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An ode to Melbourne’s Montague Street bridge: swallower of trucks, monument to failure

·4-min read

When I moved to Melbourne for love at the beginning of this year, I was really only excited about two things: getting to live in the same city as my partner, and getting close to the infamous Montague Street bridge – the cursed suburban overpass renowned for swallowing trucks.

​A truck getting caught under an aggressively low bridge is not funny in and of itself. It might even be a small tragedy, depending on how invested you are in truck maintenance or perhaps the freight being ferried. In 2017, the bridge swallowed a bus, injuring a dozen passengers.

But the Montague Street bridge – an unassuming and short king of bridges – has become inherently funny due to the sheer volume of trucks it chomps upon like a hungry, hungry hippo.

If you’re a purveyor of the news like I am (absolutely keen to discover what’s happening in terms of events, goings on, etc) then you’re probably aware of the Montague Street bridge: a railway bridge in South Melbourne, between Woodgate Street and Gladstone Lane. It was built in 1914 with a very low height clearance of 3 metres, and it is simply too short – or more pertinently, the street underneath is too high (it was raised back in the old times due to flooding).

The bridge pops up every couple of months with yet another story of a truck that has lumbered its way under only to get caught inside: a kind of Venus flytrap for cars with backpacks on. It happened so often that it turned into a joke; a website popped up called How Many Days Since Montague Street Bridge Has Been Hit, and it also has a Twitter account and a variety of Facebook fan groups. They all track, document, and discuss the various truck incidents under the bridge, and they have a lot of work to do.

In an attempt at Gonzo journalism, and despite hating driving, I drove to the bridge this week for this article (I’m the Hunter S Thompson of being scared all the time). I was treated to a literal wealth of warning signs and alerts, which signify you are close to the most famous bridge in Australia (followed closely by the one on the harbour at Sydney, which doesn’t eat things but does spit fireworks at the very sky itself). There’s even a gantry that your truck goes underneath and will hit loudly, alerting you to the fact that you are about to be crushed. Tuesday’s victim, a furniture truck, broke a 105-day streak of peace between the truck people and the bridge.

Bridges and trucks lead complicated lives, with an ancient dance between the two. A little-known fact about zoos is how regularly they need to transport giraffes – they must circulate the long horses from zoo to zoo so they can have sex with each other. The protocols are complicated: the giraffe-filled trucks have to take a circuitous route around the city in the early hours of the morning, avoiding any bridges or tunnels, removing power lines in great strings along the way.

Perhaps we are stuck with the Montague Street bridge forever, this structure of ill omen, a Cthulian maw for the logistics industry.

It’s our instinct to consider the bridge a cursed artefact as a consequence, the city-planning version of a haunted house. We think of the sirens of ancient Greek mythology, the bridge seductively singing a song of free passage and soaring height limits, luring sailors to their doom.

As someone who has always been a nervous driver, it’s in my nature to believe that the roads are out to get me, like a Stephen King-Jack Kerouac mashup: On the (Evil) Road. Is it simply poor freeway construction, or is there something unknowable, fearsome and chaotic at its root? And does that explain the allure to it – the unknowable?

As I white-knuckled my way home in the car, catching a glimpse of the Melbourne Star on the way (RIP, gone to soon), I realised that my search for the bridge was spurred by something similar to my move to Melbourne: I’m chasing something special and rare and dangerous. If my relationship goes badly, perhaps it will feel akin to driving my huge truck of dreams into a bridge and having it absolutely smooshed into truck paste, crushed into a concertina, mocked by onlookers, peers and colleagues.

Maybe that’s why we’re obsessed with the bridge. It is a monument to people who tried their best and failed to succeed.

  • Patrick Lenton is a writer and author from Melbourne.

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