BRIDGING the NAMOI
In 1861, Sir John Robertson's Free Selection Legislation resulted in many land seekers following the trail of European exploration throughout the northern districts of NSW, presenting a new demand for materials and supplies. A continuous line of teamsters was engaged in the carrying business of horse and bullock drawn wagons as far as the Queensland border, across rough terrain and often swollen rivers, sometimes extending the job of transportation by many weeks at a time. Traffic to the north west came via Manilla's Namoi River, one of the greatest obstacles to traffic along the route and there was consistent agitation for a bridge. The Namoi was both broad and deep, difficult to ford and dangerous. Teamsters might spend several weeks held up on high ground at the Junction waiting for the water to go down.
Namoi high water c.1910
On October 24. 1873, a public meeting was held at Flynn’s Hotel at North Manilla. A petition for a high level bridge over the Namoi would be submitted. A letter from the member for Gwydir was read, offering to do all he could to induce the Government to build a bridge at Manilla, however, no government stayed in power long enough to carry out any fixed policy.
In 1877, Member for Liverpool Plains, Hanley Bennett, ordered surveys be made along the Namoi at Manilla and called tenders for the building of a causeway. A year later, Joseph Conlon's bid of £3,000 was accepted and work began on a low-level bridged causeway - timber decking with excavations beneath for the free flow of water. There was a drought on, so the contractor completed the job without hinderance and all went well, until drought breaking rain in 1879 flooded the river and washed the structure away. High water rushed over the remains for the following 4 weeks and Bennett's Causeway became a source of both humour and frustration. Locals at the time dubbed it Bennett's 'Waterfall' - history recalls it as Bennetts 'Folly'.
Back in November 16 1878, Colonial Secretary Henry Cohen, received two deputations from Manilla - one from north of the river, the other from the south - demanding the construction of a high level bridge. But this would be just one of many desperate appeals submitted, following inevitable tragedies and near disasters, over the course of the next few years.
When construction of the iron bridge over the Namoi river at Manilla began, it was at the end of a long process of agitation by the people for a safe crossing of not only the Namoi at Manilla, but all major river crossings northward, in a major effort to open the entire transportation route to the Queensland border.
Site of Bennett's Causeway, Namoi River c.1920
The NAMOI River Bridge
The 1880s was a time of hectic building and tenders for iron bridges were being awarded throughout New South Wales. In 1882 tenders were called; in England for the shipment of iron and pre-planned bridges; and in Australia for designers and construction companies to put them together. When bridge contractor G.H. Royce arrived in Manilla in 1884, six of the huge cylinders required to support the steel lattice structure and deck had already arrived at the site. Royce and company, along with many others tendered for bridge construction contracts between the late 1870s and 1900 and dozens of bridges were completed throughout New South Wales during those decades.
Manilla Bridge upon completion, from the northern bank 1886
Royce's House [now Manilla Museum]
PHOTOS & CLIPPINGS
The 'Low Level' (Higgins Bridge)
The Low Level bridge - over the Namoi river below the showground - was opened to great fanfare in 1938. It had been built as an alternative stock crossing after nearly 15 years of continued agitation for another droving route to the River street saleyards. The town was overjoyed. The people had at last been freed of the constant dust and manure menace created by the regular movement of thousands of sheep and cattle, previously coming via the main traffic bridge and on through the town streets. In addition, East and West Manilla were now conveniently linked; it provided ease of transport for wheat and wool loads to reach the railway from farms to the west; and ensured a safer crossing of the river for school children, who for generations, had to brave the heights of the railway viaduct.
The Manilla Express Nov 8 1938