REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: Priceless bridge sold down the (Clarence) River

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend.

What price history? The 120-year-old bridge at Tabulam in northern NSW, built by hand by men who were soon to fight in the Boer War, is being demolished because the state government says it's too expensive to maintain it. Photo: Sally Gall.

What price history? The 120-year-old bridge at Tabulam in northern NSW, built by hand by men who were soon to fight in the Boer War, is being demolished because the state government says it's too expensive to maintain it. Photo: Sally Gall.

Some Australian history is worth preserving at any cost it seems, but other projects come with a cost that governments won't bear.

It was reported on Thursday that the NSW government had recently shelled out $162,000 of taxpayers' money to replace two 13-year-old rugs in Government House in Sydney.

Opposition spokeswoman Yasmin Catley said $162,000 was an "extraordinary" amount for taxpayers to cover during a pandemic.

"These sorts of funds coming from the Department of Premier and Cabinet...don't pass the pub test," she said.

The purchase was defended as integral to the heritage significance of the building and important given the prestigious occasions held there.

Yet, a 120-year-old bridge woven into the fabric of Australia's military history in northern NSW is being taken down because the state government says its upkeep is too costly to maintain.

This was the reason given for taking the Old Tabulam Bridge, the longest single span wooden bridge in the southern hemisphere, off the NSW State Heritage Register in 2016, after listing it in 2000 for its significance to Australia's road building history.

Local cattleman John Cousins says the Roads and Maritime Service estimate of $1 million is unsubstantiated.

Furthermore, an independent bridge report he sourced from Timber Restoration Services estimated the annual maintenance of the timber bridge as a pedestrian and cycle bridge, after it had been 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.

John Cousins, right, discussing ongoing plans to save the historic bridge with one of Harry Chauvel's great-nieces Jan Gall, Toowoomba.

John Cousins, right, discussing ongoing plans to save the historic bridge with one of Harry Chauvel's great-nieces Jan Gall, Toowoomba.

One of Australia's greatest war generals, Harry Chauvel was born at Tabulam and his father instigated one of Australia's earliest mounted infantry regiments, the Upper Clarence Light Horse there.

Men of the regiment, some of whom later charged the Turkish army at Beersheba under Chauvel's command in a move that history records as a turning point in the Sinai campaign, would proudly have been involved in building the bridge.

John Cousins says that demolishing it would disrespect the military history it embodies.

He is part of a group that wants to build the bridge, what's left of Chauvel's property, the memorial to the Upper Clarence Light Horse standing in the local park, and plans for a Light Horse tourist way, into a festival he says could have a following equal to that of the Gallipoli landing.

But the bridge is key to its success.

"The fight is not over," Cousins said. "As far as I'm concerned, what they pull down, they can put back up."

In case you are interested in filtering your pandemic coverage down to just twice a day, why not sign up for The Informer newsletter?

More stuff happening around Australia ...

Sign up to get our Voice of Real Australia updates straight to your inbox