Bridge brings battle to the islands

RANUI HARMER

Russell Island, SMBI's largest. Photo: Ranui Harmer

Russell Island, SMBI’s largest. Photo: Ranui Harmer

When you think of island living you think of an idyllic, peaceful lifestyle away from the hustle of Australia’s mainland; this is known as the ‘Island Dream’.

The reality of that lifestyle however is expensive travel, limited resources and inconvenience at its best.

Residents of Moreton Bay’s Russell Island often find themselves in this predicament and it has caused a divide between the idealistic and realists over the future of the community.

Russell Island is the largest of the Southern Moreton Bay Islands nestled in between North Stradbroke and the mainland.

The only transportation to the island is by passenger ferry and a barge for vehicle transportation.

A bridge to Russell Island has been on the cards since 1970 and has gained enormous support in the last 40 years.

Passenger ferries too small to accommodate growing numbers. Photo: Ranui Harmer

Passenger ferries too small to accommodate growing numbers. Photo: Ranui Harmer

Redland City Council asked the Queensland government this week to consider a bridge in its draft infrastructure plans for the area. However there has been some confusion over who is responsible for the operation of this bridge.

The council believed the building, designing, approving and maintaining of the bridge are all state responsibilities.

However Redlands MP Peter Dowling said the council is responsible as they are the local planning authority.

“We [the state] will support whatever division they make. I believe a bridge is inevitable and essential,” Mr Dowling said.

“I have received a hand-full of emails and letters, a few phone calls, petitions, etc [supporting the bridge]. Facebook seems to be the most active source of input.

“I think the bridge was dealt a major setback [after the council meeting]. Council needs to make a decision on a bridge. They would have been better to say, ‘Southern Moreton Bay Islands needs to be bridged, will you support us in that project?’

“Or ‘Southern Moreton Bay Island can’t be serviced using a water based transport system in the future. We need to plan together for a bridge’.”

Updated Weinam Creek ferry terminal

Updated Weinam Creek ferry terminal. Photo: Ranui Harmer

Island councillor and bridge supporter Mark Edwards won his bid 8-3 to ask the state to revise its South East Queensland infrastructure plan and agree to the implementation of a bridge.

The island’s population in expected to reach 22,000 in the next ten years. This increase demands change as passenger ferries are already reaching their maximum capacity with the island’s population sitting at an estimated 10,000.

Mr Edwards said a bridge is required to manage population growth for the bay islands and the state would have to consult the community on how a bridge would be funded.

“It is inevitable that, at some point in the future, the state government will have to consider alternative transport options,” Mr Edwards said.

“What I am proposing removes council from being perceived as being the responsible entity for delivering or preventing a bridge.”

Council voted on the bridge proposal this week after hearing from Lamb Island resident Clem Ebber who said more than 400 island residents voted for a bridge in an online survey.

A Facebook group called ‘Russell Island Queensland Bridge Supporters’ also has 424 members.

Mr Ebber said the amount of ferries would have to double to provide adequate service for the growing population which would increase transport costs and ultimately destroy they bay’s marine life.

He believes a bridge would significantly increase house pricing for home owners and naturally increase employment rates with a bridge creating viable options for those previously restricted.

“This is an opportunity for Redland City to finally break the current deadlock between council and the state and end the blame game over the bridge,” he said.

“We are convinced that once a bridge has been built, the socioeconomic structure on the islands will change and turn all islands into thriving seaside communities.”

Ferries struggle to keep up with demand. Photo: Ranui Harmer

Ferries struggle to keep up with demand. Photo: Ranui Harmer

Dubbed as ‘Dole Island’ by Channel 7’s Today Tonight, it has been described as an island paradise for the unemployed due to 17% of residents being without a job. 60% of islanders on the rent-roll at an island based Ray White receive their income from Centrelink.

Long term resident John Fox has lived on the island for 20 years and raised two children with his wife Lou. He believes you cannot stop change so you might as well embrace it.

 

“I used to be anti-bridge,” Mr Fox said.

“We lived in a nice, little, quiet, isolated community, like a country town. It was great for the kids to grow up in that environment where we didn’t need to lock the door and you could leave your keys in the car.

“As time has gone on, I’ve seen the progress over 20 years. There’s lots of building, affordable housing, we’ve had an upgrade to the Weinam Creek marina, all the shopping you need is on the island now.

“There’s a lot of infrastructure for communities in place, so we are able to support a bigger, larger community. So now I am saying, let’s build a bridge.

“We’ve got a lot of problems and a lot of those problems will be solved by building a bridge.”

The bridge to Russell Island won’t stop there.

Placed in between the mainland and North Stradbroke, residents say it makes sense to use a bridge to Russell as a gateway to Stradbroke.

A popular tourist destination, Stradbroke Island relies heavily on tourism and Russell Island residents hope they can increase their tourism profits too.

Residents opposed to the change may find themselves wondering what happened to their ‘island dream’.

The reality is that it has taken decades to create the community spirit of Russell Island, so residents are enjoying island life for what it is and regardless of the island’s future, no bridge can break their community spirit.

 

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