Dominating the Taradale skyline is the spectacular bluestone and iron Taradale viaduct which stretches approximately 213 metres across the Taradale Back Creek and approximately 40 metres above. Completed in 1862, the viaduct was the last major work to be completed on railway line between Melbourne and Bendigo and was the longest metal girder bridge in Australia at the time of its construction. Funded by the overflowing coffers of government gold revenue, the Taradale Viaduct is estimated to have cost in excess of 140 000pounds and possibly as much as 230 000pounds.
The final stone of the viaduct was laid at a modest ceremony on the 8th September 1862 by Mr CG Duffy, President of the Board of Works. Although a banquet at the Royal Mail Hotel followed, the real fanfare was saved for the opening of the line itself when an estimated 1200 people gathered to celebrate the occasion. Around noon on the 25th of October 1862, the official train reportedly passed slowly over the viaduct and the cheers of the spectators were acknowledged by His Excellency the Governor of Victoria and JVA Bruce (of Cornish & Bruce). Newspapers reported that a children’s picnic and sports day which was paid for by public subscription, was held at the nearby Police Paddock and following the games, locals were able to traverse and inspect the viaduct which workmen had decorated with three flag festooned triumphal arches for the occasion.
Exactly two years earlier on the 25th of October 1860, work on the viaduct had officially commenced when a foundation stone was laid at the southern end of the works by the Hon. V Pyke (Commissioner of Public Works in Victoria) and soaked with champagne by JVA Bruce Jnr. The Mount Alexander Mail reported that “shops were shut, public places were decorated, school children turned out in holiday attire and a triumphal arch of magnificent proportions spanned the road leading to the viaduct” down which the townspeople and officials marched to the ceremony. In September of 1861 a second foundation stone was laid and christened with champagne at the northern abutment by Mr W. S. Urquhart, the ceremony being attended by Messrs Hull, Woods, Brady and Kerr.
Workmen on the viaduct reportedly numbered anything from a dozen to several hundred depending on the weather and stage of construction. The rate, reliability and frequency of pay and hours was a source of tension as early as 1857 and continued throughout the construction of the Melbourne to Sandhurst line. Lack of qualified masons, strikes and protests were reported in 1859 and the strikes in 1860 resulted in non-society German masons being employed to keep the works going. Society, or union masons were eventually employed due to the high demand for labour however as the requirement for labour reduced and the frequency of pay was changed, tensions increased and came to a head. In August of 1862 workers of all types from various sites on the line met and marched south to Kyneton were they were confronted by the Kyneton troop of mounted volunteers before they agreed to disperse. The conflict between Cornish & Bruce and the workmen was related to the 8 hour week determination which had been awarded to some types of tradesmen, including masons, in 1856 but which was strongly resisted by business and not always implemented.
During the construction of the viaduct there were few reported injuries however there were some casualties including Mr William James who died after suffering a dislocated spine whilst building the triumphal arch for the foundation day celebration in 1860. Other casualties included Mr Stevenson who died after falling an estimated 30 feet from the structure in November of 1860 and a man who was hit from a stone falling from the site in March of 1861. Mr William Todd fell whilst removing the scaffolding in May of 1861 and broke his thigh bone. Later tragedies included the young gatekeeper, Dennis Kennedy who was found dead on the tracks in 1863 and the watchman, Joseph Day who was accidentally killed by the 7.15 passenger train from Melbourne on 4 February 1882.
In January of 1868, cracks were identified in the southern abutment of the viaduct and repairs were undertaken the following May when “iron rods and plates were driven through the wing walls for strength”. In May of 1933 intermediate framed steel tresses were erected to “reduce the stress on the girders caused by the heavier locomotives that had come into use”.
The Taradale viaduct was listed with the National Trust in 1958 and the Taradale railway precinct (including two culverts and the station complex which was closed in 1976) is listed with Heritage Victoria as a place of State significance.
Below the viaduct is the Barkly Park reserve, open to the public, and the adjacent Royal Oaks area is a pleasant peaceful spot with comfortable seating and a marvellous view of the structure for visitors to enjoy.