A trail of fresh pigeon droppings leads me up the uninviting flight of concrete stairs. With the winter sun barely creeping above the northern horizon, it's probably been two months since direct sunlight lit-up this dingy area under the northern abutment to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. At the top of the stairs are a pair of granite slabs, each as big as a small dining table.
I park myself on one. Brrr! It's like sitting on a giant block of ice. Looking ahead is a perfectly symmetrical view beneath our city's busiest and most recognisable bridge, with the giant flag of Parliament House rising high between the dual carriageways of Commonwealth Avenue. The flag may well be frozen stiff, for despite the cool breeze it stands limp.
This is my second visit to these hidden stones in just the last 12 months. My first foray, in June last year, was prompted by an email received from Peter J. Leonard, an avid reader of these pages who, despite "having spent a lot of time in Canberra visiting friends and family, currently lives in Lincolnshire, England".
"Don't forget the Bicentenary of the construction of the first Waterloo Bridge in London, which opened on 18 June 1817," pleaded Leonard, a social historian with a Masters in Local English History from the University of Leicester, "because underneath Canberra's own Commonwealth Avenue Bridge are two parts of that historic bridge."
Leonard is spot on. When the much admired first Waterloo Bridge featuring its nine 120ft semi-elliptical arches of Cornish granite were replaced by a modern reinforced concrete bridge in 1942, as the plaque beneath Commonwealth Avenue Bridge states "several slabs of granite from the old bridge were presented to Australia and other parts of the British world to become further historic links in the British Commonwealth of Nations".
Apparently Australia's two-tonne gifts from the City of London were held in a government storehouse in Kingston for many years before being placed in their current position to coincide with the opening of the 310-metre long Commonwealth Avenue Bridge in 1963. Leonard's appeal to highlight the history of the stones struck such a chord with this column that during a recent family trip to the Old Dart, much to the chagrin of Mrs Yowie and my two young girls, focus of our only day in London was all about photographing Waterloo Bridge from different angles.
So while my two kids were going gaga over views of Big Ben from the top of the London Eye, your Akubra-clad columnist was busy snapping away photos of the current Waterloo Bridge which spans a strategic bend on the River Thames. In fact, it was only after we'd travelled in a double-decker bus (seated at the top and front, of course) over the 1942 bridge and then walked beneath its approach (where you can see part of vestiges of the original 1817 bridge) did I finally entertain the idea of the girls visiting the Tower of London and other tourist must-sees.
In Leonard's email he highlighted the controversy surrounding what many at the time claimed was the "unnecessary demolition" of the first bridge due to structural reasons; and in comparing the current bland crossing to photographs of the elegant first bridge, it's clear to see why.
Indeed the beauty of the first bridge inspired many great artists to paint it, including John Constable who captured the excitement of the bridge's opening ceremony and Claude Monet who painted the bridge 40 times from his window vantage point at the Savoy Hotel.
Famed Italian sculptor Antonio Canova even described it as "the noblest bridge in the world" and said that "it is worth going to England solely to see," which as the Londonist website points out "was a pretty big deal, for at the time, most rich Brits were heading to Italy to get their Grand Tour architecture-and- culture fix".
Back under Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, while momentarily standing up to avoid the onset of chilblains on my posterior, I reflect further on Leonard's email in which he asserts "the plaque between the two stones only gives part of the story".
"John Rennie, the Scottish engineer who designed the first Waterloo Bridge left some interesting notes about the construction, especially about moving the granite blocks from the quayside," reveals Leonard. "Apparently almost all the granite blocks, and there were hundreds of them, were shifted by a horse known as 'Old Jack' and his master Tom."
"Old Jack was a steady, hardworking animal but Tom may have been less enthusiastic," muses Leonard. "He liked to stop for drop of the warm, flat liquid Londoners once called beer."
According to Leonard, "Sometimes Tom stopped a bit too long and when he did Old Jack stuck his head into the pub, grabbed his master by the sleeve and pulled him back to work, much to the amusement of his mates. Maybe that is why it took six years to build the bridge."
During my morning visit under Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, no one notices me paying homage to the historic granite blocks, not even the steady stream of workers from the construction of the adjoining West Basin Waterfront who walk past during one of their regular smokos.
With the snail's pace of the construction of the West Basin Point Park, one wonders whether the Cornish blocks don't only represent tokens of friendship, but perhaps some of Tom's laid back work ethic came with them.
Historic Stones: There are a pair of two-tonne historic stones from the first Waterloo Bridge under both the northern and southern abutments of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. Both sites have plaques and are accessible to the public, just follow the bike paths along the lake's edge and look up when under the bridge.
Did You Know? The current Waterloo Bridge was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, the same architect responsible for designing those iconic British red telephone boxes.
WHERE IN THE SNOWIES?
Clue: High 20s, even in winter
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Ken Moylan who was first to correctly identify last week's photo, as the Thredbo Golf Course. It's a great spot in winter to spot wombats trudging through the snow. Moylan just beat Leigh Palmer to the prize in a week of surprisingly very few entries.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday June 17, 2017, with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.