RDP: Bridge

The Tasman Bridge Disaster

image Tasman Bridge, Hobart
crossing the bridge

Hobart’s eastern and western shores are spanned by the Tasman Bridge which was completed in 1964. This bridge replaced an earlier floating bridge that had been built in 1943.

I was not living in Tasmania in 1975 when the bridge collapsed but of course, I saw it on the news. It was only much later when I moved here that I began to understand how it affected people’s lives.

The disaster occurred on the night of the 5th of January 1975. Lake Illawarra, a bulk ore carrier was making its way up the Derwent, as it was a Sunday night there was no pilot on board.  The reports of the accident say that human error and tidal currents in the river were the main factors that caused the ship to smash into one of the bridge pylons. A section of the bridge came down sinking the ship and carrying with it four cars that had been unable to stop in time. The five occupants and seven crew members from the Lake Illawarra died that night. Two other cars were left teetering over the edge of the bridge but miraculously those people survived.

The Tasman Bridge from below.

What I was unaware of until I moved to Tasmania was the social impact the loss of the bridge would have on Hobart. At that time there was only one other river crossing and it was several kilometres away at Bridgewater so getting to and from the CBD became a major problem for people on both sides of the river.  Initially, ferries were brought in to deal with the commuters but later a temporary “Bailey Bridge” was constructed to replace the Tasman Bridge while repairs took place. It was nearly three years before the bridge was re-opened.

The Tasman Bridge, Hobart.

Apart from the delays that this caused for people trying to get to work or appointments it changed people’s lives in other ways. I spoke with workmates who were old enough to remember the disaster and one who was just a teenager at the time told me that she had to move because her job was on the opposite side of the river to her home. Her parents thought it was easier to set her and a friend up in a flat than for them to commute to their jobs. I am sure that she was not the only one who made the move because of work.

The Tasman Bridge, Hobart Tasmania

Probably as a result of the disaster services on the eastern shore were developed faster than they might have been otherwise. The population had been growing for some years but most people worked and shopped in the Hobart CBD. Eastlands shopping centre was enlarged and new shops, offices, medical facilities and entertainment venues started to appear.

Of course what I can never know is how people felt when they heard the news. In a small place like Tasmania. when something bad happens it’s personal because it’s very likely that someone you know has been affected in some way. When people saw the first pictures of the bridge it must have felt as if nothing would ever be the same.

Today a few things have changed. The bridge is repaired but the pylons are in slightly different positions as the Lake Illawarra, now a dive site, still lies on the river bed. There is always a pilot on board any ship that passes under the bridge and when one does the traffic is stopped. A third bridge has been built between Hobart and Bridgewater. The City of Clarence is now one of the fastest growing areas in Tasmania.

image Tasman Bridge
The Tasman Bridge today


I have included a few links for those who would like to learn more about what happened. There are some historic pictures as well.








Snapshot Sunday: Wrest Point & Tasman Bridge Hobart

As it is the Australia Day week end I decided to post a few pictures taken in Hobart our capital city. Vanda and I celebrated with a typical Aussie barbecue. We didn’t have anything fancy but we enjoyed our chops, sausages and salads. We forgot to take our bottle of Fronte with us though. Vanda thought I had picked it up and I thought she had it. We had to wait until we got home for a drink so we just had a cuppa instead. It was a warm day but we kept cool under the nice timber shelter sheds built around the barbecues. We didn’t have much trouble with the flies but the ants were there in abundance. We had to watch our plates carefully. It was a lovely way to relax and much better than having to go to work! Here are my photos.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Bridge

via Photo Challenge: Bridge

The Tasman Bridge spans the Derwent and connects Hobart’s eastern and western shores. It was opened in 1964 and replaced an earlier floating bridge which could no longer cope with the volume of traffic it had to carry.

Australians will remember how on 5 January 1975 the bulk ore carrier “Lake Illawarra” collided with the bridge  taking down two piers and over a hundred metres of roadway.  Twelve people died in the tragedy, five were travelling in the four cars that plunged into the Derwent and seven were crew members on the Lake Illawarra. Others miraculously escaped as their cars teetered on the edge of the gap.

I did not live in Tasmania then but I remember seeing the pictures on the news. It was only when I moved here that I came to understand how much the tragedy affected everyone. Not just the loss of life but the loss of the bridge itself changed the lives of many people.  Most Hobart people over fifty could tell you where they were the night the bridge went down.

At that time the next closest bridge was at Bridgewater approximately 20km away. This meant that residents on the eastern shore of the river were largely cut off from the shops and services in the Hobart CBD on the other side of the river. People I’ve talked to about it told me that in some cases family members were forced to relocate to the other side of the river for work or school. In the short-term the transport problem was partially solved by a hastily arranged ferry service and later by the Bailey Bridge, a temporary structure which was used until the Tasman Bridge was finally reopened in October 1977.

One of the consequences of the disaster was that Hobart got a third bridge over the Derwent which was built between the Bridgewater and Tasman bridges, another was that the development of roads and services on the eastern shore became a priority.

The Lake Illawarra still lies in the deep waters of the Derwent over forty years later. If you look at the photos you will see that the distance between the piers on the eastern side of the bridge is different from those on the western side. This is the area where the disaster occurred.


Further Reading:





Snapshot Sunday – Under the Bridge

Underneath view of the Tasman Bridge

I was planning to use this photo for last week’s Fun Foto Challenge but somehow although I finished writing the post I forgot to publish it. Still waste not, want not as my mother would say.

Underneath the Tasman Bridge is a favourite spot for photographing shipping on the Derwent.