Today marks the 34th anniversary of Australia’s worst peace time industrial accident.
It is my pleasure to formally welcome you to this annual memorial service to those 35 construction workers who lost their lives in the bridge’s 1970 span collapse.
In many ways this is a sad occasion – remembering the lives cut short in the collapse – the heartache and tragedy caused to the families and loved ones.
But it is also our custom to pause and make this a celebration of the lives of the individuals, characters and personalities – the family men, the lovers, the dads, the sons and the brothers, the larrikins, the trade unionists, the special individuals each and every one of them were.
We have also made a habit of dedicating this occasion to the need for us to be forever vigilant about maintaining safe workplaces.
We think there is a correlation between safe workplaces and organised workplaces. We think that this is one of the unmistakable lessons that have come out of the construction of the West Gate.
Leaving job safety to others, or taking it for granted, are recipes for injuries and worse. And this is not going to be tolerated by any of us.
With the passage of time, whilst there are now too many West Gate construction workers no longer with us, we have seen the comings and goings of governments of all sorts of political persuasions. And notwithstanding some of their best or worst efforts, we still proudly stand by the legacy bequeathed to us by the lessons of the West Gate tragedy.
John Howard’s (Federal) Government has been returned, and we understand he has a self-given mission to target the union movement and industrial relations – construction unions especially, and our members’ wages and conditions.
We take the opportunity presented by today’s occasion to pledge that the memory of our 35 workmates guarantees that we will give John Howard no quarter. They won’t have died in vain.
Safety standards and union organisation on our jobs are non-negotiable. This year’s commemoration, of course, is also a special occasion in that it now takes place in the newly developed and soon to be formally opened Memorial Park.
Until now, this sacred ground has only been marked by the memorial plaque that was erected and paid for by West Gate workers. It is now complemented by this wonderful park.
A concept a mere year ago, it is now a powerful reality. You will agree, you can’t help but be struck by it.
I would like to formally acknowledge the support of the Bracks (State) Government, the efforts of Bob Bennetto and Holland’s, and the commitment of Serdar Baycan and the West Gate Memorial Park Association.
Without their efforts, continuing reflections to the memories of the West Gate collapse victims would have occurred in increasingly unsatisfactory surroundings and circumstances.
I am sure you’ll all agree – they deserved better.
Media Release from the Victorian Minister for Major Projects - Peter Batchelor.
FROM THE MINISTER FOR MAJOR PROJECTS
DATE: Friday, 15 October 2004
LAUNCH OF $1M West Gate Bridge MEMORIAL PARK
The Minister for Major Projects, Peter Batchelor, has today marked the 34th anniversary of Australia’s worst industrial accident, officially opening a $1 million memorial to the 35 men who died when a section of the West Gate Bridge collapsed in 1970.
The workers were killed and 17 others seriously injured when a 2000 tonne steel bridge span fell 60m to the ground without warning at 11:50am on 15 October.
‘The West Gate Bridge Memorial Park is a commemoration not only of this terrible accident; it is a tribute to other Victorians who have lost their lives in industrial accidents,’ Mr Batchelor said.
‘It will provide a space for quiet reflection and contemplation, as well as a venue for the annual memorial service, and will serve as a stark reminder to us all of the need to work together to prevent unnecessary death and injury in the workplace.
’Mr Batchelor, who was representing the Premier and local MP, Steve Bracks, said the Memorial Park featured:
- a new memorial area, screened from Hyde Street, around the existing plaque;
- a boardwalk and long balustrade, intended to designate a ‘sacred zone’ where the bridge span fell;
- an upgrade of the bike path running through the site;
- landscaping in the intertidal zone of the Stony Creek Backwash with indigenous plants;
- 35 sculptural pillars running parallel to the ‘sacred zone’; and
- a redeveloped car park to improve pedestrian access to the site.
WorkCover, Parks Victoria, VicRoads and the Bracks Government’s Community Support Fund have each contributed $250,000 towards the cost of the project.
The collapse of the West Gate Bridge remains the single worst workplace incident in Australia’s history in terms of loss of life.
Sixty-eight men were working on the 160-metre span at the time of the disaster. Among those killed and injured were people working in huts on the banks of the Stoney Creek Backwash below.
The Minister for WorkCover, Rob Hulls, said the memorial park would ensure Victorians never forgot the lives lost by workers, not only at the Spotswood site, but around the State as well.
