It was 1844 when the Assistant Surveyor Gorman’s plan for the government township of Wingham was approved, but it took another ten years before the first public sale of allotments of land took place.
During those intervening years, Wingham’s few visitors were mostly people passing through the district on the road from Maitland to Port Macquarie. Even by 1864 the town had no more than one store, one hotel, a blacksmith and a lock-up, and was ringed by waterways.The Manning River flowed from the south-west. Cedar Party Creek, a moderately sized stream meandered in from the north and joined the Manning at the eastern edge of the village, and Dingo Creek with many smaller watercourses supplied the district’s needs.
Unfortunately, frequently during winter, and occasionally in summer, Wingham was completely surrounded by water, and it was not unusual for drownings to occur during the wet season when people tried to enter or leave the town. Mail delays of up to a fortnight were another result of the wet condition.
The 76 residents were frustrated and angered by the situation and signed a petition to the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales in 1864, seeking the construction of a bridge over Cedar Party Creek into Wingham and a punt over the Manning River which could then be part of a natural and direct link with Tinonee.
The Legislative Assembly responded to the petition by providing 600 pounds in 1865 for the construction of a bridge, as long as the local contribution provided a third of the total cost.
The suspension bridge of 77 feet with a width of 14 feet was constructed and completed by Mr. George Ochs and his team in late 1869. The timber trussing was substantial and the flooring consisted of two layers of planking, one three inches thick and the other two inches.
Despite its solid construction, the bridge was built below flood level, and soon became unsafe. A new bridge was constructed in 1896 by Worthing and Company, owned by Richard Henry Worthing – probably the most respected member of the Worthings, who were a highly regarded pioneer family in the Manning.
Richard Henry Worthing arrived in the Manning in 1887 was a publican initially, then a farmer, and then formed a construction group with his sons, building many bridges in the district.
The new structure consisted of 35 feet timber beam spans, held up on driven timber piles and concrete sills. There was a width of 5 metres between the bridge’s kerbs.
The photograph shows the new bridge at a much higher level than its predecessor, showing the March 1908 flood just below the decking of the bridge. Higher inundations such as the 1929 and 1978 disasters would still completely cover the bridge’s decking, but the new structure ensured that it could take higher floods before cutting the road into Wingham.
Times changed; the bridge had to stand a rapid increase in the number of motor vehicles, and the size of these vehicles, and improvements to the bridge were sought.
In 1954 Wingham’s Mayor, Leo Gleeson made a scathing attack on the disgraceful state of Cedar Party Creek Bridge, describing it as a structure created for the 1890s, and maintained since then by a policy of “mend and make do”.
Major repairs were carried out in 1954, 1965 and in 1976, while in 1989 the bridge was widened to 6.3 metres to take two lanes of traffic simultaneously. It turned out to be only a short-term solution when the bridge girders deteriorated and the bridge had to revert to one lane only.
In 1993 a laminated stress decking was used to improve the situation, and this procedure allowed the crossing to be extended again to two lanes. In December 1994 the refurbished structure was opened by the local State Member of Parliament, Wendy Machin, with Greater Taree City Mayor Ralph Metcalfe also officiating.
In 1996 the Cedar Party Bridge was resurfaced, and it is serving the district well.
No doubt, since the first crossing over Cedar Party Creek into Wingham was erected in 1869, the members of the local community have vigilantly ensured that the bridge remains adequate for the purpose that it is to fulfil.
It never was an easy task to put pressure on the relevant authorities to maintain the bridge at a suitable standard, and so the citizens of Wingham are always ready to keep this vital bridge open.
When the citizens of Wingham presented their petition to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly for a bridge over the Cedar Party Creek in 1864, the petition also included the request for a punt over the Manning River from Wingham to the Bight.
The area so named because of its unusual bend-shape, was one of the first places to be developed on the Upper Manning when the Lobban family and Alexander McLeod travelled from the Hunter district in 1851.
At that time, a dense scrub from over a mile wide extended the neck of the Bight, while the river banks were lined with thick brushes of cedar, beech, rosewood and huge fig trees. The gigantic roots of the latter covered almost a quarter of an acre. There was also an abundance of giant nettle trees, and all of these thickets were the dwelling-place of large numbers of pademelons and other small animals that delighted in eating the tender, newly-emerged crops.
Despite the request for a ferry at the site, the Wingham Punt, as it became widely known, did not commence operation until 1906.
Regular submissions continued to try to obtain a bridge, but progress was slow.
In 1957, test drillings were carried out to investigate the feasibility of a bridge, and the foundation potential was found to be favourable.
Finally plans for a construction were drawn, and it was proposed to call tenders in June 1961, but at the last minute a decision was made to add a footway to the bridge.
Tenders were called on 27 October, 1961, and closed on the 27th of November of the same year.
The contract for the construction of the bridge over the Manning River at Wingham was awarded to Anderson Construction Pty Ltd, and the financial cost was £77,000.
Construction of the bridge commenced early in 1962, but was delayed by more than the usual number of floods in April 1962 that caused work to cease for some days.
The new bridge was completed in December 1963, and the official opening occurred on April 11, 1964.
Made of pre-stressed concrete, the structure is 535 feet long, and collapsible handrails are a great boon in flood-time.
Mayor Alderman Carlyle, at the official opening, emphasised that the then newly created High School, of which the town was very proud, would now have access to all of its students.
Research Mal Rattray – Text Mieke van Werdt. Manning Valley Historical Society Inc. 12 Farquhar Street, Wingham NSW 2429