The Mount Wellington Cablecar Development Application

11 Volumes. Illustrated, includes maps

First Edition 806 pages. Public Edition 584 pages

Self-published by MWCC

REVIEW by William Empson


Arguably the most controversial literary work published in Tasmania in years, Mowecda is a re-telling of a century-old prophecy. 

The prophecy foretells a time when to admire a sight known throughout the world for its unparalleled beauty, man will one day travel effortlessly from the Dunn Street Pier to the remote summit of Mount Wellington in an unbelievably short time. The recurrence of this prophecy in Mowecda (its fifth re-telling) places this multi-authored work in the Tasmanian literary sub-genre known as The Development Narrative. 

The story arc of Mowecda sweeps us from the shores of a southern sea to the snowy summit of a city.

The opening chapter is a panoramic description of forest and mountainous terrain. Enter the protagonist who must find a way to cross its chartless understory, rise over a Pan-fluted amphitheatre and reach into an Escher-like inversion of spaces half-buried at the mountain’s summit. The sightseeing prize is a Sanctum where the revelation of “The Experience” is to be found. The mountain itself is not, however, the only peril in the way of the ascent. The mountain is guarded by a kind of spell called Lupaa and natives who worship Deep Nature and are governed by a malevolent jury known only as The Council.

Required to cross this hostile realm where clearly it does not belong, Mowecda comes bearing mirrors, beads, drills and whisky. Mowecda says only he can save the mountain. The Council is immovable while the natives grow uproarious. Mowecda faces the humiliating prospect of failure and forfeiture. To overcome, avoid or nullify the disbelievers Mowecda turns from proffering gifts to stratagem and subterfuge.

He employs informants, spies, advisors and conciliators.

At every step of the sprawling saga, Mowecda displays an Odysseus-like cunning, managing to circumvent, trick, negate or evade every Council writ and local objection. In the Spell of Luppa he exposes countless loopholes.

Will Mowecda fly or fall? SPOILER ALERT. The work does not rely upon a surprise ending. Mowecda flies. The hero, deservedly, triumphs.

Such a description is itself, of course, merely a playful literary re-imagining of the cable car development application as Hero’s Journey. (A Russian Formalist analysis of the cable car as a fairy tale and another as a biblical Paradise myth have also been offered.)

But it is more than entertainment. Literary analysis of any text can reveal aspects never explicitly stated, but significant.

For example, accompanying the proposal’s central text, its Main Planning Report (known by its creator IreneInc)—in fact governing the Application—are ten reports. Some fragmentary, others long and complex, each of these “chapters” is written by a different author in a different voice and they function not as mere subplots, but as the crucial foundational proof of the proposal’s worthiness. The Main Planning Report relies upon them and can only be credible if they are themselves believable.

The dilemma for the report writers is Mowecda’s innate nature. In the successful development narratives the hero is transformed by his journey, but Mowecda comes to the mountain and Luppa (Tasmania’s Land Use Planning and Assessment Act—which is the eye of the needle he must pass through—fully formed: a spitting, kicking camel. Mowecda requires, and therefore demands from its many authors, compliance with its objective as-it-already-is. The narrative devices open to the foundational report-writers are therefore limited. They adopt certitude. Their texts find—and brook—no objection in Lupaa. Mowecda is a permissible development. Their arguments are varied, but in almost every case they rely upon The Spell of Mowecda.

The what!? Like a spell, Mowedca possesses a set of equations and facts, projections and assumptions that prove his worthiness and justify his claims. A secret text. Never fully revealed—in fact hidden even from the reporter writers—this other text’s literary parallel is perhaps the Q Text, the hypothetical Sayings of Jesus; a text that no longer survives, but whose existence biblical scholars infer and discern throughout the foundational gospels of The New Testament. The one thing the foundational reports of Mowecda (for example traffic, economic benefits, aboriginal heritage, visual impact) make clear about this Other work that empowers Mowecda is that it was written by Mowecda.

Against Lupaa Mowecda casts this secret Other report as a kind of counter-spell.

Time and again, Mowecda’s demand for a triumphal pronouncement in a report is delivered by way of a reference to this Other text.

Paradoxically, every triumph therefore increases the reader’s sense of the unreliability of the narrators because the spell destroys everything it touches. As obstacle after obstacle is so convincingly overcome, the narrative stretches the reader’s credibility further and further—no where more so than in the IreneInc document which combines the underlying reports.

The effect of the spell reduces the literary merit of the work, but its cause is transactional. Each report begins with “the engagement”, the commercial arrangement between MWCC and the consultant reporter. Every thing that follows has to be understood in this context. The authorial conclusions entail a collusion. The seed of distortion is in the engagement itself.

But the greatest paradox is this, MWCC just doesn’t get it. It argues that MOWECDA proves its scheme is strong and appropriate and therefore permissible. It is the same old story: the villain cannot see things for what they really are. He sees triumph because he looks into his own mirror. He reads the surface. He believes he has been granted the power to fly. He is wrong.

The fall will come not through any fault in the cast of the stars above but by the very nature of the star of the cast.

Ultimately, what the writing of Mowecda shows us is that the downfall of Mowecda is Mowecda.

William Empson is professor of English at Sheffield University and the author of Seven Types of Ambiguity