Every year a memorial service is held for the 35 workers who lost their lives when a span of the West Gate Bridge collapsed at 11.50am on this day in 1970.
Family members, friends, co-workers and trade unionists gathered at the Memorial plaque under the bridge to mark the 32nd anniversary of the worst industrial disaster in Victoria. CFMEU Victorian state secretary Martin Kingham told the gathering it was an honour to speak with the veterans of the bridge and families and friends of the workers who were killed in the tragedy.
"It is important that we don't let the memory die. It is important to keep in touch with each other. We need to remind a new generation of construction workers of the legacy of the workers who died here. We need to remain vigilant on issues of health and safety and remember what can happen if we leave this task to employers."
Mr Kingham sent a greeting from CFMEU OHS manager Pat Preston, also a veteran of the bridge, who was called to a workplace fatality in South Yarra on his way to the memorial service. "Yet another construction worker has lost his life on the job today. This is a stark reminder of the toll and risk faced by building workers year in and year out."
CFMEU Victorian president John Cummins, also a construction worker on the Westgate Bridge said this year's memorial coincided with proceedings in the Cole Royal Commission. "The legacy of the sacrifice made by these blokes should not be forgotten. It is shameful that the Royal Commission is trying to remove union involvement in health and safety."
Mr Cummins said it was essential for construction workers to be at the forefront of identifying and eliminating hazards on worksites. "If we are good enough to build this city we are good enough to have a say in the health and safety conditions on construction sites."
Giselle Präm lost her husband, George Präm, a rigger, in the West Gate Bridge disaster. "It is very important to remember. My husband and his workmates were always complaining about safety problems on the site."
Mr Präm's daughter Yvette Smith also attended the service. "My father was 43 at the time and my mother was left with nothing. She really had to struggle. Mum worked two jobs to support three young children until compensation came through. Dad was working with an engineer at the top of the bridge and was one of the few to remain physically identifiable."
West Gate Bridge veterans Dave Robson and Ray Lindholm had a lucky escape on the day of the tragedy.
"We were here at 11.40 and I wanted to go the pub but Ray had to meet someone on the other side of the river so I went with him," Mr Robson said.
"The best way to describe the West Gate Bridge is camaraderie. We were just lucky. Every year we come down here and sometimes there are only a few people. We come down here because we remember those names so well," said Mr Lindholm.
CFMEU OHS manager Pat Preston arrived at the memorial after attending the scene of a fatality in South Yarra. "I was on the way here when I was called to a fatality. A 55 year-old man, was digging a trench around an existing structure which had no foundation when it collapsed on him. This is the second fatality of this nature in that area, we had another one last year."
"It has been a difficult morning. I am on my way to a memorial for 35 workers who lost their lives in this disaster and I get a call to investigate the death of another worker."
Proposals are underway to develop a memorial park to the workers in the vicinity of the West Gate Bridge. Pat Preston was working on the West Gate Bridge on the day of the disaster.
More information on the West Gate Bridge collapse:
- A section on the Public Record Office Victoria website Disaster at West Gate: The West Gate Bridge Collapse of 1970
- West Gate 30 Years On (attached at top right hand side)