The Royal Canberra Hospital closed on 27 November 1991 despite protests from Canberra residents, many of whom had been born there. In 1995, the site was earmarked for the future National Museum of Australia. The ACT Government decided to turn the demolition of the hospital buildings into a celebration and invited spectators to attend. Over 100,000 people, about one in three Canberrans and one of the largest crowds in Canberra’s history, gathered to witness the final stages of demolition. Instead of a celebration, the event had tragic consequences when the implosion failed and large items of debris were projected into the crowds on the opposite side of the lake. A 12-year-old girl, Katie Bender, was killed and nine other people injured.
This news item was part of a special broadcast presented the day after the explosion. The mood is sombre and the language, images and interviews appeal to Canberra as a single community that has shared the experience; as the news anchor says, ‘…what follows will be etched in the memories of us all for years to come’. The item makes good use of footage of the explosion, including home video footage, that clearly shows the danger that spectators were exposed to. The clips of AFP Assistant Commissioner, Bill Stoll, provide the official response but what is more emotive are the interviews with ordinary Canberrans talking about their experiences and illustrating the degree of danger and the impact on the city. Mitch McSweeney holds a six kilogram shard of twisted metal that flew one kilometre from the blast, sliced a tree and smashed a car windscreen. As he poignantly says, ‘I was born in Canberra Hospital. I was lucky not to be killed by it as well.’ The segment ends with a distressed and unidentified woman expressing her feelings, representing the distress felt by many Canberrans on that day.