Life in Kangaroo Valley before the bridges
The first bridge across the Kangaroo River was of timber truss construction and was opened in 1879 by the Member for Camden, Thomas Garrett.
Prior to this, those settlements north of the River; Barrengarry, Bendeela and Upper River operated separately from Kangaroo Valley, Beaumont, Maguires, Budgong, Wattamolla and Woodhill, on the southern bank…
The river could be crossed on horseback, at the ford when the river height made this safe and the mail came from Moss Vale three times a week. Older children, from the dairy farms on the northern side could ride their horses to the Valley school which was opened in 1871, the younger ones were taught at home. Other small school were built at Barrengarry, Bendeela and Upper River from 1874-1877.
After the bridge was opened the Cobb and Co Coach services gave travellers easier communication between Bowral and Nowra. The ‘Pioneer Hotel’ (which was destroyed by fire) and later the ‘Friendly Inn’, located opposite, provided accommodation and the commercial and social life of the area improved. However the bridge deteriorated and in 1895 a decision was made to replace it with the present day Hampden suspension bridge which was opened in 1898.
Five days later the old structure was washed away in a flood.
Opening Day of the Hampden Bridge
After two years of construction on February 2nd 1898 the Bridge was officially opened by the Minister for Works, James Henry Young MP. He was accompanied by Robert Hickson, engineer, Ernest de Burgh, designer and Thomas Loveridge, contractor.
The bridge was named after Lord Hampden, the then Governor of NSW.
John King, a well respected dairyman in the community, was a happy man that day when in the company of his wife Elizabeth; he drove a ribbon be-decked buggy with a pair of fine horses across the brightly decorated bridge and declared it open for traffic.
There were many fine speeches before a crowd of 400 people, and the official party was entertained in the National Hall with a fine banquet to complete the celebrations of this, the first suspension bridge to be built by the NSW Department of Public Works.
The bridge has achieved iconic status over the years and remains an attractive gateway to the Southern Highlands and the South Coast for tourists, transport companies and the residents of Kangaroo Valley.
Since 1898, this township has continued to grow and prosper both commercially and socially and is recognized world wide as an unspoilt scenically beautiful tourist destination.
Hampden Bridge deserves to be well maintained so it will remain a treasure to be admired and photographed by visitors for the next 100years.
The Importance of Hampden Bridge
The early cedar getters and dairymen who came to the Valley did so by following the ancient aboriginal tracks from the South Coast, the Southern Highlands and by boat up the Shoalhaven River. The Kangaroo River could be crossed at various natural fords but in flood times this was a very dangerous practice.
So various settlements were established either side of the river and had their own churches, schools and Post Offices. Many families felt isolated, though some social gatherings were held in private homes. It was particularly tough and lonely for the women who not only helped with the farm chores, organized the household, often educated the children and bore large families.
The township of Kangaroo Valley developed trading centres, a school, hotels and social facilities ahead of Barrengarry, Bendeela, Budgong and Upper River, but commercial and social interactions between settlers on the southern and northern banks of the River were mainly possible by the use of horses and bullock; so was limited.
The building of the first wooden bridge in 1879 and the Hampden Bridge in 1898 were important factors for change.
Cobb and Co coaches ran frequently between the Highlands and the South Coast, Mail deliveries were easier, goods and services improved, an annual Show was organized and the social life of the main village now included families from the outlying area. Population increased and with it greater economic prosperity.
Today the bridge is not only an icon and a picturesque tourist attraction it is essential to maintaining this prosperity and growth and the success of the many vibrant social activities for both the local residents and the ever increasing number of tourists.
Hampden Bridge is the gateway to the Southern Highland and the South Coast and a vital link to facilitate the continued viability of the entire Valley.