The History of Bowtells Swing Bridge on the Six Foot Track.
Many people have walked the 45km historic Six Foot Track and crossed the famous Bowtells Swing Bridge that spans the Coxs River, but very few people perhaps know the history around the suspension bridge and how its name came about.
Crossing Bowtells Swing Bridge on our popular Six Foot Track trek for many is a challenge in itself, perhaps it’s the fear of highest for some, or just the instability of the bridge while crossing it ensures a laser focus and determination getting from point A to point B. The bridge is an alternative route that was built for when the Coxs River is flooded but has now become a feature of the Six Foot Track traverse and is now part of completing the adventure challenge.
Once successfully crossed, there is a sense of achievement, the positive emotion of overcoming our fears. It is at this point that we ask people to reflect on the history of Bowtells Swing Bridge and the ultimate sacrifice and the history behind it.
Built and named in memory of one of our war heroes
Bowtells Swing Bridge was built by 3 Troop, the ‘Tunnel Rats’ of the 1st Field Squadron of the Royal Australian Engineers based at Holsworthy Army Barracks in 1991 and was officially opened on the 23rd April 1992. The bridge is named after a fellow soldier of the builders, Corporal Bob Bowtell, who suffocated and died on the 11th January 1966 in foul air while attempting to clear a tunnel of the Viet Cong (VC) during the Vietnam war. Bob was the first member of the unit killed in the Vietnam War.
Corporal Bob Bowtell was born on 25th April 1932 and grew up in the Blue Mountains before joining the Army on the 10th July 1959. Bob served as initially as an infantry rifleman with 3RAR and then 4RAR before transferring and becoming a combat engineer. On the 2nd July 2016 with the assistance of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia and as part of one of Australia’s largest war repatriations, Bob’s remains, as well as the remains of other Vietnam Veterans in Malaysia and Singapore, were returned to Australia for final burial.
So next time you are crossing Bowtells Swing Bridge over Coxs River, please take a moment to reflect on the sacrifice of not just Bob Bowtell, but of all the men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for the freedom of our great nation. It’s these sacrifices that allow us the freedom and privilege to enjoy the great outdoors and adventures like the Six Foot Track.
If you would like to learn more about Bob Bowtell and his exemplary service to our nation, you can read it here at the Australian War Memorial.
The Official Opening of Bowtells Swing Bridge
We have lots of people now walk across Bowtells Swing Bridge as part of our Six Foot Track trek, so we were truly honoured to have received these rare photos of Bowtells Swing Bridge officially being opened on the 23rd of April 1992. John Roberts, the Troop Commander of 3 Troop, the ‘Tunnel Rats’ of the 1st Field Squadron of the Royal Australian Engineers and who built the bridge in 1991/92, kindly provided us with these rare photos.
Corporal John Bowtell, the first Army Engineer killed in Vietnam and whom the bridge was built in honour of, Grandson, was the first to walk across the bridge during the official opening. The grandson later followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, becoming a Royal Australian Engineer himself and serving with the Australian Army in Afghanistan.
How to cross Bowtells Swing Bridge safely
It’s best to cross Bowtells Swing Bridge with two hands on the top cable guides, so it’s recommended to put walking poles or walking stick in your pack, so both hands are free. The bridge swings less if you take it slowly and move in a slow, steady forward movement. This is more important if carrying a large full pack because you will be more top-heavy. If you have a fear of heights, focus on the other side and try not to look down, and before you know it, you will be on the other side. If your fear of heights is uncontrollable and overwhelming, we suggest that you take the alternative route over the rocks below, but we can assure you, you will feel much better and a sense of achievement for trying and overcoming your emotions.