Owen Wicks and Frank Tooley were the first people to drive over the new bridge.
Owen Wicks and Frank Tooley were the first people to drive over the new bridge.

Oliver Ave bridge is open

Francis De Groot has passed into Australian folklore by slashing the ribbon at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge moments before the Premier Jack Lang had the chance to do so. There were no ribbons or Irish para-military fascists at the opening of the Oliver Ave bridge in Goonellabah on Monday, but some rebellious (or ditzy?) person in a 4WD managed to drive half way across the bridge before being turned around just hours before the official opening.

The honour of the first person to drive across the new bridge belongs to Owen Wicks and his passenger Frank Tooley.

“Let’s hope we don’t fall in when we go over,” Owen said as they waited for the bridge to open. (They didn’t.)

Owen is an Oliver Ave resident who has been waiting a long time for this moment.

His neighbours Roy and Betty Patch, whose son worked on the bridge, rang to tell him it would be opened at 3pm on Monday.

Roy and Betty were in the second car across.

“We just thought we’d come down and watch,” Roy said, adding that he wasn’t worried that they weren’t the first.

When asked if the bridge would make a big difference to them, Betty said, “will it ever!”.

The couple drive to the Goonellabah Workers Sports Club for bingo twice a week and for a meal once a week.

“It will make a big difference to us not having to drive all the way around,” she said.

Other cars that were still being directed up Kadina Street just before the opening were shouting out “fantastic” and giving the thumbs up sign when they realised the bridge was about to open again.

The culvert that was over the Tucki Tucki Creek washed away in floods last May.

The new bridge cost $1.3 million and has a life expectancy of 100 years.

Council spokesperson Wendy Johnson said the bridge had come in on budget and almost on schedule (wet weather delayed it by a couple of weeks). There is still some work to do on the pedestrian access and some restoration work on the creek, but the bridge is now open to all motor traffic.

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