It was 50 years ago today, on 1 November 1971, that Stockton Bridge was officially opened. To mark the occasion, on the weekend I walked over the bridge and took a time lapse video as I traversed it from west to east.
The idea of a bridge from Newcastle to Stockton had been discussed for a long time prior to its construction. In a newspaper article from 10 May 1921, the writer compares Stockton with Manly in Sydney, pointing out the many similarities, and how with a bit of investment in infrastructure Stockton could become a popular tourist destination.
Stockton is almost cheek by jowl with Newcastle, and could be brought closer. Who knows but that some day, in the not too distant future, Newcastle will have its North Shore bridge, to connect the city with its premier pleasure resort at Stockton.The Newcastle Sun, 10 May 1921.
At that time, access between Stockton and Newcastle was via a vehicular ferry, as shown in the circa 1930s map below.
In April 1931, Stockton municipal council in debating the cost of running the vehicular and passenger ferries, suggested that a bridge might possibly be built across Newcastle Harbour from near Fort Scratchley, with the cost of construction to be recouped by tolls over a 20 to 30 year period.
The feasibility, advisability, type of bridge, projected cost, and the preferred route of a Stockton bridge generated many varied and strong opinions.
Surely it would be obvious, even to a child, that the bridge suggested would be of the lifting or swinging type, thus doing away with the unnecessary height. The assertion that the bridge would cost £200,000 is ridiculous, and I still contend that a suitable bridge could be constructed for the trifling sum of £750.Letter to the editor, Newcastle Sun, 27 July 1932.
Serious consideration of a bridge to Stockton revived in the 1950s when the state government began reclamation of the Hunter River delta islands, to be used for industrial purposes. This reclamation opened up the possibility of a bridge that crossed the river north of Stockton via the reclaimed islands, rather than the more problematic alternative of building a bridge across a busy Newcastle Harbour.
A bridge should be built from Walsh Island to North Stockton in conjunction with the Newcastle harbor reclamation scheme, Mr. L. B. Saddington declared in the Legislative Council yesterday. The bridge would span the north arm of the harbor and connect by road with another planned for the south arm near the B.H.P. Consideration had been given over some years to connecting Stockton with Newcastle proper by bridge or tunnel. Owing to the topography this would be most costly … But one from Walsh Island to North Stockton could be done much more speedily and for less cost.The Newcastle Sun, 17 September 1953.
Construction of the bridge commenced in 1968, with the erection of the pillars for the approach spans. The Department of Main Roads in 1971 made a very interesting 17 minute documentary on the construction of the bridge, which is available on YouTube.