The modern day phenomenon of "selfies" has helped the Richmond Bridge, the most historically significant structure of its kind in Australia, grab one of the biggest prizes in engineering.

The Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources (DIER) has taken a high-tech approach to the preservation of Australia’s oldest bridge.

It has created a specialised vibration monitoring system which transmits data and “selfies’” of the bridge to engineers, allowing them to understand what effect vehicles crossing the bridge are having on its structural integrity.

The vibration monitoring system employs a complex array of sensors positioned over each arch in tandem with a custom-designed computer unit, alarm triggers and a camera to determine which vehicle types cause the largest vibration on the bridge. The technology allows DIER to collect important data which will assist in future maintenance and the prevention of irreversible damage.

Richmond Bridge is a lasting symbol of Tasmania’s convict heritage. More than 73,500 convicts were transported to Tasmania for crimes ranging from minor misdemeanours to political activities. Convicts skills and hard labour were utilised to build what would become the infrastructure of Australian society

Richmond had been used as a crossing point for people traveling by land to the Tasman and Fleurieu peninsulas for some years now. When the Coal River flooded, access to the east coast was greatly restricted, and the need for a bridge connecting the peninsulas was obvious from as early as 1820.

Construction of the bridge began in 1823, with convicts building it by hand from local sandstone. The bridge was completed after 17 months in 1825.

It is testament to the outstanding engineering of this heritage-listed bridge that it’s still a crucial part of Tasmania’s infrastructure 190 years later.

Tasmania has proportionally more heritage bridges than any other state, with the historic bridges at Red Bridge and Ross also being fine examples of its infrastructure lasting the test of time.

“Tasmania is heritage rich and it’s crucial the State’s historical assets are preserved for the community to relish for generations to come,” said Michael Sylvester, president of Engineers Australia’s Tasmania Division. “The Richmond Bridge is a sound demonstration of early engineering from the convict era. Ensuring the continued use of this nationally significant icon is of great importance to Australia.”

“This is the first time vibration monitoring has been used in this way. It is a fine example of modern innovative engineering being used to protect heritage infrastructure.

Richmond Bridge was included in the National Heritage List on November 25, 2005, while the project has received the Engineers Australia Colin Crisp Award for Excellence in Engineering Heritage.