Footscray Wharves and Environs


First road bridge across the Maribyrnong River at Hopkin’s Street built in 1863.

River crossings are always an issue in early settlements of this nature. The problem was first dealt with by a system of punts and ferries, which operated under special licences.

This area was a logical place for the crossing to Melbourne, being just north of the junction of the Maribyrnong and the Yarra. The early path of the tracks from Williamstown can still be seen in the meandering nature of Moreland Street, south from Napier Street.

Once across the river, going towards Melbourne however, there was still the problem of negotiating the marshland that lay between the Maribyrnong and the Yarra. The early path was particularly difficult in winter. Consequently, Dynon Road was once called the Summer Road. Until the marsh was drained most travellers crossed further up the Maribyrnong at Flemington Hill.

Hopetoun Bridge built in 1903
Hopetoun Bridge in 1960

The problem was further accentuated by the shipping activity on the River at the time. The first road bridge over the Saltwater River was built in 1863. It was a wooden construction with a moveable centre that could be pulled back to allow the passage of larger ships. In 1903 this was replaced by a steel, concrete and bluestone bridge, named the Hopetoun Bridge. This was replaced in 1969 with the bridge we have today.

Swing Bridge built in 1895

The Swing Bridge opened to let ships through, such as the ‘powder’ barge in this image being towed to the munitions works in the 1920s.

The pressure of increasing traffic through the late 19th Century called for another bridge at Napier Street. So in 1895 the Swing Bridge was built. 

This steel construction swung around on a pivot mechanism to allow shipping through to the survey area and further upstream. It was an engineering marvel of it’s time and was so perfectly balanced a boy could work the operation.

One interesting feature of this bridge is that it one of the engineers that worked on it was John Monash who later became the most famous commander of Australian troops in World War One.


The Swing Bridge was replaced by the Shepherd Bridge in 1958, which was named after Ernie Shepherd, who was the State Member for Footscray in 1958, leader of the Labor Opposition at the time and secretary of the Footscray Swimming Club.


Shepherd Bridge which replaced the Swing Bridge
Remains of the Swing Bridge can be seen on the west bank of the River directly under the Shepherd Bridge. See the stone block, with graffitti, in this photograph.
View of the City from the Shepherd Bridge