It has been almost 60 years in the making, but Echuca-Moama has officially opened its second bridge.
- Thousands of people attended the opening of the second Echuca-Moama bridge
- The twin towns have been campaigning for this bridge since 1965
- It’s hoped the new bridge will draw traffic away from Echuca’s center and off the older 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.
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.
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.
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.
It will also provide easier access for more than one million tourists who descend on the twin towns each year.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”