Tasman Bridge disaster
The Tasman Bridge was open to traffic in August 1964. It was a four-lane, high level concrete bridge constructed with a central navigation span for shipping. Prior to 1964, a floating bridge spanned the Derwent.
On Sunday, 5 January 1975 at 9.27 p.m. the bulk carrier Lake Illawarra collided with the Tasman Bridge. Two piers collapsed along with 127 metres of bridge decking. Four cars ran over the gap into the Derwent River, five occupants died while several others managed to escape from two vehicles which teetered on the edge of the gap. Seven crewmen from the Lake Illawarra also lost their lives.
The impact of the bridge callapse was quickly felt as Hobart was suddenly cut in two. Eastern shore residents were severely compromised, transport facilities were tested and to compound the issue further, most hospitals, schools, businesses and government offices were located on the western shore.
The Tasmanian Government, Emergency Services and Police were forced to swing into action quickly. The Sullivans Cove Ferry Company began running their vessels within an hour of the bridge collapse and continued the service throughout the night of the disaster. By the next day, three private ferries and a government vessel were in operation. Health services also needed to be addressed and within four months most of the essential services needed by Clarence residents had been provided.
Weeks after the collision a decision had been made to construct a temporary bridge north of the damaged Tasman Bridge, in order to restore a direct road link between Hobart and the eastern shore. The Bailey Bridge was opened to traffic on 16 December 1975. It provided one lane of traffic each way on a temporary structure crossing at Dowsings Point.
The Federal Government funded the rebuilding of the Tasman Bridge and included a new lane. Rebuilding began in October 1975.
The Tasman Bridge repair took two years and cost approximately $44 million. It was officially re-opened on 8 October 1977.
The effects of the bridge collapse remains in the hearts and memories of Clarence residents. It united the community and paved the way for growth in business, services and recreation.
Also see an ABC News report: A memorial unveiled for Tasman Bridge disaster victims
Tasman Bridge Disaster Oral Histories
Clarence City Council undertook a major project in 2013 to commemorate the Tasman Bridge Disaster, culminating in a major exhibition and a commemorative artwork now installed at Montagu Bay Park. As part of this project, oral history interviews were recorded with a number of first hand witnesses to the events of January 5th, 1975. Participants included the first policemen to arrive on the scene, the pilot who was on duty that night, the people involved in salvaging the wreckage, and people whose lives were completely altered by the disaster. To listen to these interviews, click below: