The day the bridge fell down
30 years after the Wellington Bridge fell into the Macquarie River.
“IT was like a great big clap of thunder followed by a dust storm.” That was how retired shopkeeper Anne Meharg described the collapse of Wellington’s Macquarie Bridge, almost 30 years ago.
It was an event which rocked the township on January 6, 1989, and led to widespread interest and national headlines.
“You always remember it,” said Mrs Meharg, who ran the Macquarie Store at the corner of Lee and Gobolion streets with husband Bill at the time.
“It was quite a hectic morning, looking out the shop window, where you were used to seeing the landscape (which included the bridge) and then it wasn’t there. It was just a vacant space.”
The bridge collapsed when a Mack prime mover carrying a trench digger collided with a bridge truss. It cut the busy Mitchell Highway, and isolated Wellington’s northern side from the commercial business district.
Mrs Meharg said “it was a miracle” that no one was killed on that day. As she watched on before barricades were put in place, an elderly woman almost drove into the Macquarie River.
“I was sure she wasn’t going to stop, but a man did get her to stop,” Mrs Meharg recalled.
Meanwhile, the Macquarie Store was flooded with customers, eager for a glimpse of the fallen bridge on the hot summer’s day.
“I was the only one in the shop at the time.
“We just had so many people and phone calls, we lived on adrenaline, we didn’t know what to do next. We did a roaring trade, and sold out of everything after it fell down.
“My son Scott was home from university at the time and was taking photos, which he sold.
“I’ve still got a book full of newspaper clippings and I was on the front page of the Daily Telegraph.”
The clean-up operation took some time.
The nearby railway bridge became the local thoroughfare for a while, with traffic stopped by road workers when a train needed to cross it.
The army later put a low-level pontoon bridge in place 500m downstream which was used until a replacement bridge was eventually opened.
Unfortunately, the longterm effect was difficult for the Mehargs, who had their corner shop for 15 years.
“When they diverted to the railway bridge, they closed Gobolion Street to traffic. Once they reopened the railway bridge, Gobolion Street remained closed which meant we lost all that trade. It virtually shut us down. It changed our life, and we retired.”
The bridge was eventually replaced in 1991 and some of the old remnants were made into a sculpture by Frances Ferguson called “The Wellington Gateway”. It was completed in 1996 and now stands at the turn-off to the Wellington Caves Complex.
The low-level crossing is now spanned by a permanent structure, The Duke of Wellington Bridge.
These archive photos show the aftermath of the Wellington Bridge collapse which happened 30 years ago on January 6, 1989. This main photo shows the truck trailer and bridge partly submerged, with the railway bridge in the background. PHOTOS: COLIN ROUSE.
Above: Remnants of the old bridge being gathered. Parts were later turned into The Wellington Gateway sculpture.
Below: The truck's cabin and trailer lay where they fell.