Matagarup Bridge: Shernaz Wadia

A ‘coming together of diverse cultures

My first visit on this current trip to Perth was to the bridge that brings together ‘diverse cultures’ – the bridge of goodwill and inclusivity.  We reached it after walking from Queen’s Garden, down Nelson Crescent toward Nelson Avenue, passing the iconic WACA Stadium. We could have taken the Redcat bus but we preferred to walk though it was a chilly, windy day with the sun playing hide and seek.

 


 

The sight was stunning! With its eye-catching architecture and towering height, the Matagarup suspension bridge spans the Swan River in Perth, WA.  "Matagarup" is the Nyungar name for the whole area – waters included – around Heirisson Island; it means ‘place where the river is only knee deep, allowing it to be crossed’. It recognises the cultural significance of the immediate Swan River area to the local Whadjuk Nyungar community.

 

The Nyungar or the Noongar is the name for the 'original inhabitants of the

south-west of Western Australia'.  They are one of the largest Aboriginal cultural blocks in Australia. Traditionally, the Noongar culture governs the use of fire, hunting and gathering, and behaviour regarding family and community. Noongar lore works with nature to protect animals and our environment. Noongar people abstain from eating animals that have totemic significance with their names. The terms ‘lore’ and ‘law’ are sometimes used interchangeably, but ‘law’ refers to written European law. Lore for Noongar people is unwritten and refers to kaartdijin (knowledge), beliefs, rules or customs. Their lore and customs relate to marriage and trade, access, usage and custodianship of land. Noongar lore is linked to kinship and mutual obligation, sharing and reciprocity. And so the symbolic bridge that signifies ‘coming together of diverse cultures’.

With its Whadjuk (Noongar) association and audio art installation sharing cultural stories, the Matagarup Bridge is already much more than a walkway; a lot more than just a pedestrian bridge it is a brilliant access statement providing a direct pedestrian link between the city centre of Perth and the new multipurpose 60,000 seat Optus Stadium, Burswood and the public parks around it.

Optus Stadium

Parry and Rosenthal Architects assisted Melbourne architect firm, Denton Corker Marshall to design this bridge. The construction work was started in November 2015 and readied at a cost of $91.5 million it was opened to the public in July 2018; but prior to that, Premier Mark McGowan, Transport Minister Rita Saffioti and other officials, as well as bridge workers, walked across the bridge  on 4 July and from 7th to 9th July, hundreds of volunteers walked across it to help engineers gauge the movement of the structure and tune the bridge's mass damper (also known as seismic damper) to reduce vibrations. The total length of the pedestrian crossing is 560 metres (1,840 ft), inclusive of a 100-metre (330 ft) ramp at the East Perth end. It has a 3-span steel cable-stayed bridge, with   two piers in the river bed. The central bridge arch is made from two 'wishbone' structures, rising approximately 72 metres above the water at its highest point; the steel and concrete deck stretches 370 metres from bank-to-bank with a steel cable-stay span of 160 metres at its centre. Having become an icon of Perth it appears nightly behind newsreaders on the ABC’s 7p.m. bulletin.

Apart from its central arch, flowing gracefully are black and white arches that resemble a pair of flying black and white swans native to the river.  Alternately the arches can also represent the Wagyl, a water-serpent that is of immense importance to local Nyungar culture. The Wagyl (also spelt Waugal and Waagal) is the Noongar manifestation of the Rainbow Serpent in Australian Aboriginal mythology.” When the Waugyl tunnelled west towards the ocean, creating the bilya (Swan River), he became stuck in the mud flats and had to shake his scales off in the mud to get through to Buneenboro (Perth Water)

900 metres (3,000 ft) of multicolour LED lighting cover the bridge, illuminating it every night round the year. It is lit up according to an ever-changing yearly calendar to accommodate community event days, colours and interactive animations ensuring that the visual range is always different and refreshing. For instance from 19 - 25 September 2022, different colour lights were scheduled for different days. It was magenta on Monday 19, as a tribute for the Queen; Red on Tuesday 20, for HIV/AIDS awareness; Pink/Teal for breast cancer care on Wednesday; magenta once again on Thursday for the Queen; on Friday it dazzled purple for purple bra day and on Saturday it twinkled green for mitochondrial awareness.

 

And it is not a bridge for walking alone. If you are bursting with the spirit of adventure and are an adrenalin junkie you can experience the thrill of soaring through the sky riding the 400m zipline back down at up to 75km/hr. First, one has to descend the bridge on the city side of the main arch. On a 35m high launch platform a guide will safely prepare you for launch, before you take off and are brought in for a safe landing on the eastern banks.    


Shernaz Wadia
If climbing is your thing to do, 314 steps up the bridge and you will be on an open-air viewing platform 72 metres above the river. Prior to embarking on this adventure, it is compulsory to undertake a safety orientation and be fitted with a full-body harness, helmet and a bridge latch device with a tether to guarantee security at all times.


With the average gradient of the climb at 45 degrees this is not for faint-hearted people like me!!  It is a tough climb in which you don’t simply climb; you have to shimmy, slide and squeeze through tight spaces to reach the SkyView. Once up though one is rewarded with a fascinating 360 degrees panoramic view of Perth City!

 

Starting from AU $169 one can even combine the Climb and Zip tours under the beauty of a Perth night sky, and be regaled with Perth’s history past and present, plus all sorts of fine points surrounding the bridge and the land it has been built on, by the amazing, knowledgeable tour guides.

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Bio: To Shernaz Wadia, reading and writing, means an inward journey. Her work has been published in various anthologies and e-journals. She sometimes dabbles in short Japanese forms of poetry too.


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