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Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge 125th Anniversary

I commence by saying it is so good to see you in the chair tonight, Mr Acting-Speaker. Congratulations on your appointment. It suits you very much. Tonight I acknowledge the 125th anniversary of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge.

The original bridge was opened in 1889 by then New South Wales Premier Sir Henry Parkes and was considered an engineering marvel of the time, being the world's fourth largest bridge. Historians have documented the great importance that completion of the Hawkesbury River Bridge served as it connected the young colony's interstate railway for the first time in history.

It was only six years earlier, in 1883, that it became possible for rail users to travel between Melbourne and Sydney. By 1887 trains were now running from Melbourne to Adelaide and by 1888 travel was possible from Newcastle to Brisbane. There remained only one obstacle in the rail network that prevented the Sydney to Newcastle link connection and that was the Hawkesbury River. The Government contract was awarded to the Union Bridge Company of America, which was assigned to build the bridge project and connect Brooklyn to Mooney Mooney. The connection was considered one of our greatest early accomplishments as engineers were required to build a structure spanning 3,000 feet of water and dig foundations that in 1889 were the deepest in the world.

Make no mistake: this project was a significant challenge for our young colony and was considered the missing link of the 1880s. If we fast-forward 150 years the New South Wales Government is again completing a similar missing link project to connect the M1 and M2 motorways. On Sunday I had the great privilege of joining New South Wales Governor Marie Bashir, that national treasure, and the great-great grandson of Sir Henry Parkes, Ian Thom, to mark the 125th bridge anniversary. Also in attendance were Berowra Federal member Philip Ruddock, Hornsby Shire Council mayor Steve Russell and representatives of Dangar Island Historical Society, including President Peter Wolfe and vice-president and historian David Reynolds.

Together at Brooklyn Public Wharf we boarded the historic Banksia Ferry, driven by my friend Rick Stockley, where we travelled to Dangar Island, which was the home of construction workers building the Hawkesbury River Bridge. When we arrived on Dangar Island we were given a special guided tour of the bridge exhibition and taken to the island's community hall, which was built by the same bridge construction workers. I applaud the efforts of Peter Wolfe and David Reynolds who helped organised a fantastic day enjoyed by everyone who attended the Dangar Island ceremony. Peter and David play an invaluable role for the local community on Dangar Island and are helping educate the next generation about local history in New South Wales.

The anniversary occasion was an opportunity for the entire Hornsby shire to come together and celebrate the early pioneers' role in constructing this grand bridge and the important role it played in moving our State towards Federation in 1901. Sir Henry Parkes was New South Wales Premier at the time of the bridge opening and later went on to become the Father of Federation. Speaking at the anniversary celebrations, Sir Henry Parkes' descendant, Ian Thom, spoke about the vital role the connection of interstate railways played in influencing the public about the great opportunities Federation would bring.

Brooklyn historian, Tom Richmond, has donated countless hours of research to give the local community a better understanding of the significance of the bridge opening and specific details of the momentous occasion. Mr Richmond told the Hornsby Advocate that the bridge completion was a great colonial achievement that demanded phenomenal engineering skills because of the very deep riverbed. Mr Richmond has previously led calls for greater educational recognition of Brooklyn's early contribution to Australia's Federation. It is hard to disagree when one considers Mr Richmond's assertion that the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was the most important bridge for some 50 years until the Sydney Harbour Bridge was finished in 1932. Evidence suggests this view was shared by Sir Henry Parkes himself, who was quoted at the bridge opening as saying:
The Federation of great communities is not to be brought about by any formal resolution. It must be developed by the progress of opinions.

Sir Henry Parkes said the railway helped bind the whole population of Australia in one chain. He, like many, saw the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge as a physical symbol of a united Australia. I share Sir Henry Parkes' view that the opening of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge was an early catalyst for change. The railway connection helped change the public's views to leave behind isolated colonies and expand beyond State borders for something greater. It was only six months later that Sir Henry Parkes made his famous Tenterfield speech, which is credited with revitalising the ailing Federation cause. Tonight I again thank and congratulate Peter Wolfe and David Reynolds on their extraordinary efforts in organising these wonderful celebrations and commemoration. They have done a great service not only for the community of Hornsby but also for the entire community of New South Wales to ensure that the legacy of Sir Henry Parkes and our early pioneers will not be forgotten.