For Rex Gardner

The mountain ashine with new snow is a beauty and it does lift the city’s spirits; alas, when at its most beautiful the mountain is frequently off-limits and that is crazy. Worse, the summit is a disgrace and to pretend we’re caring and nurturing it couldn’t be further from the truth—that was Rex Gardner’s opinion, writing in the Sunday Tasmanian a couple of weeks ago.

Gardener then introduced the man he considers the mountain’s savior, Chris Oldfield of the Mount Wellington Cableway Company. 

“Embarrassing” is how Mr. Oldfeld sees the situation. “We must do it better than we are doing now” and he offers to “protect the mountain.”

Conservation-minded citizens may well nod in broad agreement with both men. Everyone agrees the mountain is a beauty. Even if it never snowed again we would admire it emblazoned by dawn, mist-cloaked in blue, settling into dusk’s purple haze or somnolent in blackness beneath the stars.

And who could disagree that we have not always “cared, nurtured and protected” the mountain? We have scarified not sanctified it, piecemeal disgraced its flanks, and the visitor experience at the summit could be dramatically better.

What to do to change the experience while at the same time protecting the mountain? The solution, both men argue, is a cable car. Oldfield goes so far as to say that a cable car is “essential to save the mountain”. 

How? It would protect the mountain by halving the number of cars driving to the summit, he says.

Question is, how do we know a cable car would halve the number of cars driving to the summit? (If we knew the ticket price, we might have a better idea, but Oldfield won’t tell us the price.) What study, by the way, proves that only a cable car is capable of this halving? And have cable cars no environmental costs? 

What, also, is the cable car actually saving the mountain from? A thousand kilograms of noxious carbon emissions, they say. Even if that’s an infinitesimal fraction of Tasmania’s 20 million total tonnage, it’s a blessing. Perhaps a cable car is needed to protect the mountain, but what is on the other side of that salvation? 

The Pinnacle Centre. And how does it reduce traffic? How does it protect the mountain? The Pinnacle Centre would obliterate the snowy bushland Oldfield professes to love.

Oldfield believes the cable car “will make the mountain something to be very proud of.” 

That is crazy talk. The nobility of the mountain comes not from any human adornment, it arises from its own nature. And it is not only the mountain’s beauty that lifts our spirits; it is its naturalness—actually, its Otherness—its  wildness—that moves us.

The mountain is a wonderland of rock, rivulet, field, forest, grove, waterfall and path too. Naturally its peak calls strongest and it should be the sublime climax of a journey. It often isn’t. The poorly sited and “rudimentary” Observation Shelter. The “shemozzle” of a car park. The Twin Towers. Oldfield is right: we must do it better. 

A cable car to a Pinnacle Centre with multiple bars, restaurant, cafes, wifi, whisky, wedding receptions and a grand piano would transform the summit experience, but would shopping save the mountain?

A saviour of the mountain, surely, would offer instead to restore the Pinnacle’s exquisite alpine garden to its primal, moss-carpeted, tarn-sprinkled beauty.  A saviour would promise to remove the towers when they were made redundant by new technology — coming soon. And the Observation Shelter? A saviour would remove it, thanking the cableway company for suggesting the better site, and rebuild it incorporating their intriguing ‘sanctum’ and ‘aurora domes’.

Mountain lovers could then have the sublime experience they deserve. Sitting upon a stone so close and yet so utterly far from a whisky bar, in that Otherness, with the city right before them on one side and the far peaks of the South West resplendent on the other. As the visitor’s heart slowed to its resting beat, with each fresh breath the summit’s high spell would bring them silently nearer to the mountain’s truth: the preservation and perhaps even the salvation of the world is not in cable cars. It is in wilderness.

The Mount Wellington Cableway Company is not the mountain’s saviour and Mr Oldfield is merely a jiggy-jiggy spruiker, but mountain visitors who wished to thank those who actually saved that tor-studded temple might yet murmur the names Oldfield and Gardner for they opened our eyes to all that could possibly go wrong.