A small group of determined Oatley residents spearheaded a frustrating six-year battle to have the original Georges River rail bridge reborn as a cycleway.
The old steel bridge closed in 1972 with the opening of a new concrete, double track bridge alongside.
Moves for the cycleway conversion started in 1979 and the old bridge reopened for cycling, walking and running on Sunday, December 15, 1985 with children on bikes leading the way after an official ribbon cutting ceremony.
Local historian Alan Fairley detailed the campaign in an article for the Oatley Flora and Fauna Conservation Society in its 50th anniversary year, 2005.
"The six year fight for the Oatley-Como bikeway and the preservation of the 100-year-old rail bridge was a tribute to the farsightedness and dogged perseverance of a small group of Oatley residents," he wrote.
"They overcame many difficulties and negative attitudes and in so doing not only saved the historic bridge but also obtained a bike and walkway which is greatly appreciated by the many people.
"The route is used every day to shorten trips to work or study, by families teaching their children to ride a push bike safely and by those who just to walk and enjoy the picturesque scenery of this section of the Georges River.
"It also encouraged Sutherland Council to restore Como Pleasure Grounds and Kogarah Council to carry out bushland restoration in the corridor beside the walkway."
The residents, who met in August, 1979 at the instigation of Milton Hill included Graham Austin, Janet Austin and Noreen Whittaker.
Kogarah mayor Brian Langton also attended and, while he did not remain on the committee they formed, assisted through his role on the council and when he became a state MP.
Immediate difficulties and questions included who owned the bridge and approaches, what would be the attitudes of Kogarah and Sutherland councils and the Water Board, which ran a major water pipe over the bridge?
The committee discovered the Water Board was about to be given ownership of the bridge, but the Public Transport Commission would retain the approaches.
A Water Board engineer told them corrosion had weakened the bridge, which opened in 1885, and funds for maintenance and fencing would not likely be provided by the board.
By December, 1979, the committee had drawn up route plans and began the long process of getting support from the state government agencies and councils, as well as funding.
In 1980, it emerged the Water Board was not in favour of the idea and intended to dismantle some structural iron and timber from the bridge.
The Department of Main Roads suggested, to save money, the bike route not commence until almost at the bridge, at the top of a set of 100 steps to be located at the lower end of Wyong Street, Oatley.
In 1981, consultants engaged by Sutherland Shire Council advised the plans be rejected as not being “cost effective".
The same year, Wal Whittaker, an engineer and a National Trust committee member, began the successful talk of having the bridge listed by the Heritage Council.
Two years elapsed with little progress, with the committee focusing on getting relevant politicians involved.
In late 1983, the Water Board agreed to the proposal in principle but would not pay for it.
Funding became available in May,1985, with the two councils receiving a Commonwealth Employment Program grant of $329,043 (70 per cent of the cost) and the state government contributing $141,018.
The Water Board said it would spend $1 million restoring the bridge.
Twenty-five unemployed people were to work on the project under the Commonwealth Employment Program.
Construction began in May, 1985 with the official opening seven months later.
Kogarah mayor Fred Cavanagh criticised the ceremony, telling the Leader the two councils and the people who had done all the work over the years were "given the cold shoulder" and "politicians had taken over".
Within five weeks, the bridge was closed on weekdays for more than a year to allow the Water Board to sand-blast and repaint the bridge.
- Alan Fairley's full article: //off.oatleypark.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/oatley-como-walkway.pdf
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