AUSTRALIA’S greatest sportsperson? While the first thought might be Bradman or Thorpie, it’s a “Queanbeyan girl” who can lay as much claim to that title. Seventy-seven-year-old Heather McKay AO, MBE, has just been declared the […]
THE 10-year-old girl with the page-boy bob holding the shiny pair of scissors had a pedigree reaching back to the earliest days of European settlement on the Limestone Plains.
It was July 21, 1975, and Charlotte L. Faunce, the great-great granddaughter of the man charged with bringing law and order to this district in 1836, Captain Alured “Iron Man” Faunce, recreated history when she cut the ribbon to declare the “new” Queanbeyan bridge open.
It was the fourth structure to assume the position and young Charlotte was following in the footsteps of her namesake, Miss Charlotte Faunce, the eldest daughter of the good captain, who opened the first graceful timber bridge in 1858 – incredibly, 20 years after Queanbeyan initially took hold on both banks of that picturesque but often troublesome river.
And while a sigh of relief was heaved at the time by a collective of patient Queanbeyanites, it also much delighted all those Canberrans hankering for a quicker escape to the south coast.
Built at a total cost of almost $800,000 (today equivalent to around $5.2 million), the latest incarnation of the Queen’s Bridge also took out the problematic “dog-leg” at its eastern end, which had seen the road veer right, then left into the main street of old, Macquoid, the Jack Brabham-like skills required often leading to traffic standstills in peak periods (read ACT school holidays).
Responsible for stumping up the not inconsiderable funds for this much-agitated project was the imposing, handsome fellow seen at young Charlotte’s side in “The Canberra Times” photo of the day: the Honourable Wal Fife, then Minister for Transport and Highways in the Askin state government, soon to jump the fence and become part of the Fraser Federal crew following the disposal of Gough Whitlam and co. by the end of that year.
Observing this most auspicious event and resplendent in robes, chains and moustache, was Mayor Fred Land, the city’s longest-serving head official – almost 18 years at the helm and himself from a local dynasty: his grandfather Edwin Land, the youngest ever mayor at only 32 and his uncle Henry Land also serving in the role in the 1920s.
Like any local government politico worth his salt, Mayor Land didn’t miss the chance to hit up the minister for a few more pieces of silver for his community, advocating the future need for a second bridge, “a four or six-lane structure [that] would be necessary further downstream to carry through traffic”.
Apparently the mayor was politely, but pointedly, ignored; with 18 years under his belt as a local member and minister in a variety of portfolios (and which would be extended to a further 18 years at the Federal level), Wal was well regarded for his poker-face abilities.
It was reported that thousands attended the opening ceremony and the official party travelled across the now concrete edifice in a “borrowed ACT limousine” no less!
Because they like to do things a bit differently in Queanbeyan and as the 41st anniversary approached, through an opportune happenstance, Charlotte Jr, now a Sydneysider, and Wal, usually of Barton, in the colder months also of Sydney, agreed to a request to come together with the last mayor of the Queanbeyan City Council, Tim Overall (yes, here I declare an interest), to reproduce that moment in time.
Alas, the weather was more inclement, the crowds rather thinner and there was certainly not a limousine in sight, but the occasion was nonetheless equally historically charged; after all, it’s not every day you get to witness the rededication of one of this region’s most significant pieces of infrastructure by some of the very people involved in both its creation and the backstory of the city – as well as the wider area – which has grown around it.
Timing, as they say, is everything.
Nichole Overall is a Queanbeyan based journalist and historian.