Stapletons Bridge over Frazer Creek | NSW Environment, Energy and Science

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Stapletons Bridge over Frazer Creek

Item details

Name of item: Stapletons Bridge over Frazer Creek
Other name/s: RTA Bridge No. 881
Type of item: Built
Group/Collection: Transport - Land
Category: Road Bridge
Location: Lat: -34.57 Long: 150.7838888888889
Primary address: Tongarra Road, Albion Park, NSW 2527
Local govt. area: Shellharbour
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
Tongarra RoadAlbion ParkShellharbour  Primary Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Roads and Maritime ServicesState Government 

Statement of significance:

Stapletons Bridge is of local historical, associative and aesthetic and technical significance. Its associations with James Stapleton, local landowner; and the Fraser family, for whom the creek was named contribute to an understanding of the history of the locality. The bridge is a component of Tongarra Road, an historically important route in the area, particularly as a timber route in the mid-nineteenth century, then as a coal transport route from later that century. While the crossing has been bridged since at least the 1850s, the present bridge, constructed in 1929 demonstrates the process of road infrastructure improvement undertaken by the Main Roads Board cum Department of Main Roads from the late 1920s to bring such infrastructure up to the standards required to cope with the changing nature and volume of traffic. Subsequent modifications are related to the industrial, commercial and residential expansion of the Greater Wollongong area in the late twentieth century. The bridge's design employs a reinforced concrete beam cantilever approach span system, which gives the bridge a distinctive appearance.
Date significance updated: 18 Aug 05
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: DMR - individuals unknown
Physical description: Crossing a stream bed at the edge of a floodplain area, this widened bridge has one main span and cantilever endspans. Originally having three rows of continuous piers and beams, it has now been widened by one extra row on the southern side and two rows on the northern side, providing extra roadway and a northern footway. The beams haunch down to the piers and then up to the terminal cross girders. The new columns are slightly wider than the original columns, but otherwise the widening is very sympathetic. With shale outcropping, it is presumed that the bridge is founded on spread footings. The fill is stabilised by loose rock.

At deck level, the widened bridge has New Jersey kerbs with aluminium rails, and an aluminium railing for the footway.
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Original condition assessment: 'The condition of the bridge is very good.' (Last updated: 20/08/2004.)

2007-08 condition update: 'N/A.' (Last updated: 17/4/09.)
Date condition updated:17 Apr 09
Modifications and dates: The bridge was widened in 1991 to accommodate a widened roadway plus a footway.
Current use: Road bridge
Former use: Road bridge


Historical notes: Stapleton's Bridge crosses Frazer Creek on Tongarra Road near Albion Park. The area is part of the Lake Illawarra region and Shellharbour Municipality, which was once the territory of the Dharawal Aboriginal peoples and the Wadi Wadi tribe in particular. Shellharbour Municipality is bordered by the sea to the east; by Macquarie Rivulet to the north; the Minnamurra River to the south and by the Illawarra Escarpment to the west. The sea gave the easiest access to the region initially and establishing roads over the other boundaries was not an easy task. Consequently, road development was delayed in the region. (Regional Histories, 1996, pp. 175, 184; Derbyshire & Allen, 1984, pp. 26, 64)

European occupation of the area began around 1815 when graziers from the drought-stricken County of Cumberland found a way down to the pastures of the Illawarra. Cattle and sheep were grazed on the extensive grasslands around Lake Illawarra, and, until 1822, cedar-cutters worked in the mixed eucalypt and rainforest land to the north on the lower slopes of the escarpment. (Regional Histories, 1996, p. 184) In 1822 Governor Macquarie toured the area; Surveyor Oxley named the Macquarie Rivulet after the Governor and in the nineteenth century, the entire Albion Park District was known as 'The Macquarie'. Albion Park owes its name to an early land grant of 2,000 acres to Samuel Terry in the 1820s. Originally known as 'Terry's Meadows', it became part of John Terry Hughes' cattle breeding and dairying estate in the 1840s, which he named 'Albion Park'. The township grew around the centre of this estate, which had been a meeting spot since the beginning of white settlement when the north/south road from Wollongong (Illawarra Highway) crossed the timber track from Calderwood and Tongarra (Tongarra Road) on the way to the port at Shellharbour. Between 1860 and 1880 it developed into a thriving country town and by the 1890s it was called Albion Park by most of the locals. Dairying and cattle breeding, as well as coal and basalt mining became the major industries in the region during the second half of the nineteenth century. From the 1860s to the 1890s the district developed as the Colony's major butter producer. (Derbyshire & Allen, 1984, pp. 32, 38, 56, 70, 112)

