Redux of the Singing Bridge Opening 50 Years Ago

Decorated bikes in the 1975 Bridge Opening parade down Marine Drive, Tea Gardens, with Yaccaba in the background. (Courtesy Anne Marie Barry via HNTGPA)

HISTORY was made 50 years ago when the Singing Bridge opened on Saturday, 6 April, 1974, after more than a decade of public calls to replace the ageing punt-ferry.

The punt-ferry, throughout its many iterations, served Tea Gardens-Hawks Nest as well as it could, from the tiny floating platform pushed along, to the later, purpose-built 16-vehicle punt, however, the growth of both towns simply outstripped it all.

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An article in NOTA, edition May 1973 said, “Whenever the BRIDGE is opened, would it not be fitting to hold a week of festivities!”.

A celebratory sentiment echoed and encouraged by the Great Lakes Shire Council, with Shire President Cr JE Ireland formally inviting all residents to join the opening festivities, and subsequent afternoon tea at the Community Hall, in the March 1974 NOTA.

Council had even offered to provide flags and coloured lights to add to the atmosphere, printing a request for residents to decorate their homes with coloured lights in windows or trees, too.

Marine Drive, Tea Gardens, was closed between Ogden and Maxwell Streets from 12noon to 12midnight on Saturday, April 6, 1974, for a street carnival to celebrate the opening of the Bridge.

On the day, Mr Leon Punch, Minister for Public Works, whom Council had selected to perform the opening, said, “The new $1million bridge is the most significant single work of development ever undertaken in the area.”

“Towering over the Myall River, it stands as a symbol of the new era in road communications, as well as exercising a dominating influence on the local landscape; one of the immediate benefits of the construction will be its convenience to the two communities.”

“For people who lived here in 1974, it was such an amazing relief to have an easy means to cross the river – on the Hawks Nest side, cars backed up to the Community Hall waiting for the punt,” Bill Lyon, who worked at Mineral Deposits locally when the Bridge was built, recently told NOTA about the long waits caused by the punt’s limited capacity.

The 1974 Opening was accompanied by 30 decorated floats constructed locally, festooned bicycles, horseback riders and a Scottish Band, which crossed the Bridge, while an impressive Sail Past of dressed boats swept underneath.

Months of consternation over the official name of the Bridge resulted in the rather mundane ‘Tea Gardens-Hawks Nest Bridge’, as written on the plaque still in place today, but the propensity of the bridge’s railings’ to emit with a singular tone, during the right wind, eventually earnt our bridge, a much more poetic moniker, to accompany with its slimline design and perfunctorily simplistic shape: the ‘Singing Bridge’.

By Thomas O’KEEFE

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