We left the airport in a shuttle bus; the driver was accompanied by a friendly bloke called Phil, the first of many friendly Phils we came across. As she drove us speedily towards the city of Hobart, Phil gave us a potted history of the city and the island, a story we would hear many times, but never tired of because each teller was so full of enthusiasm and love for the country, and pride in the people.
We drove upwards between a landscape which would become very familiar, sandy rocks, dark trees with curious coloured trunks and branches, and then we crested the hill, and there was the city, like a jewel, sparkling in the lovely sunshine. We whizzed along, past areas of housing, small single story villas with corrugated iron roofs, which I had seen in pictures so often. It reminded me of one of the Babar the elephant books I’d had when I was young, when Babar built a town, which he called after his wife, Celestville – ‘Come and see Celestville, most beautiful of towns!‘ – these homes we were passing reminded me of that.
We passed a sign for Cambridge, not only named after my home town, but the place where Sullivans Cove Whisky is distilled, named as the world’s best whisky twice! Then we were crossing the Tasman Bridge and we heard for the first time about the disaster… I do vaguely remember it happening, in 1975, on January 5th thirty-two years to the day we were crossing it, a tanker ran into several of the support pylons. It was a bulk carrier, the Lake Illawarra, and on board was 10,000 tonnes of zinc ore concentrate. The ship was going upstream, up the Derwent River to the Electrolytic Zinc Company at Risdon, about three kilometres away. The captain apparently wasn’t paying full attention and tried to go through a too narrow part of the bridge and crashed. The ship sank within a few minutes, drowning seven of the crew. Meanwhile, up above, a section of the bridge collapsed, and despite the brave efforts of a man to slow and top on-coming traffic, several cars plunged over the edge and five people were drowned.
There are many safety measures in place to carry traffic safely across the rebuilt bridge, and we crossed over and descended into the city. My nose was pressed against the window as I tried to take everything and listen to Phil’s commentary at the same time. beautiful old buildings, the sea, trees and parks, and then we were pulling up outside the Travelodge, our holiday home.