Decades on from the Tasman Bridge disaster, the memory of the tragedy still haunts the state
Cars were left teetering off the edge after an ore carrier knocked out two pylons. (ABC News)
It’s been 44 years since the Tasman Bridge disaster, but the memory of the traumatic event still lingers in the minds of many Tasmanians, who say they’re fearful or anxious when crossing the bridge.
It was in 1975 when the ore carrier Lake Illawarra struck the bridge, taking out two pylons and 127 metres and three spans of the bridge.
Five motorists and seven crew members died.
What caused the Lake Illawara to go off course is unknown, but historians have said strong river currents and inattention on board could have contributed.
The Tasman Bridge was, and still is, the backbone of Hobart’s transport link, connecting the suburbs on the east and west shores of the River Derwent.
‘A tale of two cities’
Maritime Museum historian and outreach heritage coordinator John Wadsely said the collapse had “a direct and lingering impact” on the harbour town.
John Wadsley from Hobart’s Maritime Museum says the disaster turned Hobart into “two cities”. (ABC News: Phoebe Hosier)
“When the bridge came down, Hobart became a tale of two cities — eastern shore dwellers had to rethink their transport routes,” he said.
“There was a lot of angst, a lot of people blamed the Transport Commission and the government for what they saw as a lack of action.
“Many, many people remember the pain from that night and that anger and shock continues to this day, so [the event] had a huge and resounding impact.
“There are stories from the time where people just didn’t want to go across for many months, probably even years.”
‘I felt certain I was going to die’
Hobart woman Shauna-Lee Ward has battled with a phobia of the bridge for years.
Hobart resident Shauna-Lee Ward has battled her phobia of the bridge over the years. (ABC News: Phoebe Hosier)
Living on the eastern shore, across the river from Hobart’s CBD, Ms Ward has no choice but to cross the bridge at least twice a day.
It’s an experience that used to send her into a near panic attack.
“I felt certain that I was going to die,” she said.
“I was so certain every single day that I’d come over the edge and I’d be gone, and I’ve had many, many dreams of driving over the bridge and falling over the edge.”
Tragedy a ‘clear memory’
Ms Ward is not alone. Her phobia, technically termed gephyrophobia, is one Tasmanian clinical psychologist Sabina Lane has seen a lot of.
Ms Lane said she had treated up to seven patients in the past 25 years with a phobia of the Tasman Bridge.
“It ranges from someone who gets anxious about it all the way to someone who would turn into complete hysterics,” Ms Lane said.
She said she had treated patients who could not even look at a photo of the Tasman Bridge.
“[Its collapse is] something that’s still quite clear in everybody’s mind, and that’s perhaps heightened by the fact that we stop traffic when we have a large boat passing beneath it,” she said.
Ms Lane said her treatment methods attempt to break the fear down into manageable steps.
She said she started with patients drawing a picture of the bridge or looking at a photo of it, before they moved on to approaching the bridge, and finally driving over it.
Survivor remembers wife yelling: ‘Stop, stop!’
Frank Manley was in the car at the centre of one of the most famous photos taken of the tragedy.
His Holden Monaro is pictured seesawing on the edge of the fallen bridge.
Decades later, the 88-year-old puts his good luck down to the automatic transmission of his famous car and his quick reflexes.
Frank Manley recalls his wife yelling “stop, stop” as the bridge collapsed in front of them. (ABC News: Phoebe Hosier)
“We approached the bridge and the lights went out and over the crest I could see a bright set of tail lights and then I spotted the white line missing,” Mr Manley said.
“The missus yelled ‘stop, stop!’ and I said ‘I don’t think I can’.
“Next thing I know, we were hung over the edge.
“If I was going another kilometre an hour faster, we would have gone in the drink.”
‘Like looking into a big, black washing machine’
Mr Manley recalled opening the driver’s door to make an escape, only to see a 45-meter drop with surging water beneath him.
“It looked like a big black whirlpool, the water was stirred up with the boat sinking — it was like looking into a big washing machine, a big black hole,” he said.
Mr Manley said it wasn’t until the next day that he had “the shakes and the shivers” and the trauma of the event sank in.
For Ms Ward, her anxiety of the bridge has lessened in recent years, but her hesitation to cross the bridge remains.
“I’m constantly waiting for that dropping of the gut feeling as I’m driving over,” she said.
“Because I know the Tasman Bridge broke — it’s real, it happened and it could happen again,” she said.