Many people reading the article from the Bellingen Historical Society, entitled “Bellinger River – The Footbridge” may assume that the information is factual. Unfortunately it is almost entirely wrong. However, it is a good example of why yarns and anecdotes should not be used as primary historical documents.
For the record, here is the true story.
Construction of the southern breakwall at Urunga was completed in 1906 and the first footbridge was built in 1908 by the pilot and his boatmen to link the breakwall to the shore.
It was only two planks of wood in width and had no handrail, so it was very like a ship’s gangway. It was used by the boatmen to allow easy wet-weather access to the red acetylene (carbide) lamp that was lit each evening at the end of the southern breakwall – a similar lamp was located on the northern breakwall.
As well as the corrugated iron lamp shed, the breakwall also contained two rocket sheds and a crane wharf.
This first footbridge was replaced in 1922 by a sturdier bridge, somewhat wider, 350 metres long and with one handrail. It was built by the council engineer and his workmen, with help from the pilot’s boatmen.
The Pilot Station closed in 1936 and the lamp sheds, rescue rocket sheds and crane wharf were removed from the breakwall. In 1940 the council built the third footbridge. It had two handrails and was more land-lubber-friendly.
Since then the bridge has been re-routed, replaced, extended to the beach, widened and been given a branch-bridge into the lagoon. It is now a big tourist attraction as well as a daily delight for local walkers, swimmers, surfers and fisherfolk.
More information about the Pilot Station and the history and heritage of Urunga can be found in the Heritage Study – “The Pilot Station and Port Precinct – Urunga” and the book, “Crossing the Bar: A History of the Urunga Pilot Station”, both available from the Historical Society.
The evidence used to compile those publications was obtained from the Historical Society’s archives, NSW State Archives, other NSW Government departments, the NSW State Library and the National Library’s Trove.
The history and heritage of our area is both important and irreplaceable.
Let’s treat it carefully.