13 July 2017

Excitement brought to sorrow - The Canberra Hospital implosion

Twenty years ago, on 13 July 1997,  there was a rally of excitement in Canberra as over 100,000 people flocked to the foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin, facing  Acton Peninsula, to watch the controlled implosion of the Royal Canberra Hospital. The implosion would clear the site to accommodate the much anticipated National Museum of Australia. It was promoted as a spectacular event for locals to witness and say goodbye to the place where many residents had been born.

Canberra Hospital on Acton Peninsula, aerial view looking west from Hospital Point
Canberra Hospital on Acton Peninsula, aerial view looking west from Hospital Point, 1971
Image Source: ACT Heritage Library image 000066

However, the implosion of the Royal Canberra Hospital was not the excitement and wonder that it was supposed to be. The main building did not fully implode and debris was projected at high speeds into the crowds watching in Lennox Gardens on the other side of lake, 500 metres away. One spectator, Katie Bender, aged 12, was struck by a shard of metal and killed instantly. Nine other people were injured. Fragments of masonry and metal could be found 650 metres from the demolition site. The mood changed to one of shock, disbelief and sorrow.

A number of official inquiries were held including a coronial inquest into Katie Bender's death. This inquest brought the then Chief Minister, Kate Carnell, and other members of the ACT Legislative Assembly before the court. The Coroner found that ACT Work Cover,  the authority responsible for administering, implementing and enforcing ACT occupational health and safety legislation, did not follow safety processes that were in place.

The ACT Heritage Library holds the the coroner's findings, police records of interviews, emails and other evidence submitted to the inquest. as part of the Trevor Kaine Papers.

Articles in local newspapers can be located using the library’s Newspaper Holdings webpage.