Can a well-named bridge inspire engineers to connect?

Ken O’Neill, Aurecon’s Bridges Leader New South Wales, Australia, talks about his passion for bridges, the important role they play in society, and the significance of naming them.

The Yandhai Bridge. "Yandhai" means "walking in the path of past and present". Image credit: Miguel Wustemann
The Yandhai Bridge. "Yandhai" means "walking in the path of past and present". Image credit: Miguel Wustemann
  • Updated: 20 February, 2019
  • Author: Ken O'Neill, Aurecon's Bridges Leader NSW and ICE Fellow

Near the bustling town of Clonmel in Count Tipperary, Ireland, stands an old unnamed railway bridge that’s been the source of inspiration for my journey as a bridge engineer.

As a child, I spent my summers swimming in the River Anner over which that old railway bridge crosses.

It wasn’t until my grandfather took me to visit the construction site of the new railway bridge in the early 1990s that my decision to become a bridge engineer was cemented.

I have a real passion for bridges. As well as designing bridges for global engineering and design firm Aurecon, I make a point of visiting different bridges whenever I get the chance.

My family is used to me taking them on ‘little’ detours to visit bridges when we’re on holiday.

Turning a passion into a career

Nowadays paid to do what I love, I feel very lucky to be designing bridges every day.

After starting my working career in Ireland, I moved to Sydney in Australia and can still remember the feeling of awe at seeing Sydney Harbour Bridge, ANZAC Bridge and Gladesville Bridge. Since arriving in Australia, I’ve been lucky enough to work on two of these bridges, plus many more.

Everyday inspiration

Bridges are important to societies on many levels. They can be the links between communities and landmarks. Many towns and cities around the world are defined by them.

Take London, Sydney, San Francisco or New York, to name but a few. Their iconic bridges not only anchor the city but also help to make them memorable and special.

Each day I’m inspired to design bridges that connect with the local culture and people of an area.

This is why I think the naming of a bridge is very significant, and necessary.

What’s in a name?

Many bridges derive their name from the traditional custodians of the land. In Australia, we’re seeing more of this, which I find very exciting.

It’s important that we respect and maintain traditional cultures. And I love the fact that we’re seeing more of it.

Given that bridges are built to last, assigning it a name links it to the past, a place or event, and preserves the local culture for future generations.

The Phillip Hughes Bridge in New South Wales, Australia, captured the opportunity to recognise a notable community member who was a test cricketer for Australia and grew up in the town of Macksville.

Unfortunately, Philip died playing the sport he loved in 2014. However, his memory lives on in this bridge. 

Philip Hughes Bridge in New South Wales

Another example is the new Yandhai Bridge in Penrith, New South Wales Australia. 

The name "Yandhai" is from the language of the Darug people who are the traditional owners of the land.

The word means walking in the path of past and present. Very appropriate for a bridge.

Yandhai Bridge, Penrith.

With naming, there’s an opportunity for bridge designers to learn more about the character of an area and how a bridge will connect people and places, and incorporate this in the bridge design or type of materials used in construction.  

Journey with Ken

Join Ken this month as he journeys across the world and shares the bridges he considers his favourites. 

To celebrate #ICEBridgeMonth this February, Ken is posting every two days about a bridge and why it made him stop and reflect.

Connect with Ken (pictured below) on LinkedIn and tell him which bridge inspires you and why.

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