It was on the evening of 5 January 1975 when Hobart, the capital city of Tasmania was suddenly split in two. Not by an earthquake but by human error. A cargo ship, the Lake Illawarra was sailing up the Derwent River towards the Zinc Works when the captain lost control of the vessel and crashed into the bridge. The collision caused several pylons to collapse and a large part of the bridge deck to fall onto the ship and into the river. Seven crew members were killed in addition to five occupants of four cars which fell after driving off the bridge. Two more cars managed to stop but not until their front wheels had dropped over the gap.
The Eastern Shore and the Western Shore
After the disaster, Hobart was left without a road connection between the eastern and western shores. The social and mental implications were huge as people started to feel isolated from family and friends ‘across the river’. Ferries became the main mode of transport for eastern shore residents who worked in Hobart. There was also a temporary bailey bridge which was built about twelve months later. This was used while the Tasman Bridge was under re-construction. The bridge was re-opened for business in October 1977.
At the time I was nineteen. Destination – Primrose Sands
Primrose Sands on the eastern shore of Hobart was a popular holiday destination in those days. Every summer holiday we headed over the Tasman Bridge in our Ford Falcon with a trailer hooked on to the back of the car. The trailer was full of enough supplies for Mum, Dad, five kids and the cat for a month. Supplies included essentials such as the record player and the ABBA record, bikes, tomato sauce and the medical kit comprising olive oil and methylated spirits. Sometimes we even went before Christmas so Santa had to do an early delivery onto the back of the trailer.
Primrose Sands holiday activities 1970s style
The days were long and mostly hot. Lying on the beaches slow frying our bodies in olive oil, applying metho to sunburn (my father always said if it didn’t sting it didn’t work), swimming in the freezing cold water, fishing, cooking and eating our catch of the day – mostly flathead, eating fresh mussels straight off the rocks, flounder spearing, snorkelling, skinny dipping on dark hot nights, watching sunsets and hanging out at the Primrose Sands shop. It didn’t get much better than that.
The days were busy, but the nights were not
As a teenager, the night life at Primrose Sands was non-existent. Those with cars used to head to town for some fun, mostly on a Friday or Saturday night. The only way to get there was to drive over the Tasman Bridge. The Drive-In, the bowling alley and hooning around in cars were some of the things on offer. Also there were pubs, plenty of them in old Hobart Town. Under-age drinking became a common sport in the 1970s because the legal age for drinking in pubs was 21. The idea was to run out of the pub when the police were doing a routine surveillance of under-age drinkers. Some people were too slow and got caught. That usually ended badly with a visit to the parents from a policeman.
But 5 January 1975 was a quiet Sunday night. Most people stayed at Primrose Sands except for my brother Bruce. He drove his showpiece, a bright yellow Holden Monaro to Hobart to visit his girlfriend who was living there at the time. Later that night we listened to the news on the wireless and heard ‘that the bridge had broken and cars were hanging over the edge’. Mum almost had a breakdown because Bruce hadn’t returned to Primrose Sands and there were no means of communicating with him. The next day we heard that one of the cars dangling was a Monaro. Poor Mum was even more shaky and upset over that news.
We stayed at Primrose Sands for two more days hoping to get some information on Bruce’s whereabouts. But then Dad decided to make the long trip home on the Risdon Punt, a car ferry which was the only way to get the western shore in the immediate days after the catastrophe. It was almost a full day of driving to get to the punt and then we had to line up behind hundreds of other vehicles. It was one of the worst car trips I can ever remember – and there were a few of them when Dad was at the helm. ‘I’ll throw that bloody thing out the window,’ he threatened after the third or fourth chuck. He was raving about the cat who was seriously choked up with fur balls. Obviously, Mum was still having a meltdown and that wasn’t pleasant. But we finally made it home and there was Bruce out in the back yard making fishing nets for his next fishing trip. He looked up at Mum and said, “Did you hear about some idiot that drove his boat into the bridge and …………….?”
A bit more
A WORD OF WARNING – DO NOT USE METHYLATED SPIRITS ON YOUR SKIN FOR ANY REASON.
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Featured photo from Hobart Mercury collection.