‘There was little workers comp, no insurance and no super in those days. You just lived from week-to-week, pay packet to pay packet.
By the time he was in his early twenties, Danny had a very clear understanding of what it meant to go to work – to be there for your mates and to be able to count on them. But it was a fitter on a job in Altona who gave him the politics. Danny was a TA (trades assistant) to Scot Frew, a fitter with an encyclopedic knowledge of workers’ struggles throughout the world.
‘In those days, when it rained, metal workers would shed up until it stopped. There was no going home. We would listen to the older blokes debate all manner of workers’ struggles, including the assassination of the first marxist President of Chile, Salvador Allende, two years earlier. If we interrupted we were told to sit and listen,’ Danny said.
And listen they did. In 1973, Danny took the union principles of collectivity and a fair go he learned from these men to the West Gate Bridge where work on rebuilding had begun a year earlier. It was there he worked alongside Pat Preston and met Tommy Watson, among others who had survived the 1970 tragedy.
Danny recalls how safety was paramount on the rebuild and new standards were constantly being set. An OH&S officer, he became a member of the rescue squad – the blokes who provided first aid for any accident on the bridge.
‘With 35 guys dead, it really concentrated the need to make work places safe,’ he said. ‘I’m proud to say, we helped a lot of hurt comrades on that job and even saved a couple of lives.
’In 1979, a year after he finished on the bridge, Danny became a full-time official with FIA. In 1991 he shifted over to the CFMEU FEDFA (Federated Engine Drivers & Firemans Association of Australasia) Division and from there to a job as co-ordinator for the building industry superannuation fund, Cbus. He plans to retire from Cbus this year.
Every year from 1973, Danny has joined with survivors of the tragedy, their families and friends, to remember those who were lost. But it wasn’t until 1990 that a more formal organisation was put in place.
‘The West Gate Bridge Committee was formed to acknowledge the 20th anniversary of the Bridge’s collapse,’ Danny said. ‘Workers provided the money for a more permanent memorial to the men who gave their lives and the State Government provided the park and its ongoing maintenance. The Committee made sure the work got done.
‘The West Gate Bridge Memorial not only reminds us of our comrades, but it marks a significant historical shift in workplace safety – it tells us the story of the blokes who were sacrificed so that we can now go to work and return home safely to our families. They will not be forgotten,’ Danny said.
Danny says there is now sufficient funding to ensure that this memorial and its annual commemoration will survive long into the future. And Danny plans to continue to remind us all of the significance of that terrible day in 1970.