Do you remember? When Hobart's bridge fell down? by Graeme Andrews - Port Arthur ferry O’Hara Booth nears Lindisfarne with the damaged bridge astern.

“Get up an hour early – get home an hour late. You’d better hurry up ’cause the ferry won’t wait …”
So went a line from a popular song that quickly gained currency in Tasmania as the good citizens of Hobart learned how to negotiate a harbour that had only one bridge – one that had fallen down!
On a quiet Sunday night on January 5, 1975 the large bulk carrier SS Lake Illawarra was inbound on Hobart’s Derwent River. Her destination was the Hobart Zinc Works upstream of the newish Tasman Bridge.
The Tasman Bridge was to Hobart what the Sydney Harbour Bridge is to Sydney, but perhaps more important, as Hobart had only one road crossing of the river within easy reach of the city and had allowed its ferry services to wither.
How and why Lake Illawarra swung off course and tried to go through an unsuitable section of the bridge section is too detailed for here but she knocked the bridge down. A large part of the bridge arch crashed on the ship, which then sank. Several cars hurtled into space and sank in the river along with their occupants.
Local tugs that had been awaiting the ship’s berthing at the Zinc Works rushed to help those that could be helped. Emergency services went about their duties and a local charter boat operator started working out how to get Monday morning’s people across the river.
ANL bulk carrier SS Lake Illawarra seen on trials in 1958.
On the Monday morning Hobart had just three commercial ferries available to pinch hit – and no commercial passenger wharves. One was the 1912 river passenger-cargo ship Cartela which eked out a precarious living as a cruise boat. The other two were the relatively new steel ferries Matthew Brady and James McCabe.
The two steel ferries were quickly in use running an unofficial passenger service, with Cartela also quickly pressed into use.
Shocked local politicians, forced to make instant decisions, brought the car ferry Mangana up from the Bruny Island run, as Bob Clifford, owner of the two small ferries began the first run, less than one hour after the disaster. She was soon replaced by the older Melba as Bruny was cut off completely without her.
By Tuesday about 23,000 commuters were using the ferries daily and various people were soon working out how to do this for quite a few years.
The analogy of Dunkirk in WWII was often noted in those days. During the next six months or so many ferries came to Hobart. A converted fishing boat Ray Larsson gained passenger facilities and went on the run. The O’Hara Booth which had worked on the Isle of the Dead run at Port Arthur became more concerned with the living and came to Hobart.
Upriver, near the Zinc works, the veteran Risdon cable punt was co-opted to carry provisions and important freight overnight, with emergency vehicles and priority traffic during the day.
Bob Clifford started building another small steel ferry Martin Cash – he was to build several more and this business was, eventually, to make him world famous with his many locally-built International Catamarans.
Mangana as passenger ferry in Hobart, Jan 6, 1975.It seemed that almost everyone was getting into the ferry act. The record Ferryboat Shuffle was heard everywhere and the cover of the 45 EP (Extended Play record) showed just some of the multicoloured fleet.
From the Army came several small landing craft – on a long and uncomfortable voyage from Sydney. They were there to carry emergency vehicles as needed. From Bass Strait came an island cattle carrier – Phoenix – which carried different mammals to the Wrest Point Casino.
The Sydney ferry Lady Ferguson was found to be useless in Hobart.A commercial landing barge, such as are common along the Barrier Reef came to Hobart to carry commercial trucks – at $20 per trip and was flat out.
From Sydney came three of the famous Sydney ferries. Two, Kosciusko and Lady Edeline, were near the end of their working lives. At great expense they were towed to Hobart where it was found that Edeline was useless. Kosciusko, however, did a great job until the bridge was re-built. A brand new ferry, Lady Wakehurst, was towed to Hobart and years later was towed back to Sydney having done a great job.
Well-loaded, Matthew Brady passes Lysaght Enterprise in Hobart. 1975.
Phoenix carried cattle in Bass Strait … and gamblers in Hobart.Private enterprise got on with shifting people while the State Government got on with buck passing, indecision and then making some quite weird decisions. One such was to buy from Hong Kong a two-decked 30 year old car ferry and have it towed to Hobart. When Man On arrived it was quickly found out that her design as a car ferry made her use as a passenger ferry very dubious. Much extra money was expended before she was any use. Meanwhile Bob Clifford was building and running his ferries very successfully.
The friction between Bob Clifford, who believed that he and others were actually ‘doing the job’, and the State Government, which he claimed was more interested in interference, was palpable, illustrated by a long-running series of doggerel advertisements in Hobart’s Mercury. These ads poked opprobrium at the pollies and they were later to very quickly illustrate their anger when the opportunity arose.
The old Cartela bridges the gap a few days after the disaster.Within weeks of the bridge eventually being re-opened Clifford’s ferries found their access to the ferry wharves blocked. The wharves were quickly removed. It was obvious that the then State Government had no more interest in having commercial ferries on the Derwent after the repairs than it had before.
Clifford persevered and eventually became one of Tasmania’s largest employers building his International Catamarans – units of which have been exported world wide.
Most of the temporary Hobart ferries went back to their original locations and Clifford’s Bushranger fleet ended up scattered along the mainland coast from south to north. Two of them including James McCabe, were in Sydney laid up in 2010. The Lady Wakehurst, after crossing the Tasman to Auckland and return was in use as a charter boat and some-time ferry replacement in Sydney
The beautiful Cartela, looking very fine indeed, was still in service in Hobart, working from the same wharf that she had served for almost 100 years. The Man On, renamed Harry O’May, was rotting in Launceston and the Tasman Bridge was back in operation.
Martin Cash, locally built, in Hobart 1975.Where were YOU when the bridge went down? For those of us of an appropriate age, that day is one for the memory, like Cyclone Tracey in Darwin, only a little over a year earlier, or like, perhaps, the murder of President Kennedy, the sinking of HMAS Voyager or perhaps the landing on the Moon. What can YOU add to that list?