The Dickabram bridge at Miva is an unusual piece of architecture: massive pylons, that arch midway, the timber decking that rattles with every passing vehicle. It’s unusual historically, too, being one of few remaining joint rail and road bridges in the country — a famous other one, with arch, is the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Dickabram bridge opened 125 years ago and made a massive change to its corner of Queensland. My great-great-grandfather recalls the strife and inconvenience of having to ferry produce across the Mary River in the days before the bridge. The delay in getting to market could be costly.
How do I know about my ancestor’s travails as a primary producer at the turn of the last century? Because he left a memoir. The written word: you’ve got to love the insight into history it can provide, with all due care for its jaundiced eye.
There was plenty of history at Miva at the weekend: oral, written, steam-driven.
This spot on the map, little more than a couple of houses now — vacant blocks where the railway station and the shop used to be, but the QCWA Hall where I went to Sunday School is still standing and looking smart — had a massive population boost at the weekend. Caravan city. Music. Hubbub. All to mark the anniversary of the local landmark.
The governor, Penelope Wensley, was there and all, amongst a bevy of politicians. She gave a good speech from the back of the truck that served as a stage: gentle humour and a mention of YouTube, evidence of decent research about the mighty span and the way life was back then, right down to the ghost of the bloke they say might, or might not, have been entombed in a concrete pylon. And she gave acknowledgement of the indigenous people, too: elsewhere, a few snapshots of Kanakas and Aborigines, if you cared to look on an otherwise white colonial day.
On the stage with the governor was Will Nahrung, one of the chief organisers, a rellie as you’d gather by the name, a bloke who used to deliver groceries to our farm from the back of a big flat-bed truck, once upon a time. He still lives just up the road from the bridge, right next to that vacant space where the family store once stood.
My uncle, Lex Kunst, was among the singers — country all the way, as you might expect when you’re surrounded by cane fields and paddocks dotted with beef and dairy cattle. Another relative, Don Nahrung, was among the exhibitors showing off machinery of yore: massive chainsaws and a steam engine, old vehicles and more pumps than you could point a dipstick at; one mob had a wall of electric fences.
Up the hill there’s a cemetery containing my great-great-grandfather’s bones, and on another nearby hill there are the stumps of the house where he and his family and descendants lived, my dad and his brother and sister included. Maybe it was those stumps. Maybe it was that ridge. Maybe it was that fig tree. Landscape and memory not quite meeting. They left in 1949; back at the celebration, we saw a picture of the truck laden with their furniture crossing the Dickabram bridge.
At the anniversary bash, the Queensland sun beat down and the dust rose underfoot. A local hall association sold $2 soft drinks, tea and coffee, and $6 burgers, and around the riverbank park the conversation was all about the years gone by, the weather, the good-sized crowd. The day, and the people, too, passed all too quickly, all caught somewhere between the then and the now.
And down below, the river, mud-brown and languid, flowed on.