West Gate workers remembered, 2003

16 October 2003

Survivors, family members and friends gathered at the site of Australia's worst industrial tragedy, the West Gate Bridge, yesterday to remember the 35 workers who lost their lives 33 years ago.

At 11.50am on October 15 1970, a span of the bridge collapsed, leaving 35 dead and 17 injured.

Giselle Präm's husband George was one of the workers who died when the bridge collapsed on that day.

"I was at work and people were trying to keep me from hearing about the disaster. Eventually my boss took me aside and told me my husband was dead.

"When you receive that kind of news you feel like the sky is falling down. I come here every year to remember. My husband wasn't even supposed to be at work that day."

Paddy Donnelly, a union organiser on the West Gate Bridge and survivor of the tragedy, told the gathering that the disaster could have been avoided.

"We have to remind ourselves that these deaths could have been avoided, just as the deaths that continue to plague our industry today could be avoided. No construction ever built is worth the life of one worker."

Mr Donnelly condemned the Federal Government's description of union officials as being "overzealous" about protecting workers health and safety.

"I have worked in the building industry for 40 years and I have witnessed the deaths of many men as a result of the daily hazards they face on the job. It is shameful to describe the desire to protect workers' health and safety as 'overzealous'."

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, attending the memorial, announced the development of a $1 million memorial park project at the site of the tragedy.

Mr Bracks said the park would play a commemorative and educational role in highlighting the consequences of inadequate workplace health and safety standards.

The Government worked with representatives of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Victorian Trades Hall Council, the community and survivors of the disaster on the development of the project, he said.

Jan Carrick, who lost her 18-year old son Anthony in a preventable workplace tragedy in 1998, said the memorial park was welcome.

"It is good to have a memorial. This area has been neglected for too long. I will be remembering my son again on October 26 when the Industrial Death Support Agency launches a quilt in memory of the loved ones we have lost to workplace deaths.

"Anthony's favourite colour was purple and everyone wore a purple rose at his funeral. I have made a purple square for the quilt with the words 'forever young' in his memory. He was only 18 and will never change in our hearts and minds."

Danny Gardiner, a member of the West Gate Memorial Committee, began work on the bridge in 1973.

"I am a western suburbs boy from way back. Some of our friends were killed, some of our mates lost their fathers.

"I want to keep the memory alive because as soon as people forget about a significant industrial accident like this they forget about the need for ensuring workers' health and safety on the job.

"The Memorial Committee plays an important role in getting out to workers on the job and talking about the disaster but also about current OHS issues."

More information

  • The West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee has now launched a website "dedicated to the 35 working men who went to work on the 15th October, 1970 and never came home, and those who were injured, and to their brave comrades and the rescue crews.."
  • A section on the Public Record Office Victoria website Disaster at West Gate: The West Gate Bridge Collapse of 1970
  • West Gate 30 Years On (attached at top right hand side)

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