Saturday, January 22, 2022

Sham opening of bridge ignored the community

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By Susanna Freymark, Richmond River Independent

“People who want to save the bridge say ‘It’s not over until it’s over’.”

Richmond River Independent - walkers on the old bridge
Not impressed: ‘Save our bridge’ chanted some of the walkers on the old bridge on Sunday.
Photo: Susanna Freymark

State MP Janelle Saffin was quoting Tabulam cattle farmer John Cousins at the official opening of the $48 million two-lane bridge at Tabulam on Sunday.

Visiting politicians, Minister for Agriculture Adam Marshall and Parliamentary Secretary for Energy and the Arts Ben Franklin focussed on the “monumental day” and the safety the two-lane bridge would bring to the Bruxner Highway.

They were joined by Tenterfield mayor Peter Petty, Kyogle mayor Danielle Mulholland, Ms Saffin and former member for Lismore Thomas George.

Ms Mulholland said council was in discussion with Transport NSW about salvaging timber for a memorial to the 1903 bridge.

Yet for most of the people peering from the old bridge down onto the dusty, flat ground between the bridges where the pollies cut a blue ribbon, it was a day of memories and mourning.

The community wasn’t invited to the opening and from their spot, they couldn’t even hear what the politicians were saying.

There was heckling from the bridge and resident Jill Adam said the ceremony was a slap in the face for the community with many not even told about it.

At the opening of the new bridge and the intended end of the old bridge, the Independent asked Mr George why the bridge lost its heritage status on his watch.

His answer was that it wasn’t on his watch. Then he walked off.

Yet in 2014, when Roads and Maritime Services applied to have the timber bridge delisted, Mr George held the seat of Lismore and in 2016 lost its heritage status, paving the way for its demise. Mr George was still in the seat.

But the fight isn’t over.

At the opening, John Cousins had an independent bridge report in his hand.

The major reason given for the delisting was the cost to maintain the bridge which was estimated at more than $1 million by RMS.

A report by Timber Restoration Services quoted a much lower figure.

General manager Patrick Bigg estimated the annual maintenance of the timber bridge as a pedestrian and cycle bridge, after it had been properly restored at $10,000-$20,000.

To upgrade the timbers and remove moisture traps would cost up to $300,000 over five years and then the bridge would last a further 100 years, the report said.

The General Sir Harry Chauvel Memorial Foundation president Graeme Smith issued an ultimatum to State Arts Minister Don Harwin to stay the demolition because of the national and historical significance of the bridge.

“The bridge is a national asset and belongs to all Australians,” he wrote in his letter sent on October 1.

If a reply was not received by 5pm yesterday, the foundation planned to seek an interim order from the Land and Environment Court to stop the demolition.

The indigenous community from Jubullum gathered on the bridge in protest the day after the official ceremony and were filmed for NITV.

Richmond River Independent 7 October 2020

“Poppy” Harry Mundine Walker was born under the bridge and said the bridge represented his lore ground and birthing place.

It isn’t over until it’s over, and the Tabulam community is fighting back to keep their bridge.

This article appeared in the Richmond River Independent, 7 October 2020.

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