Frazer Creek is named on an 1860 map of Terry's Meadows and was named after tenant farmer, William Fraser who occupied that part of the estate on the eastern side of the creek for at least twenty-two years. The Fraser family were prominent in the Albion Park district, with John Fraser serving as manager and director of the Albion Park Butter Factory in 1885, then as Mayor from 1890 and an Alderman for over twenty years. William Fraser's farm was eventually owned by James Stapleton, after whom Stapleton's Hill and Stapleton's Bridge are named. James Missingham established a tannery at Stapleton's Hill in 1892, employing nine people until the 1920s. (Tongarra Heritage Society, correspondence, 2004; Derbyshire & Allen, 1984, pp. 50, 56, 70)

The first roads in the district developed from rough cedar tracks linking Calderwood, Tongarra and the Wentworth Hills with Shellharbour. Surveyor Mitchell first proposed that a direct road link be established between Sydney and the Illawarra in 1831 to provide an alternative to the circuitous route via Liverpool through Appin. The direct route between Sydney and Wollongong followed by the Princes Highway was laid out by 1843, though it did not supplant the old route until about 30 years later. In 1843 the main track south passed though Albion Park and onto the village of Jamberoo, closer to the Escarpment than the coast. By 1865 the South Coast Road ran along the coast to Twofold Bay. (DMR, 1976, pp 36, 37, 48; Derbyshire & Allen, 1984, p. 64)

Tongarra Road links up with the Illawarra Highway, formerly known as Shellharbour and Macquarie River Road, which was originally part of the main South Coast Road from Wollongong to Jamberoo. (Tongarra Heritage Society, correspondence, 2004; DMR, 1976, p. 48) It branches off the Princes Highway near Albion Park, crossing Jamberoo Road, and links the Illawarra to the Southern Highlands via the Macquarie Pass. The latter was originally an Aboriginal track, cleared in 1863 but not properly constructed until 1898. As well as providing a commercially useful link between these areas, the scenic beauty of the route, particularly along the Macquarie Pass, attracted tourists, a growing industry in the late nineteenth century; and trips from Albion Park to Macquarie Falls were a popular local attraction. From the late 1870s coal seams were discovered in the Escarpment at Tongarra in what is now the Macquarie Pass National Park and mining began in 1893. From this time onwards, therefore, the Illawarra Highway and Tongarra Road became an important coal transport route between Tongarra and the coast. (Broomham, 2001, p. 90; Tongarra Heritage Society, correspondence, 2004; Derbyshire & Allen, 1984, p.76)

It is unclear when the first crossing of Frazer's Creek was built, but in 1859 the newly formed Shellharbour Municipal Council road committee called for an estimate of the probable cost for a new bridge across Frazer's Creek and tenders opened in September 1860. In March 1866 tenders were called for forming "the portion of the Tongarra Road between Albion Hotel and the bridge known as Frazer's". By the 1870s the bridge was known as Stapleton's. In 1873, George Clarke, a thirteen-year-old post boy, was returning from Shellharbour with mail for Albion Park, when he was drowned at Frazer's Creek. The creek had flooded and the following day, when the water had subsided, his body was found in a paddock about 300 yards from Stapleton's Bridge. (Derbyshire & Allen, 1984, p.76; Tongarra Heritage Society, correspondence, 2004)

