Yarraville.  15 October, 1970

Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news that day, especially if you lived in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

Grandpa never forgot what he saw. He told me years later that he thought the Mobil Refinery on Francis St must have exploded. The ground tremored, rumbled.

He rode his bike the couple of blocks down to Hyde St. Shocked and overwhelmed by the scene. Sirens, ambulances, dust, smoke.

People everywhere – confused, injured, panicking.

Searching for their mates, their husbands, fathers.

I was only two, not even. I stayed with my Nana while Grandpa rode down towards the noise.

I spent a lot of time at my grandparents’ house in the following years, safe and cared for. Close to my primary school friends. We played board games and invented new ones. Made up dances to pop songs. Learned to ride bikes. Listened out for that Mr Whippy tune, slowly driving down nearby streets in summer.  “Did you hear that?!”

My Nana baked cakes and scones on Sunday mornings. Warm cheese scones with butter for breakfast. Plates full of these everyday delicacies, hand delivered by me to neighbours living alone in the street. Regular as clockwork, given in kindness.

My Grandpa mowed widows’ lawns, helped them with general maintenance. He grew up taught to fix things if they broke, not expertly, but well enough.

Neighbours knew each other. Looked out for each other in tough times, sickness and loss.

Grandpa was born in that modest miner’s cottage in Sussex St. His dad built most of it, bits added as needed. Sleep-outs, sheds, a copper for warming water – heated up by scraps of wood Grandpa collected. Walking the wood load on his bike back home from wherever the treasure had been discarded. A stubborn habit that died hard with him, as we later cleared away so many loads of wood stocks.

Of course he had hot running water, but why waste the wood? Why spend the money on gas bills? Everything was conserved to squeeze out the last drop. Sustainable living, as it was back then.

Thirty-five workers died doing their job that day. Eighteen more were injured. They worked on that bridge to pay the bills. The survivors left to fend for themselves in the days and weeks after. I imagine neighbours looked after each other.

It is Australia’s worst-ever industrial accident.

I don’t remember. I was only two, not even.

 

Postscript.

November, 2018.

Standing on stage at The Substation, Newport. Dressed in work overalls, steel capped boots and hard hat. Pretending to work on this purpose-built set scaffold. Pretending to be a worker on that bridge back in 1970 with about 10 or so others. We are all part of the cast of Vicki Reynold’s play The Bridge, being presented as part of Donna Jackson’s Art & Industry Festival.

In one scene named ‘Women at the barricades’, some of us are dressed as ordinary women – wives, mums, sisters, daughters. A fog machine gives our stage and scaffold an eerie dream-like quality, as one by one we enter the scene, searching. Some of us get lucky, some don’t. We slowly show which we are by our wordless actions.

In the final scene we each lay a pair of boots in a line across the front of the stage until we reach 35 pairs.

 

Stereo Story #682

Chris is a singer with The Stereo Stories Band, The Angelicats, and Superfluous Velvet.