What an historic day for Macksville and the greater Nambucca!
It was clear from the outset just how much today meant to many locals, with a steady crawl of traffic turning off the old highway onto the Bald Hill Rd interchange from 9am, creating a 45 minute delay even getting to the starting line.
“I understand that there are so many people that want to be here today, and it’ll be a struggle to get everyone on,” Roads Minister Mel Pavey said.
Thousands of the excited and the curious flocked to the new bridge across the Nambucca River as dignitaries and elders gathered to cut the ribbon on the single largest piece of infrastructure this Valley has ever seen.
WATCH: the official welcome, ribbon-cutting, and surprise announcement
After the ribbon was cut, pieces of it were then handed out as commemorative souvenirs to the crowd.
Reg Donovan Jr gave a superb welcome to country, recounting the significance of the Nambucca River, its creation by the great Yuludarla and its crossing by Gumbaynggirr peoples.
“Ancestral hero and Gumbaynggirr warrior Birrigan made the crossing in his silver canoe, and crossed the river one last time as he made his way to the fateful Arakoon battle,” Reg said.
“And today we have the opportunity to make a crossing of our own— the new highway will improve access through Gumbaynggirr country.
“Whatever the reason for your travel, we hope you travel safely and enjoy the Yuludarla-inspired landscape.”
Aunty Cheryl Donovan and Aunty Jenny Rosser, along with Uncle Reg Donovan, were on hand to enact smoke and water ceremonies on those who were making the river crossing to bless them and ensure safe passage.
During the official proceedings, Roads Minister Melinda Pavey acknowledged the 80 percent federal contribution to funding the $830 million highway project which saw the deadline brought forward by seven years.
“People were saying it couldn’t be done, well it’s happening,” Federal Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker replied.
Mrs Pavey then made an announcement that stirred a spontaneous and emotional round of applause from the crowd gathered for the official opening.
“I spent some time with Virginia and Greg Hughes on Monday, and they are very supportive and very proud to be a part of—and we’ll announce it right now—that this will be known as the Phillip Hughes Bridge,” Mrs Pavey said.
After the excitement of that announcement, Mayor Rhonda Hoban was called upon for an address and she made pains to acknowledge the Macksville public who had put up with traffic congestion and an untold number of horrific road deaths in order to get to this juncture.
“I’d also like to acknowledge those people, who, for the benefit of the rest of us, gave up their homes and lifestyles so that this highway could go through,” Cr Hoban said.
Max Mackay was one of those residents who had to part with his livelihood, giving up his nursery on the banks of the Nambucca after a 50-year stint, for the bridge to built.
“I don’t mind now, I’m happy where I am. And this means so much to the area,” Max said.
Ms Hoban went on to address the bypass angst that has gripped the Valley.
And can I just say to any of the naysayers who are worried about the bypass and what it’s going to do to our towns: Go back to the middle of the bridge and have a second look—you can now see the beautiful vista of the Nambucca Valley, the river, the town of Macksville, our beautiful rural hinterland—why would anyone not want to come off the ramp and visit our Valley.
And from the nexus of the Phillip Hughes Bridge, the Nambucca Valley really is a sight to behold, to be sure.
From the pinnacle of its expanse, you can get quite a clear vantage point of the old Macksville Bridge, which took four years and 400 pounds to achieve.
It seemed dwarfed by the new edifice and its $100 million price-tag.
“Macksville can now get its heart back, it can get its community back, and it’s going to be a really dramatic change,” Mrs Pavey said.
“It’s both Luke’s and my job now to get more jobs and investment off the back of this highway—which is already bringing people in the region closer together.”
It was edifying to see the jubilant public reaction to the Phillip Hughes Bridge today, but of course, the real test of the new bridge will happen on Monday once the Warrell Creek to Nambucca bypass officially opens to traffic.