Sunday, 1 December 2013

Tate's Ford Heritage Swing Bridge At Diggers Rest

Tate's Ford, Bridge (ruin), Track,& Holden School Site

Extract From Hume Council Report

Location: Jackson's Creek, east of McLeods Road, Diggers Rest.

Statement of Significance:

The Tate's ford precinct is of local historical and architectural significance as a large and mostly intact old ford. Although its use and development as a ford is likely to have begun in the 1850s, its current form, primarily of stone pitchers, probably dates to the period around the turn of the century or early in the twentieth century.

The site also includes the remains of a pedestrian suspension bridge built c.1900 by residents of the locality, apparently from their own resources. As was typical in the nineteenth and early twentieth century it was almost certainly built for schoolchildren, to provide access to the Holden school from the Tullamarine Island side of Jacksons Creek. Usually only ruinous traces of these bridges survive, and the remains of this bridge constitute important evidence of a type of structure the need for which has long passed. The site and remnant plantings of the school, overlooking the ford, at the end of its approach track, are integral to an interpretation of the crossing facilities below, and also comprise a part of this site.

The track between the ford and former bridge, and the school and Holden settlement above, and is also included in the site. It features primitive road formation techniques, the remains of a dry stone wall associated with the 1870s Selection Act settlement of the area, and what may have been a bluestone quarry. Its location within the 'Common' constitutes a now unusual historical association with the original 1850s farmers in the Bulla region, and also with the impact and improvements emanating from the new generation of small farmers in the 1870s. The establishment of the ford also relates to the subdivision of its eastern bank by John Pascoe
Fawkner's 'Victoria Co-operative Freehold and Land Investment Society.'


The site comprises the remnant ford and suspension pedestrian bridge across Jacksons Creek between Tullamarine Island and Holden, and their immediate approaches. It also incorporates the whole of the western side approach, across the common, including the site of the former Holden school at the terminus of this track.

The ford consists of a well formed stone road leading through the creek. Part of the middle part of this formation has been washed away by the stream. Part of the eastern approach has been capped in concrete at a later date. The immediate environs of the creek retain attractive indigenous vegetation.

There is some evidence on the western approach that an earlier track may have led up the gully. The dirt track associated with the current ford is well formed, and has a dry-stone wall embankment supporting one part of its lower side. A 3-4 m high bluestone embankment, perhaps associated with a quarry (for building stone, and stone for the ford probably), forms a cutting through which the track passes. At about this point there are the remains of a pedestrian swing bridge, consisting of a timber frame 2-3 m high, with iron fixtures attached. Nearby rocks show evidence of marks probably caused by the chaffing of steel or rope cables. Behind the frame is a small mortared stone wall which was probably part of the approach platform or abutment. Two thirds of the way across the creek, on a small island, is a roughly made stone pier about 1.5 m high. On the west embankment are the remains of two small roughly constructed stone piers or abutments, and a pedestrian track.

The west road continues up the side of the bare hill until an elbow bend, at which point it runs beside the ruins of a stone and post fence (with remnant hedge planting) which would appear to be the remains of the fence constructed c.1871 by Paul Tate. Most of this fence has recently been bulldozed. The road joins McLeods Road at the site of the former Holden school, marked mainly by substantial plantings of eucalypts and some peppercorn trees. There is slight evidence of the former school building, and a few other species of trees, shrubs and plants.


In about 1850 John Pascoe Fawkner purchased from the Crown land on the east side of what became Tate's ford. This was Section 10 of the Parish of Tullamarine, approximately 450 acres, with a frontage to a winding stretch of Jacksons Creek. By 1852 Fawkner's 'Victoria Cooperative Freehold and Land Investment Society' had subdivided the land into small parcels of about 20 acres and transferred these to purchasers from the labouring classes (eg, a gold miner, labourer, carter).1 Fawkner's Land Society was a co-operative to which members contributed a joining fee and weekly instalments. Fawkner would then purchase the large allotments in which Crown lands were sold at that time, and which most aspiring farmers could never hope to acquire. The land was then subdivided into blocks of between 10 and 50 acres, and apportioned to the Society members in accordance with their contributions. Fawkner operated the scheme successfully for a few years in the late 1840s and early 50s.2 The remnants of the scheme in this area represent a rare fragment of Fawkner's, and Victoria's, history. This scheme is significant in relation to the ford in that it led (at least initially) to some settlement of the area by small farmers, and created the need for a crossing place in the area.

The west side of Tate's ford was originally withheld from the 1850s Crown Land sales, perhaps due to its location, wedged between the Holden Village Reserve and the creek. The land in this area was described in 1854 as 'valuable arable land'.3 In February 1871 the land was subject to applications for purchase by Paul Tate (the owner of Pleasant Vale on the east side of the creek), and Charles Rhodes. In June 1871 the Shire of Bulla endorsed a petition to the Commissioner of Crown Lands by 25 farmers, mainly from the area across Jacksons Creek towards Bulla and Sunbury, protesting the proposed alienation of the land on the grounds that the allotments sought would 'cut off all the water frontage from the common and the surrounding districts', and would 'entail a great loss to the farmers using the rest of the common'.4 After further lobbying by the applicants, the Commissioner resolved to allow the application, subject to 'ample access from the back land to the water being retained', and at the same time authorised the additional subdivision of the 640 acre Holden 'common', or village reserve. This was in accordance with the practice of the period, and must have represented the scenario most dreaded by the established farmers, especially as the other unalienated lands in the area - reserves for timber towards the Diggers Rest Road - were also then alienated under the same Selection Act provisions. This brought the total area of land alienated in this area in the mid 1870s to about 1370 acres (555 ha) - land which would no longer be available for ancillary pasture and timber supply purposes for the farmers.

