A NORTH EAST LANDMARK
Crossing borders and winding roads, the days of Yarrawonga- Mulwala’s historic bridge are numbered.
BORDER towns on the Murray River have a unique relationship to the river.
Towns like Yarrawonga (Victoria) and Mulwala (NSW) were initially divided by Australia’s largest river but many are now united by it - drawn together to capitalise on the benefits of their location.
Yarrawonga Mulwala’s bridge is one of the most recognisable in the country; its sweeping curves (to prevent debris building up during floods which had caused a break in the former wooden bridge back in 1917) and idiosyncratic dip are an added attraction for visitors who come to enjoy the many attractions established around the lake.
Construction of the first (wooden) traffic bridge began in 1889, and was completed in 1891, marked by three days of celebrations.
By 1915 the wooden bridge had become unsafe and was replaced by the current steel and concrete traffic bridge in 1924.
Currently there are two bridges for road-based traffic – the Mulwala Bridge and the Yarrawonga Weir - but with the latter to be closed to traffic from 2020 and a new single main crossing to be built, it appears the old bridge’s days are numbered.
Vicroads, the lead authority on the project, chose what is called the Grey Route for the new crossing, which runs alongside the existing bridge and will mean the old bridge will be closed when construction of the new bridge begins.
Well-known local identity and former councillor John Lawless (pictured) has led a campaign to save the old bridge.
“I took up the fight because I didn’t want my kids and grandkids asking me in the future ‘why didn’t you do anything?’” he said.
“We want to retain it for walking and cycling...it would become an attraction in its own right.
“And locals will use it too; much of Yarrawonga’s population works in Mulwala and with just the one crossing it leaves no alternative for people to cross the river.”
John and his supporters gathered more than 10,000 signatures on a petition, with 6000 locals and 4000 visitors pledging their support.
The petition led to the then Victorian coalition government and NSW government putting their support behind the Green Route and preserving the old bridge, according to John, but the incoming Labor government has backed Vicroads’ preference for the Grey Route.
“Even though the current government said they will demolish the bridge the fight isn’t over yet, far from it,” he said.
“If we need to motivate the people again, say before the next election, we will.”
When a new bridge is built it seems it will have very large shoes to fill.