Echuca-Moama’s second bridge opens after almost 60 years of campaigning

It has been almost 60 years in the making, but Echuca-Moama has officially opened its second bridge.

The gates were thrown open on Sunday, with about 8,000 people pouring onto the bridge from both sides of the Murray River.

And on Monday, it opened to its first motorists.

For many, like Tom Glazebrook, it has felt surreal.

A divisional engineer with the Road Construction Authority, he started campaigning for a second bridge in 1970.

“As a matter of fact, at my retirement, I said, ‘I’m going to be at the Echuca bridge opening, even if I’m in a wheelchair,'” he said.

An old man sits on a chair
Tom Glazebrook started campaigning for the second bridge decades ago.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

Long-term dream comes true

For 144 years, Echuca in Victoria and Moama in New South Wales have been linked by a single bridge.

The need for a second bridge was first floated to the council in 1965 but in the decades since, the proposed project has become a political hot potato.

Paddlesteamers on a river
Paddle-steamers congregated along the river near the new bridge during opening celebrations.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

Various levels of government pledged on-again-off-again funding, but there was little action.

There were also several disputes over where the bridge should be placed.

Echuca Historical Society’s Dot Hammond said the campaign for a second bridge at times was complicated.

A woman stands in front of a wall of historical items
Dot Hammond says the bridge has been a long time coming.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

The project was also the subject of numerous campaigns, including “Build the bloody bridge!” in 2012.

But at last the $ 323.7 million project, jointly funded by the Commonwealth, Victorian and NSW governments, has opened.

Named after the Yorta Yorta word for the Murray River, many hope the Dhungala Bridge will remove thousands of vehicles from the existing bridge, and draw traffic away from Echuca’s center.

Newspaper clippings about the need for a bridge.
Echuca-Moama has been campaigning for a new bridge since the 1960s.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

It will also provide easier access for more than one million tourists who descend on the twin towns each year.

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Echuca-Moama’s second bridge has finally opened.(Supplied: Major Roads Projects Victoria)

Wollithiga elders boycott bridge opening

But while it was a day of celebration for some, it was a bittersweet occasion for others.

Wollithiga elder Uncle Henry Atkinson welcomed the bridge opening but refused to attend.

A man stands in front of a river
Uncle Henry Atkinson boycotted the bridge opening.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

He said this was because the Wollithiga people, who are traditional owners of the land, were not invited to conduct a Welcome to the Country at the bridge opening.

Instead, the Yorta Yorta Nation, which the Victorian government recognizes as a Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP), was given the responsibility.

“They may say, ‘we have Wollithiga people within that organization,’ but they’re not the real, true traditional owners of this part of the country,” Uncle Henry said.

A group of men
Members of the Wollithiga clan boycotted the bridge opening.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

For years, Uncle Henry has helped advise on the alignment of the new bridge.

In 2005, he fought successfully to have a proposed location for the bridge changed due to cultural concerns.

Mayors celebrate new bridge

The new bridge links the Murray Valley Highway and Warren Street at Echuca with the Cobb Highway at Perricoota Road in Moama.

And for the twin towns’ two mayors, it is a dream come true.

A man and a woman stand together on a bridge
Murray River Council Mayor Chris Bilkey and Campaspe Shire Council Mayor Chrissy Weller.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

“This is a great leap forward for us,” Murray Shire Council Mayor Chirs Bilkey said.

Campaspe Shire Council Mayor Chrissy Weller said the need for a second bridge had only increased.

A crowd looks up at the sky
Stunt planes zoomed overhead during the community event to celebrate the new bridge opening.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Charmayne Allison)

“Our community has grown over the years, so as the town’s expanded, it’s gotten harder and harder,” she said.

“Traffic runs all through the middle of town, so if there’s an emergency service issue, it just gets back-logged.

“So this is very exciting.”

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