With construction starting in 1932, the Hornibrook Bridge was opened by Queensland Governor Sir Leslie Orme Wilson on the 4th October 1935.
Thanks to the Queensland State Archives, here is a recovered silent film documenting the construction and opening of the bridge.
The Hornibrook Highway Bridge was constructed in the years 1932–1935, by the firm of M.R. Hornibrook. Conceived as a response to high unemployment during the Great Depression, it also represented an opportunity to end the isolation of the residents of the Redcliffe Peninsula.
Prior to the construction of the Hornibrook Viaduct, the Redcliffe Peninsula was accessed via two main methods of transport: ferry and road. Road transportation in particular was of great concern to the residents of the Redcliffe area. During times of wet weather, the Redcliffe road running via Petrie regularly became impassable to vehicles.
Several schemes had been drafted to improve the accessibility of the Redcliffe area to vehicle owners and also to the growing day-tripper market, having seaside holidays at Redcliffe.
These schemes favoured the construction of a new road link across Hays Inlet and the mouth of the South Pine River. In 1926, the Redcliffe Town Council had proposed such a project be considered by the Main Roads Board.
Such a road link would involve crossing 2.7 kilometres (1.7 mi) of water by viaduct at a cost of £120,000. This road would then connect with the main road from Sandgate to Brisbane, avoiding the long drive via Petrie. M.R. Hornibrook had holidayed in this area and saw the development potential of the Redcliffe area being linked by road to Brisbane. The onset of the financial depression of 1929–1933 gave Hornibrook the impetus to plan and construct a road viaduct across from Redcliffe to Sandgate.
Major contracts for construction diminished with the deepening depression, and the decline in public spending. Hornibrook believed a major project was needed to keep together the construction force built up by his company during twenty-five years of work.
In 1931, Hornibrook approached the Queensland Government with a proposal to construct a toll bridge linking the southern part of Redcliffe with the Sandgate area. Initially, this proposal was rejected. After further consultation with the Queensland Government, an Act of Parliament was pushed through allowing for the involvement of private enterprise in the construction of toll facilities. Note that the Queensland Government was also in discussions with Walter Taylor regarding his proposal to construct a toll bridge (later known as the Walter Taylor Bridge) across the Brisbane River between Indooroopilly and Chelmer.
The terms of the contract with the Queensland Government set the toll price, as well as stipulating the length of lease. Hornibrook negotiated successfully for a forty-year lease on the projected road bridge.
The full extent of the project involved a road viaduct 2.68 kilometres (1.67 mi) in length plus associated roadworks. To finance such a major construction, a prospectus was issued to encourage local investment in Hornibrook Highway Ltd.
Work officially commenced on the project on 8 June 1932, but in its first eighteen months progress was limited, due to a lack of financing. The entry portals at either end of the bridge were completed in early 1933. Continuing financial difficulties forced Hornibrook to attempt to re-finance the company to finish the work as planned by 1935. The major flotation was assisted by a £100,000 loan from the AMP Society, guaranteed by the Queensland Government. Work recommenced at a faster pace from July 1934.
The portals were designed by architect John Beebe. Originally a Bendigo-based architect, Beebe moved to Queensland in 1916, and worked at the Queensland Works Department until 1926. He then moved into private practice in Brisbane until 1936.
Over 2.5 million superfeet of timber was needed to provide girders and decking on the bridge. Two sawmills were bought specially to process timber from Mount Mee and Conondale Range. 250 timbergetters were employed to cut the required amount of timber. Timber for the construction of the bridge was transported down the North Pine and Pinerivers on barges. The hardwood used in piles and girders mostly came from a timber mill owned by the Hornibrook Construction Company at Mapleton, transported from there to Nambour on the Mapleton Tramway, and then by Queensland Rail trains.
The last plank on the viaduct was spiked into place on 7 September 1935. The bitumen road surface was laid in under three weeks setting an Australian record. The bridge originally had two traffic lanes and a pedestrian footpath. The construction of the bridge was similar to other bridges in Queensland, but when it was completed it was the longest road viaduct built over water in the Southern Hemisphere. At the time of completion, the bridge had a length of 2.684 kilometres (1.668 mi). It was the longest bridge in the Southern Hemisphere, and the second longest in the world after the Maestri Bridge in the United States. Up until its closure to road traffic in 1979, it was the longest vehicular traffic bridge in Australia.
The viaduct was opened to road traffic on 4 October 1935, foreshortening the road journey by several hours. Also a special coordinated road/rail bus service was inaugurated by the company to convey commuters between Sandgate and Redcliffe.
The Hornibrook Highway played an important strategic role during the defence of Australia in World War Two. Military road convoys were able to use the highway to move war material efficiently to points in Queensland.
The Hornibrook Highway franchise was surrendered to the Department of Main Roads in 1975 after forty years of operation by the company. From this time the Main Roads Department assumed responsibility for maintaining the structure. By then, the increasing road volumes necessitated the investigation of carrying additional traffic. An additional viaduct was authorised by the Main Roads Department in 1977 to cope with increasing traffic flows to and from the Redcliffe Peninsula. The Houghton Highway as the new bridge was named opened to traffic in 1979. The publicly funded (non-tolled) Houghton Highway bridge was built alongside the Hornibrook Bridge, with the intention of duplicating the capacity. The project had intended to upgrade the Hornibrook Bridge as part of that project, but was subsequently found to be uneconomic. The Hornibrook Bridge was closed to traffic in 1979 with the opening of the Houghton Highway bridge.