04/03/2017 11:12 AM AEDT | Updated 04/03/2017 11:15 AM AEDT

Will Tasmania Ever Look And Feel The Same Again?

The proposed Kunanyi/Mt Wellington cable car is dividing an island.


A familiar sort of fight is unfolding in Tasmania. Development versus the environment. The environment versus development. Only this time, the site's not out in the wilderness far from human eyes. It's smack bang in the middle of Hobart -- or overlooking the city, anyway.


Kunanyi/Mt Wellington (the dual name status was introduced in 2013) is the mountain that towers over Hobart. Its summit is 1271m above sea level -- which is roughly as high as four Sydney Towers, or four of Melbourne's Eureka Tower or the Gold Coast's Q1 -- and it dominates the backdrop to Hobart from pretty much everywhere in the city.

Grant Dixon
You can clearly see the scar of the road as it crosses the mountain. Would a cable car further pollute the visual scene?

The summit of Kunanyi/Mt Wellington is a half hour drive on a road often closed due to snow in winter. But that could be about to change, thanks to a group called the Mt Wellington Cableway Company, which wants to build a cable car from the city to the summit.

The Mt Wellington Cableway Company has the very Whitlam-esque slogan of "It's Time". And maybe, after many false starts, it is. For more than a century, one plan or another has been mooted for Kunanyi/Mt Wellington.

What makes this one different? Here's a video the MWCC released this week of its proposed $54m project:

It's a pretty slick production, and a far cry from the more haphazard plans put forward previously. And the MWCC's dreams came a little closer to fruition this week when the Tassie government announced plans to compulsorily acquire land to kick the project along.


But is it really likely to happen? The Huffington Post Australia put that question to MWCC CEO Adrian Bold.

"It's going to happen," Bold said. "For the first time in the 112 year history [of proposed cableways] we've got legislation and we have the tourism market at a critical mass that supports the project."

Bold is a Tassie-born and Tassie-educated entrepreneur who's the sort of bloke you'd see in a magazine article about young, hip movers and shakers. In 2008 he founded Riser+Gain, a company which, to quote its own blurb, "creates value by developing property that enhances the built and natural environment".
Bold by name. Bold by vision.

Bold's detractors cut through all that. They call him, simply, and with no lack of disdain, "a property developer". They also point to his long-standing friendship with the Tasmanian state growth minister Matthew Groom, who paved the way for the government to acquire land on Kunanyi/Mt Wellington.

"They play the man, not the ball when they run out of other reasons," Bold said in response to criticism of his relationship with the minister.


Ted Cutlan shies away from calling himself "a dyed-in-the-wool greenie" A retired Tasmanian businessman who loves Tasmania's wilderness, Cutlan is spokesman for the local action group Residents Opposed to the Cable Car (ROCC).

"The idea is that you're changing the place that we love in order to satisfy tourists," Cutlan told The Huffington Post Australia.

"I'm not saying tourism is a bad thing but it has significant consequences sometimes. Tourists see Tasmania as this wonderful beautiful place, so why change what we have in order to give tourists what we think they want?"

David Wall Photo
See the cruise ship docked in the right of the picture? Bold believes cruise ship passengers will be some of the most consistent users of the proposed cableway.

ROCC and another action group called Respect The Mountain both feel the state government has flexed its muscle over Hobart Council, and are angry about that. But ultimately their opposition comes down to one thing: the mountain, as they know it, will never look the same.

"Bold's plans are so nebulous," Cutlan said. "You get concept drawings that mean nothing and they change all the time. He wants to have a restaurant and café and viewing platform -- and all of these will have glass facing Hobart."

But as Bold pointed out, there are already numerous structures on its summit, some of which are larger than originally planned for. He also noted that the communications tower is the tallest highest structure in Tasmania. In other words, the mountain ain't exactly pristine to the eye as it stands now.

If the cable car is built to Bold's specifications, the summit will be even more built-up. Restaurants and a visitor centre are planned. To the scheme's opponents, all of this adds up to a serious visual eyesore.

MWCC on YouTube
This is a still from the MWCC video

There is also opposition from various outdoors groups. Rock climbers fear for the "organ pipes" rock formation, over which the cablecar will likely pass if built. These stunning 100 metre plus pillars of dolerite could be subject to oil drips from the cableway, climbers claim, not to mention the visual intrusion of thousands of tourists.

Bold describes himself as "passionate" about the future of recreation on Kunanyi/Mt Wellington. He speaks of new opportunities for everyone from mountain bikers to hang gliders, all of whom could use the cableway to ascend the mountain and -- as he puts it -- "park, ride and repeat".


Nothing is set in stone, but the most likely starting point would be the Cascade Brewery. Ted Cutlan says Cascade is not on side with Bold's plans, but a base station called "Brewery Station" is front and centre of the MWCC masterplan.

David Wall Photo
No Cascade beer was consumed in the writing of this story, sadly.

From there, gondolas would go to a mid station at Golden Gully Park. Users would then transfer to the aerial tramway proper to the summit. So this would in effect be a second lift, running back-to-back with the first.

And the summit? It would look like this, according to the MWCC website.



Bold and his backers (and financially, there are plenty) see this as the big, mass market tourism project that Tasmania has been crying out for.

"Mona's fantastic, but it has a very niche market appeal," said Bold of Hobart's celebrated Museum of Old and New Art.

"What it doesn't appeal to is young teenagers or kids or the older generation. But this will pull like a magnet. There are only so many people who go to Tassie and can go on walking tracks."

But can a cable car stay true to the wild spirit of the mountain? MWCC's vision statement is all very noble. It says it aims:

To develop and operate a unique and iconic visitor experience that is economically-sound, environmentally-beneficial and socially inclusive for all visitors and which enhances the appreciation, enjoyment and preservation of intrinsic values inherent at the pinnacle and foothills of Mt Wellington (Kunanyi).

"We know we're not going to please everyone, but we're very comfortable when it opens that it will be nowhere near as scary as some people think it's going to be," Bold said.

"I've always thought of myself as an economic environmentalist, as someone who can make money out of caring for the environment."

MWCC YouTube
The cable car would travel straight up this route.