From the Newsroom

A determined crowd show their support for the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry after launching an official petition to demand the NSW Labor Government cancel plans to withdraw the service. Image: Emma Pritchard

Community send ferry clear message

Emma Pritchard

Holding signs high above their heads, a large crowd gathered in Bailey Park, Ulmarra, on March 25, to officially launch a petition demanding the NSW Labor Government abandon plans to close the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry service.

Among them were Member for Clarence Richie Williamson and the Shadow Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Dave Layzell, who stood alongside Clarence Valley Councillors Allison Whaites and Steve Pickering, who lives in and manages a popular business within the riverside village, and more than 100 locals including Sue Kearney, who started the petition earlier this month, in a united show of solidarity.

Describing the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry, which has served the Clarence Valley community and visitors to the region since the 1890s as being under significant threat of closure, Mr Williamson revealed it has a licence to operate until June 10, and said time is of the essence to ensure it continues to travel between the east and west banks of the Clarence River.

“It’s vitally important that we tell the NSW Labor Government how much this iconic ferry means to the community,” he said.

“It’s going to be a fight, but we are up for it.

“They (NSW Labor Government) need to know how important this service is to us.”

Ms Kearney, who has lived in Ulmarra for 20 years and regularly uses the ferry to visit friends on the other side of the river, told the Clarence Valley Independent people who rely on it would face additional travel times and mileage increases of more than 60km on multiple occasions each week if the ferry ceases to operate.

She said persistent rumours suggesting the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry was at risk of closing had seemed to get stronger and stronger in recent weeks, prompting her to start a petition to save it.

“If you don’t get in there quickly and start rallying support it (the ferry) will just go, it will disappear, and it’s very important for our community to be heard,” she said.

“There has been an enormous response to the petition.

“People keep grabbing it and keep wanting to sign it which is so fantastic.

“We have them absolutely everywhere from local shops in Ulmarra to businesses in Brushgrove, Tucabia, Lawrence, and Grafton, and even people in Coffs Harbour who use the ferry have taken the petition with them to gather more signatures.

“This is not just an issue which affects Ulmarra and Southgate, it’s an issue which affects the whole Clarence Valley.”

Ms Kearney said emergency services including the State Emergency Service (SES) and the Rural Fire Service (RFS) along with police and NSW Ambulance crews also rely on the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry, and primary producers and local farmers also use it regularly to transport equipment and heavy machinery across the Clarence River.

“This (Ulmarra) is an 1860s riverport,” she said.

“To not have access to the river is sacrilege.

“They (NSW Labor Government) support ferries in Sydney, so why not save this one?”

Mr Layzell said it was great to see such a large turnout in support of the ferry earlier this week and labelled the imminent threat of its closure as penny pinching by the NSW Labor Government.

“A ferry like this is not about the numbers,” he said.

“It is about the community infrastructure and making sure people can get across the river to go to work, school, and other destinations.”

Mr Layzell declared closing the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry is “not going to save the NSW budget,” adding it would only make a difference to those who rely on it. 

“It’s good to see people here fighting for what is important with this level of passion,” he said.

“We are committed to fighting with you.”

Mr Pickering said he refused to allow the NSW Labor Government to take away the vital piece of infrastructure and promised the community will fight hard for the service to remain operational.

“If we lived in Sydney, they’d be spending $30 billion on a tunnel for us to get from one side of the river to the other,” he said.

“We will fight the good fight to keep our ferry.”

A 6-year employee of the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry revealed up to four jobs will be lost if the service is axed, adding it was fabulous to see so many people attend the event on Monday to support the launch of the petition.

A Transport for NSW spokesperson confirmed the future of the service is under review following a significant decline in patronage, poor reliability due to siltation, and the completion of a mandatory inspection to determine the vessel’s compliance with maritime rules.

They said the investigation found the current vessel, which has been in operation for more than 70 years, has reached the end of its useful life and cannot be used past June 10 when its certificate to operate expires.

“Repeated and ongoing siltation on the Southgate side of the river has had significant impact on the reliability of the current service, with the water often too shallow for the ferry to pass,” they said.

“These and other matters, including community impacts, will all be considered as part of the investigations into the ferry operations.

“Transport for NSW will keep the community informed as these investigations progress.”

Mr Williamson said the petitions will circulate within the community for the next three to four weeks before their collection and presentation to Parliament.

He is encouraging residents to sign the petition to help prevent the Ulmarra to Southgate ferry service from being withdrawn.