CAWB president Harry Terry on why the group removed its Thompson Square tent after almost six years

On Sunday, July 21, 2013, a small group of community members set-up a tent at Thompson Square in Windsor, as part of a visual protest against the State Government's plan to replace the historic Windsor Bridge and build a high, wide arterial road through Australia's oldest public square.

The group, called Community Action For Windsor Bridge (CAWB) - along with community supporters - occupied the tent on a roster of four-hour shifts, 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week.

Dejected: CAWB president Harry Terry at his home in Freemans Reach, after the tent was removed from its post in Thompson Square. Picture: Geoff Jones

Dejected: CAWB president Harry Terry at his home in Freemans Reach, after the tent was removed from its post in Thompson Square. Picture: Geoff Jones

After a year's continuous occupation, CAWB's efforts were believed to be a community action first for NSW.

Last Wednesday evening, April 3, after 2,083 days - almost six years - of an around-the-clock to protect historic Thompson Square, CAWB removed its tent for good.

They re-turfed the lawn where their tent had stood, and in the tent's place, they erected a mock gravestone reading 'RIP Thompson Square 1795-2019'.

Their departure from the square was announced via Facebook. They said they were "not abandoning the fight", but they would "not be blamed for RMS incompetence".

"For six years we have used our presence in the Square to fight for a DECENT traffic solution for the Hawkesbury," the 'CAWB - Save Windsor from the RTA' post stated.

"But thanks to the RMS, traffic is about to get worse. A lot worse. So, we're moving out."

The post said the group had withstood "attacks, insults and eggs" over the years, and now it was time to "redouble" their "efforts elsewhere".

RIP CAWB tent:  The tombstone at Thompson Square which was placed for a day in the spot where the CAWB tent had been located. Picture: Geoff Jones

RIP CAWB tent: The tombstone at Thompson Square which was placed for a day in the spot where the CAWB tent had been located. Picture: Geoff Jones

While some believed the writing had been on the wall for CAWB for some time, with new bridge works having already begun, President of CAWB, Freemans Reach resident Harry Terry, said the final nail in the coffin came from an RMS announcement dated March 19, advising motorists of changing traffic conditions and detours from late March on George Street as part of the Windsor Bridge replacement project.

"Work will involve installing traffic lights, building new kerb and gutter, line marking as well as paving and asphalting the road surface," RMS stated.

Mr Terry said he didn't want CAWB to be blamed for any more traffic delays, and this latest round of traffic detours was sure to result in "traffic chaos".

"We get blamed for all sorts of things - that we've held up the project and somehow our ambassadors have delayed traffic. That's not the intent. The intent was public awareness," he told the Gazette. "We thought the time was appropriate to step aside from that particular strategy and move on to other strategies and let RMS deal with their problems of traffic delays."

He stressed CAWB wasn't closing: "It is a strategic change of strategy and focus. We refuse to be used as an excuse for what's going to happen [with traffic in Windsor]. So now, if people blame us for causing traffic delays, you can point to the empty space in Thompson Square [where the tent used to be] and say, 'how?'"

What now?

Mr Terry said CAWB would continue to raise public awareness about heritage across the Hawkesbury.

"To begin with, we'll focus on seeing if we can retain the current Windsor Bridge for community use," he said.

Outcry: The CAWB tent, and trees in Thompson Square earmarked for removal as part of the Windsor bridge project in January 2018. Picture: Geoff Jones

Outcry: The CAWB tent, and trees in Thompson Square earmarked for removal as part of the Windsor bridge project in January 2018. Picture: Geoff Jones

"It is a tradition within the RMS that when they decommission a bridge and hand it back to the community, they refurbish the bridge and give money for 30 years of maintenance. But they're refusing to do that for the Hawkesbury.

"I know they're going to do exactly that at the Nowra Bridge, but they say it's too expensive to make our bridge for pedestrian use."

He said CAWB's focus wasn't limited to Windsor.

"We're wanting a decent traffic solution across the Hawkesbury," he said.

"We're sick of band-aid solutions and bad-value-for-money projects. The Hawkesbury deserves better.

"We're part of the group the RMS has set up for the Richmond Bridge. Two of our representatives go to those meetings. We argue - as everyone else has argued - that they need a bypass rather than to funnel all the traffic back into a heritage town which won't solve the traffic problems in the longer term."

The tent

Mr Terry said it wasn't about not wanting the work "in [their] own back yard" - CAWB were doing it "for the community".

"Roads and bridges should be used to strengthen communities and to build connections, not to destroy them," he said.

He said the blame CAWB received from some community members was "ill informed or not informed at all".

"If you go and talk to CAWB you may just change your mind. If you listen to RMS only then you get a biased point of view," he said.

Over time, around 200 community members shared the roster to keep the CAWB tent going.

Was it a difficult decision to take down the tent? "Oh, yes. And no. Emotionally it was, but cognitively, no," Mr Terry said.

Where is the tent now? "It is in storage, and it will be donated to a worthy charity".

What is Mr Terry's message for the Hawkesbury community? "It's time for the Hawkesbury to stand up for ourselves, not be treated as though we're in a black hole. We deserve our fair share of resources and it should be based on rationality and evidence, and not political expediency."

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