‘A total of 35 men died here on one tragic day, in one tragic event. To put that into perspective, 27 people lost their lives in the whole of 2003,’ Mr Hulls said.
‘While there is no doubt workplace safety standards have improved since 1970, there are still too many people dying at work in Victoria.
‘Every death is a tragedy. But it is even more tragic if we learn nothing from those deaths. That is why this memorial park is not just about bricks and mortar.
‘It is about ensuring these deaths have not been in vain. We must remember because so much of what we take for granted today in workplace safety has its roots in tragedy.’
WorkSafe Victoria’s director, Geoff Thomas, said the Memorial Park would be a place where Victorians could go to remember those who had died in industrial accidents and reflect on the importance of workplace safely laws.
He said it was important the community learnt from tragic accidents such as the West Gate Bridge disaster.
‘This project has resonance with so many groups in the community. The West Gate Bridge Memorial Park Association, Habitat Trust, the Member for Footscray, Bruce Mildenhall, the CFMEU and FEDFA, Victorian Trades Hall Council and John Holland Group, who have all played vital roles helping realising this project, are to be thanked,’ Mr Batchelor said.
‘The Bracks Government is committed to keeping workplaces safe for all Victorians‘Safety is a fundamental issue in any workplace. Apart from the trauma of the actual incident, any death or injury has an ongoing and profound impact on employers, employees, their family and friends.’
The Memorial Park is located at the intersection of Douglas Parade and Hyde Street, in Spotswood.
Media Release from WorkSafe Victoria.
Media release: West Gate Bridge collapse victims remembered
VICTORIAN WORKCOVER AUTHORITY
222 Exhibition Street, Melbourne 3000 : Telephone (03) 9641 1555
West Gate Bridge collapse victims remembered
15 October 2004
The 1970 West Gate Bridge disaster has been remembered at a ceremony close to the scene of the collapse which killed 35 men.
More than 300 people gathered for today’s opening of a memorial park dedicated to the workers who died when the bridge collapsed at 11:50am on October 15, 1970.
The park was opened by the Major Projects Minister, Peter Batchelor.WorkSafe Victoria’s Construction and Utilities Program Director, Geoff Thomas, said the lessons of West Gate were as valid today as they were 34 years ago.
‘As the subsequent Royal Commission found, the tragedy of the 35 deaths was utterly unnecessary (and) inexcusable. There was no sudden onslaught of natural forces, no unexpected failure of new or untested material.’
Mr Thomas who chairs ‘Foundations for Safety’, a WorkSafe-sponsored construction industry group representing regulators, unions and employers, said the loss and pain suffered by the workers who were on the site, and their families, was not in vain or forgotten.
‘The tripartite approach to construction safety involving regulators, employer groups and unions has generated huge improvements in construction site safety in the past few years.
‘Where builders and unions were often antagonists when it came to safety in the past, today’s more co-operative approach means Victoria’s construction industry is, today, the safest it’s ever been.’
Victorian Trades Hall Council’s Foundations for Safety delegate, Brian Boyd, said, ‘The death of any worker is a tragedy, especially for the worker’s family and their friends.
‘The scale of death and injury from the West Gate Bridge collapse means the incident is indelibly imprinted on every Victorian’s consciousness. ‘The collapse of a 112 metres section of the bridge and its aftermath were also the catalyst for the union movement to make health and safety a priority.’
On behalf of the Victorian Construction Safety Alliance (VCSA) representing major builders, Foundations for Safety delegate Tony Marino said, the entire construction industry was devastated that day.
‘Collectively we could not believe an event like this could happen, let alone to the state’s most prestigious construction project.
‘The tragedy compelled the building and construction industry to totally reshape its safety thinking and risk management processes. Current OHS planning, consultative and implementation methodologies have greatly improved as a direct result.
‘The lessons about the underlying causes of the collapse should be essential reading for engineering and architectural students to raise awareness and seek that this type of accident never happens again.
’Construction of the West Gate Bridge began in 1968. It was completed on 15 November 1978.
More information about Foundations for Safety, and a full list of its member organisations, can be found on WorkSafe’s Construction & Utilities webpage.
The Public Records Office of Victoria has an online exhibition about the West Gate Bridge collapse.
Click here to see the WorkSafe Victoria’s Construction and Utilities Program Safety Soapbox feature article.
West Gate Display Pamphlet produced jointly by the West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee and WorkSafe Victoria. It contains much of the information and photos from the new West Gate display that was unveiled last Friday, 15 October.