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.
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.
Namoi high water c.1910
Site of Bennett's Causeway
Namoi River c.1920
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'.
On 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.
HISTORY of MANILLA N.S.W.