The West Gate Bridge, Melbourne

As a child I was fascinated by the spread of freeways in my city and state. It was many years later that that I discovered they only solved problems for a short time. In Melbourne at the moment it appears every road is being worked on. By the time they all finish they’ll have to get going again. Until I was 11, there was a wonderful windy and relatively unpolluted creek that flowed near my house. We spent so much time down there. We called it the jungle. It was full of box thorn and thistles but it was all we knew. One day I spoke to a man ramming little wooden pegs in the ground. I asked what he was doing to which he replied ‘very soon there will be a big freeway coming through here’. I was amazed. That was end of the jungle.

About the same time, businesses in Melbourne’s western suburbs, the industrial, ugly side of town, were lobbying for a river crossing near the mouth of the Yarra River. Both sides were seen as an ugly wasteland; perfect for a big bridge. Work for the West Gate Bridge commenced in 1968. This only occurred after a series of dodgy money gatherings and bad tendering, as was found in hindsight. Well into construction, late in 1970, a section of the box girder bridge and a box pylon, collapsed killing 35 construction workers and injuring 18.

WG 7

West Gate Bridge immediately after collapse. Journalist photograph. I think this photograph is a mirror image.

Of course there was an inquiry and their findings can be perused. Construction eventually resumed. The photograph below was taken by me in 1976west gate 1976

The bridge was completed in 1978. Tolls were introduced, but later scrapped because it could be avoided. It now carries 200000 vehicles per day and a 2nd lower Yarra crossing is close to commencing. WG 1WG 5

Some say this bridge competes somehow with the Sydney Harbour Bridge. No way; It’s a big ugly bridge that runs through a fairly ugly part of Melbourne. It has 10 car lanes, but no train. I drive over it about 20 times a year. I’ve walked over it too, to raise funds.

Like all bridges, the Westgate has attracted a lot of suiciders. They did not do anything about this until an imbecile threw his 4 year daughter to her death to get back his wife, in 2009, in front of her brother. This story makes me so emotional. That poor little girl and the poor brother, and mother. I can’t write about it. They installed a fence.

WG 6

Under the bridge as we were heading out into the bay pre sunrise in 2008. No fence installed yet. Poor Darcy

Back in 1962, when I was 4, another smaller bridge in the centre of Melbourne cracked due to dodgy engineering. I was a big fan of Zig and Zag, clowns on the telly. They thought they had cracked the bridge when they accidentally dropped a coconut on it. They were gonna get into big trouble. I believed this of course.

King_Street_Bridge_Melbourne

King St Bridge

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7 thoughts on “The West Gate Bridge, Melbourne

  1. Thanks for sharing some interesting history here, with more depth from your local viewpoint. But definitely not a patch on Sydney Harbour Bridge. Even Hobart’s Tasman Bridge would put Melbourne’s into third place, I think!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Tasman Bridge is not that attractive a bridge, but that harbour is to die for. The Tasman also had a misshap in the 70s. Melbourne could not get by without the westgate, but it is just that, a gate to the west.

      Liked by 2 people

    • In some ways the west gate tragedy put the wind up engineering tenderers, and we have not seen an accident of that scale since that date. But it is now nearly 50 years and unfortunately we do not have a ‘lest we forget’ engineering culture like we do with wars. Tomorrow we ‘celebrate’ the debacle that was Gallipoli over one hundred years ago. Of course the way world leaders are heading these days, Gallipoli may seem like a tea party. Pun unintended. Thank you for providing the wonderful Justin. Bit off subject I know.

      Liked by 2 people

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