Following the introduction of a system of Federal aid for road development and the establishment of the Main Roads Board in 1925, improvements were carried out on the State's major roads, a process which also necessitated the replacement of bridges, which by that time were inadequate. The present Stapleton's Bridge was built in 1929. It was one of more than 1,000 bridges constructed across the State by the Main Roads Board, later the DMR, during the period 1925-1940. During this period the Department adapted existing standards of bridge design to meet the requirements of improved motor vehicle performance: they were generally wider than previously with an improved load capacity. The principal types of bridges constructed during the period were: reinforced concrete beam; concrete slab; steel truss on concrete piers; and timber beam bridges. Concrete was favoured in many instances because it was perceived to be a low maintenance material (DMR, 1976, pp.55, 88-89, 169, 170). Based on RTA bridge database records, reinforced concrete beam or girder bridges were the most common form of concrete bridge construction to 1948, with more than 160 extant. They have been very popular in NSW, and elsewhere, providing an efficient and often aesthetically pleasing solution to a wide range of crossing types.

The years following the end of World War Two brought massive industrial expansion to the Greater Wollongong area, and its population almost trebled between 1947 and 1971. As a result there was a huge increase in the volume and nature of vehicular traffic, making the development and improvement of roads and bridges a vital part of this process. Guardrails were installed on Stapleton’s Bridge in 1986 and in 1989 maintenance was needed to repair end posts and badly spalled concrete in the cantilever section. The bridge was widened in 1991. (Derbyshire & Allen, 1984, pp. 70-71; Regional Histories, 1996, pp. 185-186; RTA File: 401.1201)

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Mining-Activities associated with the identification, extraction, processing and distribution of mineral ores, precious stones and other such inorganic substances. (none)-
3. Economy-Developing local, regional and national economies Transport-Activities associated with the moving of people and goods from one place to another, and systems for the provision of such movements (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
Stapletons Bridge has local historic significance as the current bridge over Frazers Creek, which has been bridged since the 1850s (and possibly earlier) and formed part of the former main route from Sydney to the South Coast and Southern Highlands. The bridge is a component of a route which has been and continues to be an important part of the transport infrastructure for the locality, particularly as a coal transport route. The bridge's construction is associated with the program of main road improvement in the State, funded federally and carried out by the Main Roads Board cum Department of Main Roads from the late 1920s. Subsequent modifications are associated with local industrial, commercial and residential expansion in the Greater Wollongong region in the latter part of the twentieth century.
SHR Criteria b)
[Associative significance]
The bridge is possibly significant through its association with James Stapleton, after whom it is named, owner of the adjacent farming property in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The crossing at the site has been known as Stapleton's Bridge since at least the 1870s. It is peripherally associated with the Fraser family, significant figures in the local farming community, dairy industry and political scene in the nineteenth century, who owned the land before Stapleton, and after whom the creek is named. The site is also associated with George Clark, mail boy, who was drowned crossing the bridge in 1873. Through these associations, together with documentary records, the bridge is able to contribute to an understanding of aspects of the locality's history, particularly of local land ownership, farming, dairying and industrial activities and the history of the road and crossing, which has formed an important part of the transport connections in the area.
SHR Criteria c)
[Aesthetic significance]
The bridge has some aesthetic and technical significance. It employs a reinforced concrete beam cantilever approach span system, which is unusual and gives the bridge a distinctive appearance. The bridge has been widened in a sympathetic fashion.
SHR Criteria g)
The bridge is a good example of a cantilevered abutment beam bridge of the 1930s.
Integrity/Intactness: Moderate
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register  18 Aug 05   

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
Heritage Study of Pre-1948 Concrete Beam Bridges (Sthn, Sth West, Sydney)2005 Burns and Roe Worley and Heritage Assessment And History (HAAH)  Yes

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
Written  Tongarra Heritage Society - correspondence, 2004.
Written  RTA General File: 401.1201, 1982-1987
WrittenBroomham, Rosemary2001Vital Connections: A History of NSW Roads from 1788
WrittenDepartment of Main Roads1976The Roadmakers: A History of Main Roads in New South Wales
WrittenDerbyshire, Jim and Dianne Allen1984Land Between Two Rivers
WrittenHeritage Office, New South Wales1996Regional Histories of New South Wales

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: State Government
Database number: 4309612

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