Water Under the Bridges
Situated at the Clarence River estuary, the area around Yamba is criss-crossed by many channels. In the early days of settlement this made land access to Yamba difficult. In order to cross the channels and the river itself, these early settlers were dependent on punts or ferries. The ferries evolved over time from manual to steam and diesel driven haulage, but as the local population and trade grew so did the traffic increase at these crossings. By 1898 embankments and wooden bridges had been built at Romiaka and Micalo Islands. While Yamba was attracting more holiday-makers, complaints grew about the lengthy delays at the ferry crossings. Despite plans for a bridge as early as 1895 and funds being allocated in 1905, it took until 1908 for a narrow wooden bridge to be built across Oyster Channel. Concrete bridges did not appear at Romiaka and Oyster Channels until the 1930s, with the Oyster Channel Bridge widened in 2004.
Local farmers and residents lobbied for a long time for a bridge over Palmers Channel, as it was too wide and unfordable by horse. They complained that the private punt was not always manned and argued that a bridge had already been built over Sportsmans Creek at Lawrence, a similar sized channel of water. The first Palmers Channel Bridge built on the Yamba-Maclean Road took three years to construct, opening in 1885. It was replaced by a wider wooden truss bridge in 1925, while the current concrete bridge was not built until 1986. Another wooden bridge was built across the Channel at the southern end of Middle Road, Palmers Island in 1925, providing access to cane fields and to Palmers Channel School. Named the Cameron bridge, after the man who donated the timber, the constant use of the bridge by heavy cane trucks took their toll and the Cameron bridge had to be demolished as unsafe in 1993; despite local protests it has not been replaced.
During a national bridge building boom to provide work for the unemployed during the Depression, the Clarence River itself was finally bridged at Grafton and Mororo. Deputy Premier and Minister for Transport, Col. Bruxner opened the Mororo Bridge across the Serpentine Channel in 1934; built after much lobbying by local farmers needing a safe way to take stock to higher ground at time of flood. Yet in 1937 the government claimed the existing ferry service across the Clarence at Harwood was ‘in no way overtaxed’ and that a bridge was too costly. By the 1950s, with many more cars and caravans on the highway causing long queues and delays of up to three hours at the ferry, pressure was mounting on local MPs. Construction of the current Harwood Bridge began in 1963. It not only replaced the last ferry on the Pacific Highway but was alsothe last steel bridge built by the Department of Main Roads. At 2,914 feet (888 m), this bridge was the longest road bridge and the third longest bridge of any type in New South Wales when completed in 1966.
Some fifty years later a second (and even longer) bridge is being built at Harwood. To gain an artist’s perspective visit the museum’s exhibition from the Grafton Regional Art GalleryThe Bridges: The First Year, which closes on March 22.