The Causeway is erected in the vicinity of the furtherest point upstream to which navigation of the Swan River was originally possible. It was to this point that the first Europeans to visit the Swan River, Willem de Valmingh's exploratory team, came by boat in 1796. In the early years of the Swan River colony, the only way across the Swan River from Perth was via a ferry service at The Narrows, which is the tip of the South Perth peninsula across the water from Mt Eliza.
The 1845 Hillman map is the first to show the 'track to Canning District' as being linked to the eastern side of the town of Perth by the first Causeway, a series of wooden bridges across the Swan River that also straddled the marshes of the 'Heirrison Islands'.
The Causeway in 1862 (State Library WA)
The 1864 bridges were of one lane, probably 12 feet wide. The original deck timbers of those bridges were still there in the widened timber structures at the time of construction of the new bridges. With the construction of this important direct land-link from Perth to the south, the ferry across The Narrows was little used, except for local traffic to and from South Perth, as the peninsula was no longer a necessary link in the southward route. Up until that time, the Heirrison Islands were part of an extensive stretch of marshlands through which the Buswood Canal had been cut in 1831 to allow boat passage from Fremantle to Guildford.
The canal served to divide the higher marshy ground into two distinct areas - Burswood Island and the Heirrison Islands. In 1839, a dam is constructed across the Swan River between the Perth shore and Heirrison Islands, and being a dam rather than a bridge, it became known as the Causeway. The name was retained for subsequent bridges built here, the first joining of the shores of the Swan River here with a bridge, occurring in 1843. This bridge remained in use until 1947.
The post-war baby boom and increased immigration brought rapid growth to Australia's towns and cities, and growth in the number of vehicles and traffic increased greatly. Governments across Australia pursued road construction with great vigour, and it was at this time that the present Causeway was built and the boundaries of Heirrison Island were clearly defined with the building of the island's seawalls.
As cement was in short supply, supplies were double ordered from all over the world to try and ensure timely deliveries. We had cement from England, Sweden, Japan, South Africa and the Eastern States as well as local Swan Cement.
The long construction time of the present bridges (1947 - 1952) was dictated to a large extent by the shortage of the materials required. The bridges were constructed by the Main Roads bridge construction crews with about 50 men being employed. The bridges were officially opened on 19 September 1952 by the then Premier of Western Australia, Sir Ross McLarty. It was the first bridge in the Western Australia to utilise composite steel/concrete construction, shortly after its pioneering use in Tasmania.
The opening of the Graham Farmer Freeway in 2000 reduced the traffic volume on the Causeway, allowing the two central lanes to be turned into bus lanes. By the early 2000s, the concrete structures had suffered significant damage. Cracks were repaired using Carbon fibre reinforcement and localised patching, extending the bridge's life by decades. The Causeway bridges have been recognised for their heritage value by their entry on the Western Australian Register of Heritage Places.