Bridge Disaster Divides Hobart

First published

6 January 1975

Hobart is a divided city today. The Lake Illawara, a 10000 tonne bulk carrier rammed the Tasman Bridge over the Derwent River. The ship sank and 70 metres of the bridge crashed into the river.

Five people, including four seamen, are reported dead, and 15 missing.Inspector A.D. Parker, officer-in-charge of the Bellerive Police Station, said at least three cars plunged into the river when a whole span collapsed. 'God only knows how many people were in those cars' he said. 'They could have been filled with women and children. We do not know how many people we have rescued. The area around the bridge and the sunken ship is filled with light craft, a lot of private boat owners rushed to the scene to help. It is pitch black out there and we are trying to get some lights but the visibility is terribly bad.'

Frank Manley, 44, of Cambridge, his wife Sylvia, daughter, Sharon, and brother-in-law, John Fitzgerald, had the most terrifying escape. Manley said:

"I thought I saw a car broken down and I slowed down. My wife screamed 'There's no bridge!' I hit the brakes, but it was too late and we went over the edge. The centre of the car grounded and we just hung there. It's a two door car, I opened my door looked down and there was nothing but a sheer drop. I scrambled out with my back pressed against the pillar of the car then ran down the road, screamed at a bloke in a yellow car. He was going too fast, he slammed into the back of a car beside us and pushed him over the edge so that his car was hanging like ours."

Police however do not really know how many cars went over the edge. Reports have come in about cars that have not returned home, but there is nothing they can do until ten navy and police divers have covered the area.

What will Hobart do now? It is divided in half. Police have received calls from milkmen and breadcarters asking how they can supply their customers in East Hobart. Forty thousand people are all but cut off from supplies and their work. Bellerive, Montague Bay, Robe Bay, Lindesfarne and Risdon are fast-growing dormitory suburbs.

The only alternative now is to travel by ferry or a 51-kilometre, winding gravel road, which the Government has decided will take traffic only one way. The police have said there is one blessing - the accident took place at 9.45 p.m. on a Sunday night. One can only speculate on the number of deaths had it been at a peak hour or on a Saturday night.

From a retrospective series Keith Dunstan wrote for the The Age Newspaper to mark the 1988 Australian bicentenary

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