South Cascade Bridge.

In the wake of the 1939 bushfires, a major log salvage program was undertaken by the Forests Commission Victoria (FCV) across the Central Highlands.

Logs salvaged from the Thomson Valley and destined for sawmills at Erica travelled on a complex network of timber tramways.

Before the fires, the well-established Ezards company already operated several sawmills and had constructed (and owned) a section of tramway in the Thomson Valley from Erica to a point just beyond the iconic South Cascade Bridge.

After the fires, the Forests Commission extended the line and operated a separate tramway further north as far as Little Boys. The Commission ran this section of line with two small diesel rail tractors.

But Ezards closed all their mills around Erica in about 1950 and then shifted operations to Swift’s Creek, north of Bairnsdale.

The Forests Commission was unable to reach an agreement with Ezards over the use of the company railway line from Erica, so the company ripped up their tracks and sold the metal rails. This effectively left the section of FCV track marooned from the South Cascades Bridge to Little Boys.

But at the time, there was a major technological shift away from steam and rails to diesel and roads, so the curved rail bridge over South Cascade Creek was abandoned.

The current Thomson Valley Road more-or-less follows the alignment and grade of the old FCV rail line as it hugs the contours of the hillside.

However, the South Cascade Bridge became a popular visitor spot but by the late 1960s the Commission became concerned that the slowly decaying structure was too dangerous for the public to walk over. And there was no funding to repair it.

In 1968, Max Boucher was local District Forester and Bernie Evans was the senior assistant, while Tony Manderson and Bill Clifford were also based at Erica.

Max reluctantly gave the order to demolish the South Cascade Bridge. It was done by the local FCV district staff under the direction of the Commission’s explosives expert “Blow em up” Charlie Saunders.

Bernie and Tony together with a couple off the crew scrambled down through the steep gully laying explosives at the base of the various pylons. Charlie was a large man and happily supervised most of the operation from the road.

It took a couple of goes to demolish the bridge (the structure wasn’t as fragile as everyone thought) and there were still a few metres of it left on the south side that was subsequently fenced off.

It’s often reported that the Army Reserve blew the bridge up, but this is not so, although that may have become involved in some later demolitions.

Photos: FCRPA Collection

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