A day of tragedy … and the luckiest Monaro around

This story starts on Sunday 5th January 1975 and it details the incredible life and death situation that one family found themselves in.  This was definitely one lucky family, someone was certainly watching over them that night.

On this fateful night the Lake Illawarra cargo ship lost control and collided with the pylons of the Tasman Bridge in Hobart, Tasmania and this resulted in a large section of bridge collapsing into the river, taking the ship down with it.  Unfortunately a number of cars that were travelling on the bridge at the time were also sent crashing down into the Derwent River.

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Frank & Sylvia Manley and their young children were returning home from a day out and were unfortunately crossing the bridge at that exact moment.  They were travelling along the bridge when Sylvia noticed the lights disappear in front of the car and then realised that the bridge was gone and she screamed for Frank to stop.  The car slid towards the edge of the bridge, coming to a halt with the car swinging and front wheels dangling over the edge.  As the car teetered on the edge of the bridge, they slowly made their way out of the vehicle.  All this while, the Manley’s had no idea what had even happened as this emergency situation was unfolding around them.

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According to Frank, the only thing that stopped their car from tipping over the edge of the bridge was the casing of the automatic transmission, which gripped into the surface of the bridge.

From stories we’ve read, Frank has joked that he was glad he purchased an automatic as if he’d purchased a four speed manual they would have all died that night!

Little did the Manley’s know that what started out as a family day out would end in such tragedy and their car would be splashed across news screens and newspapers across the country …. and would ultimately make this probably the most famous and photographed HQ GTS Monaro of all time.

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Another vehicle, a Holden station wagon was also left stranded on the edge of the bridge and is seen in all the photographs from that night, but this vehicle did not receive the same publicity.  Although, the owners of the wagon were also very fortunate that night as they were hit from behind by another vehicle that couldn’t stop and luckily they too came to rest safely at the edge of the bridge.

This exact car is on display at the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania in Launceston

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Click here to see a video about this unfortunate event and an interview with Frank & Sylvia Manley.

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Sadly, 12 people died that night, seven crew from the cargo ship and five people from within the cars that went over the bridge.

The bridge collapse had a huge impact on the residents of Hobart as the city was suddenly cut in two.  As most schools, hospitals and businesses were located on the western side, the eastern residents were severely affected.   The bridge was subsequently repaired and reopened in late 1977.

On the 25th anniversary of the tragedy, a plaque was unveiled that simply read ….

In memory of those who died

In recognition of those who were affected

In acknowledgement of those who assisted

The Tasmanian Community remembers the Tasman Bridge disaster of 5th January 1975.

Another plaque was unveiled for the 40th anniversary and at 9.27pm, the exact time of the event 40 years earlier, the lights were dimmed, traffic was stopped and there was a minute’s silence to remember and pay respects.

A very interesting story, one of tragedy and of luck but one that has been firmly placed into the history of Tasmania forever.