It was the day that would no longer give workers an excuse for being stranded on the Town Side, a day of celebration for the multitude and for a few, light commiseration, as everyone celebrated the opening of Grace Street Bridge.
The day was Thursday, July 27, 1967; herald as a new era in the corridor of movement between the Flinders and Barkly Highways.
And commiserations for the many who had used the excuse of being stranded on the other side of the flooded river, for not going to work.
Only hours before the new bridge was to be opened, police received word that one, Mr Jack Logan, had planned on staging his own ‘De Groot incident’.
This was in reference to when Captain Francis De Groot, on horseback, slashed the ribbon with his sword – beating the NSW Premier to the task of being the first to cut the ribbon and declare Sydney Harbour Bridge ‘Opened’ in 1932.
Not wanting a re-enactment, local police intercepted Mr Logan as he walked along Camooweal Street on his way to the bridge opening ceremony.
Mr Logan, dressed in his splendid khaki army overcoat and medals, pleaded his innocence saying, “I don’t own a horse!”
After a lengthy speech the Queensland Minister for Mines and Main Roads, Mr Camm, calmly cut the ceremonial ribbon and declared Grace Street Bridge – Open for Traffic!
Such a bridge had been mooted for several decades and one of its early proponents was Mr Scotty Patterson who had arrived in Mount Isa, from Scotland, during the ‘wet’ of 1934.
From 1934 to 1945 he was on the MIM payroll before he ventured out on his own as a brick and concrete contractor.
It was during those self-employment years that he understood the economic necessity for a second bridge built on high ground so as not to be underwater when the Leichhardt River was in flood.
Many people have laid claims to having instigated the position of the bridge, but research shows that it was Mr Patterson who not only drew a map of the proposed entries for the bridge (both sides) but more importantly presented his drawings as early as 1948 to Cloncurry Shire Council.
Sixteen years later, citizens were advised not to be concerned with the influx of men carrying notebooks, they were not an army of traffic policemen but rather they were on a recognisance trip to ascertain traffic flow through the town.
The Deputy Commissioner of Main Roads, Mr H Lowe said although he was satisfied with the planned site of the bridge, he would have preferred to have seen the old (Isa Street Bridge) and the new bridge farther apart.
Reference was given to the alternative street entries, Mary and Alma, but neither was deemed suitable by Council.
Finally, to the satisfaction of the Department of Mines and Main Roads and Mount Isa Shire Council, it was agreed that the eastern entrance of the new bridge would be from Grace Street near the town Fire Station.
And contrary to popular myth the Fire Station was not built in the wrong location (and neither was the Concordia Club) which the myth believers say is the reason for a slight curve in Grace Street in its run up to the bridge.
At the opening, Cr. McCoy, Chairman of Mount Isa Shire Council said, “Instead of all traffic meeting at Isa, West and Miles Streets it will diversify traffic and thus be beneficial to road safety”.
He acknowledged while Isa Street Bridge had served the community well for thirty-five years, it was fortunate there had never been a life threatening emergency when the bridge was impassable.
Mr Alex Inch, Member for Burke, (now the seat of Mount Isa) said, “I know this bridge will serve the people of Mount Isa well.”
But it was to the patriarch of the Katter political dynasty, Bob Katter Snr, Member for Kennedy (now held by his son, Bob Katter), to bring laughter to the official proceedings.
“The last time I opened a bridge in Mount Isa was in Death Adder Gully”.
“That bridge was opened in the shade with a dozen bottles of beer – we didn’t have stubbies then”.
He said the celebrations this time around added a joyous occasion to the official proceedings, and he made a special mention of the attendance of the Silver Band which could always be relied upon to put a tuneful note at any event.
This new bridge was unique for its time with a three lane carriage way and a footway.
Measuring 600 foot long (183m) by 35 foot wide (10.6m), with 11 spans of 60 foot each (18.3m), the three lane bridge was built using pre-stressed concrete.
Mount Isa Shire Council lobbied for the extra traffic lane as the volume of in-coming traffic at peak times, coincided with the end of mine shifts, far outweighed the opposing traffic.
After heated deliberations it was agreed to go ahead with the additions to the original bridge plans, with the Council agreeing to pay 23 per cent of the total cost of the extra traffic lane and full costs for the footway.
Only two tenders were received for the construction of the bridge, Thiess Bros and K.D. Morris & Sons.
And with only $1,500 difference in the tender quotes and spirited discussions both companies were awarded the contract.
After forty-two years of servicing the community under the name of Grace Street Bridge, it was finally given a name of its own – Sir James Foots Bridge - in 2009.
Marking the 150th anniversary of the State of Queensland, the Government officially named the bridge in honour of Sir James Foots, who headed Mount Isa Mines (MIM) for more than three decades from 1955, becoming chairman and chief executive when MIM Holdings was formed in 1970.
And it is only fitting that as Sir James Foots acted as a communication-bridge between Mount Isa Mines and the Unions during the 1964-65 Shut Out and with his bridge-building skills within the community he should have such a construction named in his honour – Sir James Foots Bridge.
Researched and written by Kim-Maree Burton.
Photographs supplied by North Queensland History Collection.
Information sourced from the archives of the Cloncurry Advocate, Mt Isa News, Mount Isa Mail, MIM publications, Queensland Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, and the North West Star.