However, this turn of events also brought many settlers into the immediate area (and provided land and livelihood for some of the children of the original settlers of the locality), and created the demand for a school. Locals in the Diggers Rest-Holden area were already beginning to lobby for a school around this time, with the result that a school was established in leased buildings on O'Brien's property on the Bulla Diggers Rest Road (east of Duncans Road) in 1874. These premises proved unsatisfactory, and the need for a new school unleashed a conflict as to the best site. Probably because of the new settlement in the Holden area, the move to establish the substitute school near the station at Diggers Rest was put off, and in 1882 a new school was opened on two acres purchased from O'Brien on the north-east corner of Duncan's
and the Bulla-Diggers Rest Road. In 1888 this school was shifted to the site of the present Diggers Rest location. This was distant from the Holden settlers who then agitated for another school in their locality. In 1900 their representations were successful when a new school (No 3346) was opened at Holden, in premises leased from James Tate. In 1904 a new school building was erected on the reserve overlooking Jacksons Creek. (This reserve was a portion of a 60 acre allotment along the river known as 'the common'.) In 1917 falling attendance forced it to close, but it reopened in 1925, and operated until 1938 when it closed permanently.

It is likely that a ford had been established at the site by the Tates from the time of their first settlement, probably soon after the land was sold by Fawkner. The ford may have been in general use by the settlers in the Tullamarine Island area, for whom good access to the 'Holden common', the Mount Alexander Road (Calder Highway), and the Diggers Rest railway station would have been necessary. That it existed in a more primitive state than the existing construction is evident in neighbour Jim Lyon's memory, from boyhood days in the late 1890s, that '..In the early days the ford consisted simply of a few stepping stones'. The Lyon brothers remembered a whirlpool and deep hole there.

The impetus for the improvements to the ford was probably the establishment of the school in 1900. During these years its average attendance of 19 was drawn from just a few local families, including the Tate and Randall (and possibly McLeod) families from the opposite side of the creek.7 The ford today consists of more than a 'few stepping stones', being a strong, slightly rough road construction of well-pitched stones. A concrete surface has been applied to its east side at a later date. Its present form probably also dates from around the turn of the century, or the early twentieth century. It is the best constructed and most intact of the historic fords known to remain in the study area.

Jim Lyon remembered Mr Tate building the light footbridge (or swing bridge) over the creek, and his own father splicing the ropes used to support it.8 Lyons lived in this locality between 1896 and 1902, so it is likely that the bridge was erected between 1900-1902. No evidence has been found that the builders of the bridge sought Shire or Education Department funds to help with its construction.

Many nineteenth and early twentieth century footbridges Victoria were constructed to provide children access to a small local school. Very few of these now remain that are not ruinous (the Bulla Catenary Bridge being an outstanding exception), and the remains of this footbridge constitutes important evidence of a type of structure the demand for which has long passed.

The western approach road up the side of the valley from the ford and swing bridge is also of historical interest. It continues through 'the common', until bending back to follow the boundary line of Paul Tate's 1870s selection (Lot A, Section 5, Parish of Holden). The fence here is the declining remnant of what is probably the original 'post, one rail, three wire, and stone' fence of 40 chains length erected by Tate c1871.9 It has recently been severely damaged, apparently by a bulldozer.

The road arrives at the top of the hill at the site of the former Holden school, marked primarily by the peppercorn trees, and the eucalyptus trees planted for shade on Arbour Day 1930. Historically, the school site is intimately related to the ford and swing bridge at the other end of this track, and should be regarded as a part of the same site. The 'common' area over which the road is constructed would seem to be the response of the Commissioner of Crown Lands to the 1871 representations by the local farmers regarding the need to protect their access to the water of Jacksons Creek. The 'common' is related both in its origin and subsequent development to the heritage of the Holden area, and is considered to be a part of the
ford, bridge, and school precinct.

Near the school site there is also some agave and cacti associated with the former house of Anne Dunne, one of the original selectors in the 1870s. The only other house remaining from this era is Shipley Bank, built by Charles Rhodes on Edwards Road, but occupied for most its life by the large Kelly family, and known to the early generation of Holden settlers as 'Kelly's'. (Edwards Road was also formerly known as Kelly's Road to locals). This part stone house has been modernised and incorporated into an extended dwelling. Apart from Oakbank, the original McKenzie property on the Bulla-Diggers Rest Road, there are few other remnants of the 1870s selections in the Holden area. Even Oakbank consists essentially of outbuildings which date from the twentieth century.
 Part of the structure of the swing bridge

 The track up the hill on the Holden Common.

Footnote: This heritage site appears to be planned for destruction in the outer Outer Metropolitan Ring Road Plans as documented in the Hume Planning Scheme.

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