Des Harvey holds up a Daily Examiner which quoted the Coalition committing to making a start on the new Grafton bridge if elected.
Des Harvey holds up a Daily Examiner which quoted the Coalition committing to making a start on the new Grafton bridge if elected.

Bridge pioneer singles everyone out

As Grafton Chamber of Commerce past president and current spokesperson for the new Grafton Bridge, I would like to take the opportunity to thank those involved in prosecuting our new bridge.

In particular I would like to thank the chamber members who voted me as President in July 2001; the executive that in August 2001 gave suggestions for projects; The Daily Examiner who in September 2001 conducted the survey and the general public for input to prioritise this list that established inter alia, a new Grafton Bridge was a high priority.

I thank the RTA Regional Manager who in November 2001 was our guest speaker on the provided topic “How we get a new bridge” and who gave many engineering facts and for stirring us into action by stating “that’s why you won’t get a new bridge”.

I thank the committee established in February 2002 headed by Ron Bell and supported by Doug Clark, Heather Roland and Spiro Notaras and the executive who agreed to spend $800 of our meagre $1500 total cash reserves to promote a new bridge public meeting.

Of this, $400 was spent with the Daily Examiner to print and insert an invitational flyer with editorial support and the other $400 to 2GF for a massive radio campaign.

Both organisations heavily discounted their works and I have no doubt the funds paid were considerably less than one-tenth their market face value.

I thank the Grafton High School for making their Multi-Purpose Centre available for our public meeting.

Ron Bell and Des Harvey enjoy the sight from the new Grafton Bridge during it's official opening.
Ron Bell and Des Harvey enjoy the sight from the new Grafton Bridge during it's official opening.

I thank the six hundred people who packed the Centre with standing room only and flowing onto the footpath on a cool wintery night on twenty-third May 2002 chaired by Ron Bell. They voted unanimously for a new bridge.

I thank the many speakers including John Turner the Member for Myall Lakes and Shadow Minister for Roads, Federal member Ian Causley, Councillor Kerry Lloyd; the President of Kyogle Shire supporting the Summerland Way and in particular our state member Mr. Harry Woods who confirmed the State Government had agreed to provide $100,000 for a feasibility study.

This established inter alia, the existing bridge was expected to be gridlocked by 2022 – arguably today a reasonably accurate projection.

I thank those that gave of their time to support our new bridge and the government for contributing further funding for investigation and planning.

I thank the leader of the opposition Mr. John Brogden who at a shadow cabinet meeting in Grafton in October 2002 publicly supported funding a bridge if elected.

I thank Premier Bob Carr who in February 2003 did likewise and who on numerous occasions including at a Labor state conference in Tamworth, publicly stated his personal and government’s support and “iron-clad” guarantee that a $40M to $70M bridge would be built upstream from the existing bridge.

Along with many, I was disappointed that certain circumstances outside chamber’s control occurred in parliament that saw funding for the bridge transferred to a contiguous electorate. During these “dark” days I thank the general public and chamber for never giving up the fight and in particular, members of the community that derided our efforts with personal derogatory comments to me that we were “wasting our time” and that “they would never see a new bridge in their lifetime”.

At times I thought we were only a handful of supporters, but continually reminded myself of our responsibility to those six hundred who attended the public meeting.

All these negative, and a few pro comments, kept the debate alive and continued to energise the chamber. I understand many large wagers were made supporting the “no-bridge” camp and I trust these have now been settled.

I thank Andrew Stoner the Opposition Leader who in 2011 stated “if elected the Coalition under Barry O’Farrell would build the bridge.

I thank Mr. Steve Cansdell who after the O’Farrell government was elected for prosecuting the bridge after the government, who promised a bridge if elected, began in my opinion wavering on that promise.

Des Harvey makes a speech at the new Grafton bridge opening on 12/12/19.
Des Harvey makes a speech at the new Grafton bridge opening on 12/12/19.

It was a fight that had to be had, and Steve was up to the challenge.

I thank Minister for Roads Mr. Duncan Gay under the O’Farrell and Baird governments, for his very frequent visits to Grafton to make funding announcements and progress reports and enjoyed joining him in turning the traditional first sod of soil.

His wisdom and unswerving support at so many meetings was a constant source of confidence to me.

I thank RMS Manager Mr. Bob Higgins. We met at a very volatile meeting at the Grafton Community Centre, who with his team attempted to explain the bridge location selection process to the vocal majority who disbelieved.

Bob showed his great innate calm and strength that I have admired ever since. His personal contribution to the bridge over many years cannot be overstated.

I thank the many designers of the bridge and in particular the twenty members of the community who gave up two days of their time to be involved in a RMS Value Management Workshop.

The group’s challenge was to reduce the number of potential sites suggested by the general public, from forty-two to one. The group’s outcome was deadlocked on just two – one essentially being the final location.

I particularly thank the one community representative who introduced themselves and stated their presence was to work against a new bridge. I thank that same person who had the courage at the end of the first day to concede; based on the evidence provided, they had changed their position and would be a supporter.

I thank Mr. Greg Nash the RMS team leader for his fortitude with a very tiring workload but ever-confident attitude and availability to explain issues.

I thank all RMS and Fulton Hogan team members who took the time to attend numerous chamber breakfasts as guest speakers and the crowds of members who attended those breakfasts.

I thank the media, in particular the Daily Examiner and 2GF for their support throughout the whole eighteen year process publishing articles and announcing reports.

I thank Melinda Pavey who followed Duncan Gay as Roads Minister for confirming her bridge support at a number of meetings with me, while in her tenure.

I also thank current member Mr. Chris Gulaptis for his personal and team’s continuing support.

Bridges of this magnitude don’t just happen.

Chris Gulaptis, Ron Bell and Des Harvey celebrate at the new Grafton bridge opening on 12/12/19.
Chris Gulaptis, Ron Bell and Des Harvey celebrate at the new Grafton bridge opening on 12/12/19.

During the process of the new bridge I was surprised at the lack of support that I expected from some authorities, and support that I didn’t expect from others, but understand such is the political process.

I have no doubt the bridge location will be debated for years but believe with the traffic experts both from RMS and business, that it has been constructed in the best location for its purpose – that is, to facilitate the flow of local traffic.

I apologise and have tried to personally empathise in conversation to those whose home and property was resumed for this project but have been consoled from their general belief that the national “good” took precedence over personal issues.

In other words; what was best for Grafton’s future.

The bridge is now built and finally I again thank all the above for their support, and in particular the community; the supporters and the naysayers who energised the committee.

I think I can speak for the “group of five” including the late Spiro Notaras, that it was a great challenge for us, but worth the effort.

The new Grafton Bridge is arguably one of Chamber’s single biggest projects to date and can be justly proud of its achievement. I am sure I have missed thanking many and apologise to them.

Des Harvey - Grafton Chamber of Commerce President 2001-4 and current bridge spokesperson.



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