Claims of demolition by stealth and heritage vandalism. Accusations of councillors and community being misled. Name-calling – that when it comes to heritage in the shire, “the fox is in charge of the hen house”. Apologies.
This is the week that was in our otherwise beautiful valley, where the temperature has dropped to zero and so have relations between Bega council and the Wyndham community over the fate of the historic Pretty Point Bridge.
It is a saga with as many twists and turns as there are bends in the river over which the heritage-listed bridge was built.
Timber from the bridge’s trusses - which the council claims is critical to its structural integrity - was stolen in late 2014 after the trusses were removed during work to lift the bridge load limit from five to 20 tonnes.
The council claims that apart from the missing parts, other parts of the trusses are in poor condition and while it is possible to reinstate them as "ornaments", it is not recommended. This, of course, is a major about-face on its original intention to "...restore the trusses and reinstall them as a non-load bearing feature to provide a visual historical link to Wyndham's past."
Wyndham Progress Association spokesman Bob Hunt claims that council now lacks the "will" to reinstate the trusses; he says only nine out of 74 pieces of timber were stolen and that he can source the timber and manpower to restore them.
The Pretty Point Bridge Action Group is obviously not going to be swept quietly down the river; one post on its Facebook site even inquired where they could donate to a fighting fund.
Council has a responsibility to its ratepayers to make financially responsible decisions and provide infrastructure that meets the needs of people in 2017 and beyond. What it does not have is a bottomless money chest.
Perhaps the lesson for council in all this is that its offer of collaboration and goodwill should have been extended to the Wyndham community much sooner than this week. One can only hope it’s not too little, too late.
Only 63 out of the 407 timber truss road bridges that were built in NSW between 1861 and 1936 remain.
It doesn’t matter whether its the Hotel Australasia in Eden or a pretty little timber bridge in Wyndham, heritage matters. People care. And as this paper has stated before, once heritage structures are gone they’re lost forever. Poor decisions cannot always be reversed.