By JOHN DOOLEY
DESPITE the best efforts of people advocating for the unsealed road to the Psyche Bend pumping station to be upgraded to ‘all-weather’ status, it seems a task no closer to coming to fruition.
At its annual New Year’s running day last Monday, the Psyche Bend Historical Reserve management committee asked visitors to sign a petition calling on the State Government to allocate funds to Parks Victoria to enable rectification works to be carried out on the access road.
Sunraysia Steam Preservation Society president, Ian Kellett, said the road into the old pump station was, to say the least, inadequate, with only a small amount of rain needed to render it impassable.
“Once it rains it soon becomes a quagmire, just 10mm or more is all it takes,” he said.
“Added to that when it’s very wet, the four-wheel drive vehicles that go up and down the road really cut it up, and when that dries out, you are left with deep, hazardous ravines (as seen BELOW). I don’t think it’s too much to ask to have this road permanently fixed.
“We are talking about creating reliable, safe access to an iconic site which played a pivotal part in shaping our district into what it is today.”
Mildura Mayor Mark Eckel, PICTURED, has been the driving force behind the bid to have the road improved.
It is hoped that in his new role as Mayor he will be able to influence the State Government and Parks Victoria, who are responsible for the area.
In September last year, Cr Eckel, who chairs the Psyche Bend Historical Reserve Committee of Management and Chaffey Trail Reference Group, wrote to Parks Victoria to further advocate for the road to be upgraded to an all-weather surface, and highlighted that an estimate had been obtained from a local contractor which indicated the restoration project could be carried out for less than $140,000, which was a reduction of almost $165,000 from an earlier indicative estimate.
Up until last year, the road, which is almost two kilometres in length, was being graded twice a year by Mildura Rural City Council (MRCC) under an informal arrangement with Parks Victoria, a gesture which enabled the road to stay open.
The responsibility for the road’s upkeep actually rests with Parks Victoria who don’t have the budget to maintain the road properly.
Last year, Cr Eckel said that MRCC, which had been grading the road for years, had advised that it would no longer be able to do so, and that Parks Victoria needed to take responsibility for the issue.
“Unfortunately negotiations are still ‘stuck-in-the-mud’ and we haven’t progressed much further in 12 months, but I am still hopeful we will eventually get the project done,” he said this week.
“I’ve just returned from New Zealand, where I visited the Makatote Viaduct, which has engineering-heritage recognition and is a major tourist attraction with easy access provided through difficult terrain.
“It’s disappointing that we don’t give the same level of recognition to engineering-heritage listed sites as they do in other countries.”
In his recent appeal to Parks Victoria, Cr Eckel emphasised how important the improvement to the road was for the benefit of Psyche Pumps, given its role as a major tourist attraction.
He also highlighted the fact that an international award was presented in October last year to acknowledge the Chaffey Brothers irrigation works in Australia.
“This was only the fifth International Engineering Heritage recognition in Australia, and now ranks alongside iconic sites including the Gladesville Bridge in Sydney, the Goldfields Water Supply Pipeline in Western Australia, The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme and the Sydney Harbour Bridge,” Cr Eckel said.
“This award will ensure greater visitation and publicity for the site and subsequent increased usage of the road and further highlights the importance of ensuring the viability of the Psyche Pump Station.
“The other point is that if the road is closed and they can’t hold their running days, they lose valuable revenue and unfortunately this happens too often.
“We need action to have it included in Parks Victoria’s annual budget, we aren’t talking about a lot of money in the overall scheme of things.”
Throughout the year almost 6000 vehicle movements are recorded on the road, with the summer holidays and Easter periods seeing peak usage.
The road provides access to the historic Psyche Bend Chaffey pump station for locals and tourists, together with school groups and campers.
Conferences and weddings functions are held in the onsite pavilion, which caters for numbers in excess of 4000 people a year.
Other areas of access provided by the road include Lower Murray Water irrigation diversion pumps, the southern end of Kings Billabong Reserve, popular riverfront camping sites located upstream and downstream of Psyche Bend and constructed river boat ramps within Kings Billabong Reserve, which provide river access for boat fishing and water activities.