GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: One of many stunning photos John Ibbotson has taken of the old Sportsmans Creek bridge.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: One of many stunning photos John Ibbotson has taken of the old Sportsmans Creek bridge. John Ibbotson

Lawrence backflip no surprise for bridge backer

JOHN Ibbotson is so committed to historic bridges, he has spent thousands of dollars campaigning to let them stand for all time.

For years, Mr Ibbotson has fought bureaucrats, who have told the communities of Lawrence and Tabulam their old bridges would have to be removed once a modern replacement was built.

He was one of many residents who attended an impromptu meeting on Friday over Roads and Maritime Services' apparent backflip to donate a section of the former Sportmans Creek bridge to the Lawrence Museum and Historical Society.

Here is his response:

Bridge for a Museum

The Lawrence community has rallied to try and save the Sportsmans Creek bridge from demolition.
CONTENTIOUS: John Ibbotson stands with some of his work in front of the now demolished Sportsmans Creek Bridge. Adam Hourigan

Over the past three years while reviewing RMS's Wooden Truss Bridge documentation, it became obvious they had predetermined back in 2010 which bridges would be kept and which would be demolished. The criteria used was dodgy but foolproof.

And in spite of the 1998 MRK report recommending that some bridges, which were safely accessible by people, be kept, their criteria was the bridge will continue to be used, or it will be replaced and demolished.

After 2010 the RMS held meetings with local communities, to ask them what they wanted. These meetings were basically farcical.

For example:

At a Lawrence meeting the RMS was asked why the old bridge couldn't be kept.

Their reply effectively was "If there are no vehicles shaking the bridge it will be destroyed by white ants”. The pest exterminators I contacted couldn't stop laughing.

Another asked if they could buy the timber. Their reply was "As it is contaminated with lead, creosote and arsenic the wood has to be environmentally disposed of”. I wrote to the RMS who replied it was only a problem during demolition. I believe they are now telling the museum the same story.

They also made it clear to local councils they did not pay for the ongoing maintenance of non-vehicle bridges. They advised the Clarence Valley Council that to maintain the bridge would cost a farcical $500,000 per year (in understandable figures that's $10,000 a week for 50 weeks a year) and would soon require a $10million overhaul.

Obviously, the CVC said no thanks.

But their "We do not pay for such bridges” claim was a furphy as they are maintaining three replaced bridges over the Murray River, including one since 2006.

The only bright outcome was that the RMS indicated they would provide sections of the demolished bridge to Lawrence Historical Society (Museum). From a Roz Jones letter:

"The society's intention was always to have a section of the bridge, so that people could still walk on the 'Old Sportsmans Creek Bridge', and to show how the historic Dare Truss Bridge was designed and constructed”; and "The society had numerous meetings with the RMS, who effectively told them that they could have whatever bits they wanted.”

Unfortunately, this was not in writing. The letter continued:

"After a change in the management team, agreements made with the RMS were denied to have been made, and an email was received stating that we could now have only two ends of one truss (one side of the structure only) and 150 m2 of decking - and that this was non-negotiable” and "if we weren't happy with the quality, it would all be sold to the salvage operator.”

Why am I not surprised?

There is another wrinkle. The bridge is now in Harwood being "deconstructed”. To move the sections to Lawrence and assemble them would be expensive and the museum operates on a limited budget. Although unclear, it appears the RMS has told the museum some of the transportation and erection of the pieces was their problem and would not be paid for by the RMS.

Why am I not surprised?

The society has requested people to show their support by contacting Lawrence Museum president Rob Forbes on 0412 715 805, or by leaving comments on the museum's Facebook page.

I doubt if this will have any effect. After it was announced the only other Clarence River icon - Tabulam Bridge - was to be demolished, a Facebook page was set up. In 48 hours, it had 400 responses. The RMS refused to accept them as a community comment because they were in the wrong format.

I believe the only way for the museum to receive what it was promised is for the NSW Government, at an appropriate level, to tell the RMS to honour its verbal commitment and to also cover the costs of the transport and erection.