DISASTER ON THE DERWENT

This section contains archival material from former Forum users.
Membership forms: http://www.abpa.org.au/membership.html
Post Reply
Jeff Thorpe
Posts: 313
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 3:54 pm

DISASTER ON THE DERWENT

Post by Jeff Thorpe » Tue May 22, 2018 7:40 pm

DISASTER ON THE DERWENT
© Jeff Thorpe 14 May 2018

Hobart’s Tasman Bridge spans the Derwent River,
for eastern shore residents the bridge does deliver
a three minute drive to the city’s heart,
as such, a vital link in no small part.

A high arched styled viaduct, prestressed concrete girder design,
the bridge an impressive structure, certainly not benign,
supported by 21 pylons, o’er water thirty-five hundred feet,
by any assessable standards, a mountain of concrete.

January five 1975 became etched in Hobart’s history,
a night of cold hard fact with not a trace of mystery,
when Lake Illawarra collided with the bridge,
this no slight nibble by a pesky midge.

Loaded with ten thousand tonnes of zinc concentrate,
Lake Illawarra was indeed no featherweight,
the bridge about three miles from its destination,
so near, yet so far in this misplaced navigation.

The ship was off course and travelling too fast,
recipe for disaster which was bound not to last,
at 9.27PM the inevitable occurred,
the ship hit the bridge, unimaginable havoc incurred.

Two pylons and 127 feet of roadway fell to the river and ship’s deck,
four cars drove off the gap adding to the wreck,
five people in the cars were killed plus seven ship’s crew,
the vessel quickly sank as the chaos grew.

On the bridge, two vehicles swayed on the brink of the gap,
their occupants very lucky to survive the flap,
being Sunday evening, bridge traffic was rather light
no doubt a saving grace for many from this blight.

An Inquiry found strong tidal currents and Captain’s inattention
the cause of the accident, a matter of contention,
a rumour at the time suggested Captain Belc was drunk
this unfounded though and the premise, like the ship was sunk.

For careless navigation, Belc’s sentence seemed grossly inadequate,
six months suspension of his Master’s Certificate inappropriate,
given the loss of lives and incomparable damage brought about,
penalty somewhat paltry, carrying not much clout.

Yet, Captain Belc overall, did not escape unscathed,
ship’s owner Australian National Line had his ticket engraved
and retired the 60 year old, despite his stated intention,
to serve his time and return to sea, post the forced abstention.

The loss of the bridge divided Hobart in two
thirty thousand living east side had to “make do”,
what had till then been a three minute city commute
turned into a ninety minute frustrating pursuit.

Services on the eastern shore were severely lacking
and soon, the social fabric of the locale was cracking,
in the six months after the disaster crime rose 41 percent
while western side saw a crime rate descent.

Police figures also told a 50 percent rise in car theft,
a trebling of zone complaints showed a society bereft,
not surprising given the isolation easterners faced,
severance of the bridge left a bitter aftertaste.

Repair work on the bridge began in October 1975
yet t’was almost three years before traffic on it could drive,
reconstruction added an extra traffic lane
and changes to shipping controls were put in train.

Vessels above a certain size need pilot navigation,
large ships passing ‘neath the bridge need a tug in operation,
bridge traffic is suspended while big ships pass under,
designed to circumvent any seamanship blunder.

Lake Illawarra and its cargo still lie thirty-four metres deep,
deemed no danger to shipping despite tidal sweep,
expert opinion believes the ship will not move
and to date no evidence found, this belief to disprove.

Hobart’s risen from the ashes of January five ’75,
the eastern shore has flourished and continues to thrive,
still, many have the memory, a deeply furrowed frown
of the tragedy that befell them, the night the bridge came down.

User avatar
Shelley
Posts: 1660
Joined: Sun May 04, 2014 5:39 pm
Location: Maryborough, Queensland
Contact:

Re: DISASTER ON THE DERWENT

Post by Shelley » Tue May 22, 2018 8:31 pm

Remember it well Jeff ... a tragic event indeed.
Shelley Hansen
Lady of Lines
http://www.shelleyhansen.com

"Look fer yer profits in the 'earts o' friends,
fer 'atin' never paid no dividends."
(CJ Dennis "The Mooch o' Life")

Jeff Thorpe
Posts: 313
Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 3:54 pm

Re: DISASTER ON THE DERWENT

Post by Jeff Thorpe » Thu May 24, 2018 7:41 pm

I remember visiting Hobart late in 1975 Shelley. Have a couple of photos of the fractured bridge, probably taken with a Kodak instamatic camera. I do recall a very long trip to the airport on the eastern side of the river for the flight home.

Regards, Jeff

User avatar
Catherine Lee
Posts: 908
Joined: Mon May 14, 2012 9:47 pm
Location: Thailand

Re: DISASTER ON THE DERWENT

Post by Catherine Lee » Mon May 28, 2018 2:45 pm

Always good to put historic events into poetry to educate or remind us all of certain happenings, whether tragic or otherwise.

Post Reply