Light Horse mounts fight for Tabulam Bridge preservation

Over the October long weekend pedestrians had an opportunity to walk the old Tabulam Bridge, but they may yet again if the bridge can be retained as a tourist attraction.
Over the October long weekend pedestrians had an opportunity to walk the old Tabulam Bridge, but they may yet again if the bridge can be retained as a tourist attraction.

Few would argue that the original Tabulam Bridge was up to the task of supporting increased vehicular traffic flow through that section of the Bruxner Highway, and would applaud Sunday's official opening of a new $48 million bridge.

The fate of the old bridge alongside, however, is a cause for concern with many objecting to its removal, even if some of the timbers would be repurposed into local art and installations.

The 1903 DeBurgh truss bridge is one of the longest timber single-span bridge in the southern hemisphere, with potential to be a tourist attraction in its own right.

Lieutenant Colonel Graeme Smith, president of the General Sir Harry Chauvel Memorial Foundation, believes information received on the cost of repairing and maintaining the bridge as a walk and cycle way conclusively shows that there is no reason to demolish the bridge at this time.

"It is apparent that this decision has been made without regard to the national historical value of this bridge to the district ,the state of NSW and, more importantly, Australia," Mr Smith said.

"It has significant relevance to the Australian Light Horse as Tabulam is the birth place of General Sir Harry Chauvel. He was Australia's most successful World War 1 Commander of the Desert Mounted Corps.

"This bridge is one of the last of the iconic 5-span DeBurgh bridges still standing, and it has been so for more than 103 years. It was a fully functioning bridge until very recently."

Tabulam Bridge has stood for more than a century, and could stand another 100 years more.

Tabulam Bridge has stood for more than a century, and could stand another 100 years more.

Mr Smith said a major hurdle for handing ownership of the old bridge over to the community was projected ongoing maintenance costs in the order of $1 million a year.

"No amount of inquiry, calls, discussion or emails to Transport for NSW has resulted in any explanation of how this amount has been determined."

State MP Janelle Saffin is also supporting the campaign to save the bridge, also being advised by the minister's office that the cost of maintaining the old bridge is prohibitive.

Campaigners have now received an estimate from a private timber restoration company that the bridge's ongoing maintenance costs could be as little as $50,000 per year over a five year period.

"I am asking that there be no demolition until a formal inspection of the bridge has been made by Timber Restoration Services and that report has been assessed by a group of designated members of the community who have the power to accept or reject it," Mr Smith said.

"I am willing to discuss an arrangement with the group identified and help in its formal set up and management."

Timber Restoration Services general manager Patrick Bigg advised the campaign group that poor maintenance and bad construction techniques have contributed significantly to the deterioration of a grand bridge. Vertical fasteners, heavy solids paint and tin cladding have all acted as moisture traps to decrease the longevity of a timber structure.

"That being said, the annual cost to maintain such a structure even with these moisture traps is nowhere close to the $1 million estimate you've advised," Mr Bigg said.

Preservative treatments and modern construction techniques that would not alter the heritage feel of the bridge could see this structure survive another 100 years.

Timber Restoration Services general manager Patrick Bigg

"A major upgrade of timbers that have degraded over time due to the above is likely to cost $250,000-$300,000 over a five-year time period. Preservative treatments and modern construction techniques that would not alter the heritage feel of the bridge could see this structure survive another 100 years.

"Should the bridge be in good to fair condition post-inspection, typical annual maintenance costs for a long pedestrian/cycle bridge would be in the order of $10,000-$20,000."