17 November 2023

Bridge to Goulburn strengthens over time from afar

| John Thistleton
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bridge at sunset

Rossi Bridge over the Wollondilly River near Goulburn, still standing and one of five maintained by Norm Cheeseman back in the late 1970s. For Norm, an even stronger bridge exists today to Goulburn. Photo: DTC Photography.

Norm Cheeseman’s bridge to Goulburn has never faltered. A serious accident in childhood failed to take the sheen off his early experiences growing up in the city. His ancestors were early settlers across the Goulburn, Crookwell and Taralga districts from the 1830s, and even though he left in the 1980s early in his working life, his strong connection to his hometown still remains.

He remembers Goulburn at the top of its game in the late 1970s when the Teachers College was in full swing, and pubs and clubs were full of drinkers mad about their sport.

“We were getting good music coming through the town. Thursday night at the Workers Club, we would have the top-line bands of Australia coming through there,” Norm said.

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“I was lucky enough to have a few mates in the college. We had college blokes playing soccer for us, giving us access to a lot of their activities,” he said.

“You talk to the old college blokes and mention the Gordon Gutter Sitters Club, that was fantastic down in the front of the Gordon Hotel,” he said, referring to drinkers in the shade outside the pub on the corner gutter.

Norm finished high school at St Patrick’s College in 1975 and had a different experience from most of his rugby-playing classmates. That’s because of an accident five years earlier, in 1970. As he raked up grass for his father, Joe Cheeseman, their Victor flat-base lawnmower threw up a stone, hitting him in the eye.

“Dr John Broadbent had to remove the eye as a blood clot had formed behind it,” Norm said. He could no longer play contact sports and took up soccer.

old photo of men working on bridge

On the Lansdowne Bridge in 1977, from left: Dave Cady, Col Larkham, Mick Repole, Vince Booby and Ian Deaton. With his back to the photo is Erminio Bernabei. Photo: Norm Cheeseman.

Playing anything but a school sport was frowned on at St Pat’s, but Norm ignored this while playing for Goulburn against Moss Vale on the grounds of Chevalier College at Bowral.

“The whole bloody school (St Pat’s) was there and we got bawled out by (college president) Brother Marzorini,” he said.

Norm had more time for Brother Brendan Powell.

“I wasn’t the brightest kid at school, don’t worry. Brother Powell would take the dumb kids and get them through their school certificate,” he said.

“He was brilliant.”

old photo of men working on bridge

On the Ballalaba Bridge across the Shoalhaven River south of Braidwood in 1979: Ian Deaton, Ray Larkham, Col Larkham, Tony Bernabei, Ray Smith and Tony Byron. Photos: Norm Cheeseman.

Norm’s father Joe worked as an apprentice for Claud James, principal of James Electrical during the war, when the firm won a contract with the American Small Ships Section in the Pacific Islands.

His mother would not allow him to leave Goulburn, so he worked in the munitions factory and later as a carpenter with a bridge gang that included Alby Griffin, Alan McFarlane and Tony Lamarra.

They strengthened timber bridges on the Cooma railway branch line in preparation for the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme.

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After that job, Joe drove a truck delivering Streets ice cream to cafes and restaurants around Goulburn, Crookwell and Young.

Completing high school, Norm became an apprentice bridge carpenter with the then Department of Main Roads, which maintained Goulburn’s five timber bridges: Rossi, Thornes, Lansdowne, Kenmore and Marsden Weir. Rossi is the only one standing today.

“Then we had a whole heap of others around NSW they used to maintain, and every now and then you would build one for the shire councils. From that work, we learned how to do concrete formwork as well,” Norm said.

As Norm rose through the ranks to foreman, the DMR transferred him to Sydney for bigger projects, but friends, family and sport drew him back to Goulburn each weekend.

He returned briefly in 1988 to work for Mulwaree Shire but was unimpressed with the futility of the bridge they were building over the Towrang River north of Goulburn.

“They never had the money to build a decent structure and it was done on the cheap, even then,” he said. The bridge was replaced in 2022.

couple standing in front of waterfall

Felicity and Norm Cheeseman. Photo: Cheeseman family.

Norm has not been on the tools for a long time, but he is still in the infrastructure building business. Now working for global design, engineering and consultancy company Arcadis, Norm is a certifier and assesses projects like the light rail for Parramatta, Sydney and Gold Coast.

Living at Bowraville in the mid-North Coast hinterland near Nambucca Heads, Norm will forever call Goulburn home, and believes his youth was spent in this city’s best years.

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