It has been fifty years since a span of the West Gate Bridge collapsed during its construction, killing thirty-five workers and injuring a further eighteen. It became known as Australia's worst construction disaster. In the many years since this tragedy, the families, friends, co-workers, and wider communities have remembered and lived with the legacy of those whose lives were lost.
At the completion of the bridge, the bridge workers funded a memorial plaque, installed on the base of pier 10, near the site of the disaster. Nearby they placed another plaque, dedicated to another worker who had died after the construction had recommenced. There have been many subsequent commemorations and various personal and collaborative public creative responses.
For the twentieth anniversary of the disaster, artistic director and community theatre maker, Donna Jackson commissioned a new play 'The Bridge', written by Vicki Reynolds, drawing on the stories of those left behind, giving a very personal voice and visibility to their grief. It was performed by the community theatre group 'Foot and Mouth Community Theatre Company' at Footscray Community Arts Centre in 1990.
Fragments of the bridge were placed in the West Gate memorial garden on the campus of Monash University in 1994 as a reminder to all emerging engineers of their responsibilities when they practise their profession.
A memorial park was constructed alongside the bridge in 2004, with simple sculptural pillars, each unique and dedicated to the memory of each of the men. It provides a place for the families, friends and workmates to gather together each year to remember and share their sorrow.
The 2018 Art and Industry Festival sponsored 'The Bridge Projects' experience, a collaborative artistic response, which included a restaging of the play 'The Bridge' at The Substation in Newport, as well as large-scale projections on the bridge, bringing new stories to the public. Last year, writer Enza Gandolfo's book 'The Bridge', a work of creative fiction inspired by the disaster and grounded in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, was short-listed for the Stella prize.
The West Gate Bridge is a prominent feature in the Melbourne city skyline but some of its stories are less visible. Some of the ways that the tragedy is remembered are through the physical markers, commemorations, online and physical exhibitions, and the creative collaborations that share new stories and reflections. These help ensure that our collective memory of significant events remain visible for new generations and are not only held in the living memories of those left behind. They also remind us of the consequences of not maintaining a vigilant, proactive and collaborative approach to workplace safety.
West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee 2020, The West Gate Bridge Memorial, West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee, viewed 2 October 2020.
The Bridge 2019, Podcast, Overland magazine, accessed 2 October 2020.
Public Record Office Victoria 2015, Disaster at West Gate - The 1970 Bridge Collapse, Updated 16 April 2018, viewed 2 October 2020.
Monash University 2017, West Gate garden, Monash University, viewed 2 October 2020.
Westgate tragedy 40 years on (13 October 2010) Youtube video, added by ABC News (Australia), available and accessed 2 October 2020.
Art and Industry Festival 2018, The Bridge Projects, viewed 2 October 2020.
Michael Cathcart on The Stage Show (19 November 2018), A play about the West Gate Bridge collapse, added by ABC Radio National, accessed 2 October 2020.
The Stella Prize 2019, viewed 6 October 2020.
Gregson, Dr Sarah & Humphrys, Dr Elizabeth, The West Gate Project - History, Memory, Action, viewed 2 October 2020.