Aboriginal advocates welcome rejection of controversial cable car on Hobart's kunanyi/Mt Wellington

The decision has been celebrated by members of Tasmania's Aboriginal community, for whom the mountain holds special significance.

An artist's impression of the proposed cable car.

An artist's impression of the proposed cable car. Source: Supplied/Mount Wellington Cableway Company

Members of Tasmania's Aboriginal community are celebrating news the Hobart City Council has rejected a development application for a cable car to be built on kunanyi/Mount Wellington.

The decision - nine votes to three - was made following a lengthy and passionate debate at a special council meeting on Tuesday night. 

The Mount Wellington Cableway Company (MWCC) wanted to construct a two-car cableway with three towers to the summit of the mountain.

Aboriginal heritage officers were among those who had voiced opposition to the plan, fearing the cultural value of the mountain would be damaged forever if the cable car went ahead.

Hobart City councillor Mike Dutta referenced those concerns on Tuesday, saying the spirituality of the mountain "is a very important aspect [for] Aboriginal people that we must respect".

The city of Hobart lies in the foothills of kunanyi/Mount Wellington
Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder

Councillor Marti Zucco voted in support of the development application and suggested there should be a state-wide vote on the cable car.

"I fully believe we should have a Tasmanian vote on this. It's a mountain that belongs to Tasmania, not a small group of people," he said. 

Councillor Simon Behrakis said a cable car could improve the mountain's accessibility.

"(Tonight) there was talks of enjoyment for those that walk, bike, ride or climb up and around the mountain, but there was also not a lot said for those that can't enjoy the mountain in that way due to varying levels of ability that would gain a level of access they never would have dreamt possible under what is being proposed." 

'A part of who we are'

Sharnie Read, an Aboriginal Heritage Officer with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, is among those celebrating the decision to refuse the development application.

Back in June, she was one of 10 Aboriginal Heritage Officers that formally submitted opposition to the proposed cable car. 

"The land itself is a part of who we are, and we are a part of the land," she said.

"One of the important parts of this whole saga is the lack of Aboriginal community members at the decision making process.

Sharnie Read is a Tasmanian Aboriginal Heritage Officers with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.
Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder

"Sitting at that table, it shouldn't just be the Hobart City councillors. We, as the Aboriginal community, the traditional custodians of this land, have a deep and long history on this island, and when these proposals come through, we should be sitting at that table.

"We think that this plan should be trashed, put in the bin, and never pulled out again."

Aboriginal Heritage Tasmania chairman Rodney Dillon said kunanyi/Mount Wellington is a bearing point for the state's Aboriginal people.

"It’s got a significance in the change of its shape, whether it’s snowing or blowing, or whether it’s raining or really hot," he said.

“The shape of it, the face of it, the way that the clouds hang around it, when the mountain changes colour, you can tell what the weather is doing by the colour of the mountain.”

Chairperson of the Aboriginal Heritage Council Rodney Dillon.
Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder

Mr Dillon has also welcomed the decision to reject the cable car proposal.

“I think it is important for the mountain to stay sacred,” he said.

During the special meeting on Tuesday night, MWCC chair Chris Oldfield said there had been attempts to engage with the Aboriginal community. 

"There has been some engagement, (and) sadly on some occasions there hasn't been," he said.

"For example in March last year I was invited to attend a meeting of the Aboriginal Heritage Council, which I gratefully accepted, only to find (the invite) had been withdrawn two days before we were due to appear, and we were never given the opportunity again. When we heard tonight that we hadn't consulted (with the Aboriginal community) it wasn't through lack of effort.

"I've had some respectful conversations with the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre, and they have been respectful, but they choose not to deal with us, unless with a pre-condition that we withdraw from the project."

Chris Oldfield is the Executive Chair of the Mount Wellington Cableway Company.
Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder

What happens now?

Mr Oldfield said the MWCC would now consider its options.

"There are a number of options available to us, but we would need to talk to our legal advisors, our environmental advisors and our planners, and decide where we progress from here," he said.

“We still remain committed to the project, but it’s important that we now take some time to consider our position, we are determined that this project represents the best practice globally."

Ms Read said no matter what happens next, the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre would continue to oppose a cable car development.

"We have said all along that we need to be a part of the decision-making process, we’ve been very clear that these types of developments, these types of impacts on our spiritual connection on our cultural heritage on our cultural landscapes is not supported," she said.

Vica Bayley is the spoksperson for Residents Opposed to the Cable Car on kunanyi/Mount Wellington.

Vica Bayley is a spokesperson for community group Residents Opposed to the Cable Car, and said there’s been a number of proposals for a cable car on kunanyi/Mount Wellington since the early 1900s. 

“We’re calling on the cable car proponent to drop this proposal full stop, and commit to not appealing the Council’s decision,” he said. 

The MWCC was established in 2010 by Adrian Bold and Mr Oldfield was appointed as the chair in 2018.

The most recent attempt at a cableway on kunanyi/Mount Wellington before the MWCC proposal was from Skyway Tasmania. 

"The plans for a cableway up Mount Wellington have been on the drawing board for more than 100 years," Mr Oldfield said.

"The fact is, according to Hobart City Council numbers, within a few years there will be 700-thousand people per year going up the mountain. We want to protect the mountain, we want to make sure that our visitors to our state and our residents get a chance to enjoy the splendour from the top of the mountain, in an environmentally-sound matter.”

Hobart to the left in the foothills of kunanyi/Mount Wellington.
Source: SBS News/Sarah Maunder

Last week, the Hobart City Council received a report from consultants, recommending the council reject the development application on 21 grounds. 

The report said the cableway would diminish the park’s recreational, cultural and landscape values and have an unreasonable impact on residential zones. 

Of the 16,500 public submissions made to the Council on the cable car, almost 72 per cent were against the development. 

*kunanyi is the palawa kani name for Mount Wellington. palawa kani is the language of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and does not use capital letters.

Published 28 July 2021 at 5:48am, updated 28 July 2021 at 6:02am
By Sarah Maunder
Source: SBS News