Sunday, 8 January 2012
Brisbane's Story Bridge: There's far more to the actual "storey"...
Recently, whilst flicking through the book, "Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City," the final chapter immediately caught my eye. Chapter 13, entitled "THE STOREY BRIDGE," stood out like a sore thumb for one very glaring reason - the name of one of Brisbane's most iconic landmarks is spelt incorrectly! After some further flipping, most ironically given the chapter number, I discovered that the Story Bridge's name had been misspelt not once, but 13 times throughout the book...not once had the correct spelling been used. Most surprisingly, the error was located in the 3rd Reprint Edition of the book, meaning this error has been perpetuated for 6 years since first published in 2005, through 3 separate print runs - obviously, given that the self-professed "historian" author could not even get the landmark's name correct, I was very keen to read over the chapter to see what other historic facts had been horribly bungled.
Firstly though, a little actual history...throughout its construction, the Story Bridge was atually known as the Jubilee Bridge, in honour of George V...it was not until the opening of the bridge on the 6th of July 1940 that the name Story Bridge was bestowed, after Public Service Commissioner and member of the Bridge Board, John Douglas Story. At the time, a further bridge across the Brisbane River was little required, however the project was championed on the grounds of generating employement at a time of interwar depression. Designed to emulate the Jacques Cartier Bridge across the Saint Lawrence River in Montreal, Canada, the contract fell to Evans Deakin-Hornibrook Constructions Pty Ltd to undertake the mammoth task - construction began on the 24th of May 1935.
Now, back to the book...
Hoping the bridge's repeatedly misspelt name would be the only error in the chapter, I was quickly disappointed as further ridiculously basic errors arose. Barely into the chapter (which only manages 2 pages), the first glaring error arose - a detail any resident of Brisbane, familiar with the Story Bridge, could deduce after a little thought. According to the book, "Boxing for the concrete foundations of the bridge had to be laid on the bottom of the Brisbane River. Special pressurised chambers were built deep under the water in which men worked." As anyone looking out over the Brisbane River can easily observe, the Story Bridge rests upon three pillars - one at the northern Fortitude Valley approach, & two at the southern Kangaroo Point approach...not one of these pillars are sunk into the bottom of the Brisbane River. The northern pillar is built on dry land adjacent to the old Water Police Barracks, with the bridge anchored to the overlying cliff, while the southern pillar is also built on dry land in Captain Burke Park with the anchor pillar further up the slope adjacent to the Story Bridge Hotel - anyone who has taken an "adventure climb" on the Story Bridge will know this.
The only truth in this statement lies in the use of pneumatic, pressurised chambers during the initial stages of the bridge's construction. The piers for the bridge were constructed first, through the closing months of 1935 into the middle of 1936. In order to support the massive 12,000 tonnes of steel framework that would eventually rest atop them, it was necessary to set the foundations for the southern piers 40 metres below ground level - which clearly posed a major dilemma especially where the Captain Burke Park pier was concerned. Given the portion of land on which the pier would sit was not far above water level, the Brisbane River running only a stone's throw away, digging down 40 metres through alluvium & well below water level would only end in a flooded pit. So, a sealed, pneumatic chamber called a caisson, an engineering feat utilised for building piers below water at depth, was constructed - men dressed in deep-dive suits worked at pressures 4 times that of normal surface pressure, & dozens of bends cases required treatment in an on-site decompression hospital...as a diver who has suffered from decompression sickness, I can only appreciate the hardships these men faced every day!
We now move on to the next remarkable statement in the chapter - "Legend persists to this day that the victims of several unsolved Brisbane murders were disposed of in the building of the Storey Bridge. The most famous of these was the mysterious disappearance of Majorie Norval, personal assistant to the Premier of Queensland, who vanished in sensational circumstances in 1938. Her body has never been found; local legend maintains her corpse was cemented into the foundations of the bridge by her killer or killers so it would never be found."
So...let's pull this statement apart, without going into too much detail on the Marjorie Norval case - for those interested in further reading, Murder & Misadventure: Terrifying True Tales from Australia's Past will give you a far better rendition of the case than "Jack" Sim's Bloody Brisbane Crime & Murder Tour ever will. For a start, similarly to our 13 "Storey Bridge" spelling errors, Marjorie Norval's name is spelt incorrectly (spelt Majorie in the "extensively researched" book, as per the direct quote above). Secondly, Marjorie Norval was not the personal assistant to Queensland Premier William Forgan Smith, but was in actual fact the social secretary to William's wife Euphemia. Thirdly, all pier work had been completed on the Story Bridge by mid 1936...the approaches on both the northern & southern sides had been completed by late 1937, & the steel superstructure for the bridge was well underway by mid 1938. Marjorie Norval disappeared on the 11th of November 1938 from Central Station in Brisbane...if "Jack" Sim's "local legend" is to be believed, whereby she was interred within the bridge's construction, her body could only have been sealed into the deck of the bridge which was not laid until the steel framework had been completed in October 1939...almost 12 months after Marjorie had disappeared.
Finally, we reach the ghostly section of the chapter, which contains a very vague reference to a grey apparition apparently seen atop the bridge & a very generic mention of the Water Police who served in the quarters below the bridge. In nearly 14 years of researching ghosts throughout South-east Queensland, I admit that I have never come across a single story of ghosts on the Story Bridge...which is not to say folklore doesn't exist. That being said, I have spoken to many Water Police during my lifetime who served below the Story Bridge - their stories tell of suicides, bodies in the river & other countless tragedies that were relayed to me in confidence & should not be publicised for some time coming - thus is the respect any historian should show when publishing their research. That said, not one of them believed in ghosts or ever experienced ghost phenomena from the Story Bridge as a result of their occupation.
As a final note, I discovered an amazingly ironic statement in the introduction to Haunted Brisbane: Ghosts of the River City, signed off by no other than "Jack" Sim the "dark historian" himself - "The stories and tales in this book do not come from Google, internet searches or from imagination." Imagination aside, it's an absolute shame you didn't utilise Google or internet searches when writing your book, "Jack"...if you had, then perhaps your tale of the Stor[e]y Bridge would have been accurate, & you could have saved yourself further embarrassment by ensuring your poor research & bogus history didn't need to be corrected yet again...