeway, a pivotal city link that was essentially two bridges that connected the northern and southern banks of the Swan River, via Heirisson Island.

Sir Ross' only surviving son Bill, now 85, said his father had wanted to see progress and, under his premiership, the State had grown very quickly.

"We were very proud of what he achieved," Mr McLarty said. "He was a very popular man and treated everyone as his equal.

"He wanted to make sure West Australians were better off - and I think they were."

The Causeway had a colourful history that spanned more than a century. The first wooden bridges were built between 1840 and 1843 and a toll was charged to cross, ranging from one penny for pedestrians to sixpence for certain animals. Soldiers and mail carriers crossed free.

The bridges were destroyed by flood in 1862 and the rebuild was completed in 1867.

The Causeway bridge and roundabout. Picture: Main Roads Department

The bridges were widened to take trams and horse-drawn carts.

In September 1944, Main Roads WA bridge engineer Ernie Godfrey proposed two new bridges upstream of the existing ones, to be 19m wide to accommodate a tramline, two vehicles lanes in both directions and a footpath.

Although the plan was supported, wartime shortages of money, materials and manpower delayed the start of work until May 1947.

Cement came from local supplier Swan Cement and from England, Sweden, Poland and Japan.

Young assistant engineer Gil Marsh was one of 50 workers on the project over the following four years. Now 86, Mr Marsh believes he is the only surviving member of the workforce.

Mr Marsh said the construction method had been pioneered in Tasmania in the 1930s. Steel support girders were tied to the concrete deck, with steel stirrups welded to the top flanges of the girders.

"And by prestressing the deck concrete, we were able to prevent shrinkage cracking from developing into more serious cracking under heavy traffic loads," Mr Marsh said.

"You won't find too many cracks on that bridge. And it will probably be the same for another 60 years."

For these reasons Engineering Australia this week officially recognised the Causeway as a significant piece of WA's engineering heritage.

A ceremony to mark the Causeway's anniversary will be held on Heirisson Island this morning.

'He roared up his engine and vied for first place across the bridge.'" _The West Australian _ *, 1952 *