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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Keeping tradition: foot traffic the first to cross new Batemans Bay Bridge

The opening of the new $274 million Batemans Bay Bridge will be celebrated today, Saturday 27 March, with the coastal community invited to be the first to walk across the result of 722,000 hours of construction.

Innes’ Boatshed co-owner, Tracey Innes, has had a front row view of the action from her waterfront fish and chip shop a few hundred metres away.

A black and white photo of a thick crowd of people in 1950s garb walking onto a bridge.
Crowds converge at the opening of the first Batemans Bay bridge in 1956. Image: Batemans Bay Heritage Museum via Facebook.

She said the community was excited for the opening of the new bridge, while preparing to say goodbye to its 65-year-old predecessor.

“It’s a little bit sad, it’s a catch 22 – we’re excited to see the new one, it’s beautiful design,” she said.

“But by the same token, the old one’s been there forever.”

Given the multiple disasters locals have dealt with since late 2019, the construction phase hasn’t felt too long to Ms Innes.

“We had fires, then a flood which just washed every burnt tree down the river and smashed into the wharf and boats,” she recalls.

Business picked up for about six weeks after that, and then COVID-19 hit.

“In all of that, [construction teams] have kept going, so I think for the locals it feels like it happened overnight.”

The Innes family also runs Merinda Cruises, otherwise known as ‘the ferry’, which stops traffic twice a day when the old bridge opens to allow the vessel to pass through.

Ms Innes said they had borne the “brunt of people’s angst” who found the bridge opening a nuisance in recent years.

“Twenty years ago, it wasn’t a big deal; 10 years ago, it wasn’t such a big deal; now, it’s a big deal.

“People used to come and watch the bridge going up and down, now eight minutes out of your day seems like the end of the world!”

The new bridge spanning the mouth of the Clyde River will open two lanes to road traffic in time for the Easter break, weather permitting.

In coming days, the public will gain access to a new three-metre-wide shared path for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the new structure while work continues to fully complete the project.  

The soon-to-be disassembled old bridge will be commemorated with an artwork on the southern foreshore.

Before it opened, the most common way to travel from shore to shore was by canoe, boat or punt ferry.

In September 1947, The Sydney Morning Herald reported plans for the Bay’s first bridge intended to solve congestion problems, after a six-month search for a “suitable position”.

A car ferry in Batemans Bay circa 1920. Image: Flickr

“Tenders have been called for a bridge to replace the present Bateman’s Bay [sic] ferry, which has caused transport delay for many years,” it read.

“It will carry a roadway 22ft wide and a five-feet footway, and is expected to cost £100,000.”

Like today, the opening of the first bridge was commemorated with a parade on 21 November 1956 – the day before the Melbourne Olympic Games.

Local baker, Edsel “Grubber” Ladmore, fashioned an Olympic torch from a piece of wood and a jam jar, not to be outdone by the following day’s fanfare, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The Innes family has lived in the area for generations, and Ms Innes knows her grandmother, Robin, will be walking again.  

She said her uncle had vivid memories of the 1956 opening “back in the day”, where he was determined to be the first to make it to the other side.

“My Uncle Ian and his best friend stood there at the opening of the bridge, they were only 13 or something at the time.

“He said as soon as they cut the ribbon, they sprinted across the bridge to be the first to cross it!”

At peak construction, the contemporary project employed a workforce made up of 45% local and 10-15% Indigenous people; 180 were working full-time.

It was built using 2,700 tonnes of Australian-made reinforcing steel.

Work to complete final touches including line marking, barriers, a shared pathway for cyclists and pedestrians, foreshore upgrades, and a new pontoon to improve access to the river will continue until late June 2021.

Visit NSW Roads Facebook to watch a livestream of the opening from 8.30am today.

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