The day the bridge fell down

Dubbo Photo News - - Front Page - By NATALIE HOLMES

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.

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