a century of FAILED schemING

A fairytale flight in a glass coach to a castle on top of a mountain.

Since at least 1895 almost every generation has produced a schemer certain of conquering kunyani with some kind of a cabled conveyance.

When the schemes are compared their essential similarity is striking, but not surprising, for each iteration was built upon its predecessor. See for yourself. (Click arrows below to see the parallels between cable car schemes)

The current man is Adrian Bold of the Mount Wellington Cableway Company (MWCC). Bold disparages his predecessors, categorising them all as "rather poorly formulated proposals for an aerial cableway". What was so faulty about the formulations of the other proponents, Bold hesitates to say. Perhaps he fears the comparison because what he proposes is exactly the same thing: an aerial cableway to the summit of Mount Wellington—and all previous incarnations of this idea have gone… well, read on!

1893 HACKETT’S AERIAL TRAMWAY

The Launceston Examiner reported that during a Hobart Town Hall evening meeting convened to devise means to provide work for Hobart’s unemployed men, a plan for an aerial tramway was proposed by one Professor Hackett. The professor guaranteed his scheme would “whisk one from the Dunn-street Pier to the pinnacle of Mount Wellington in thirty seconds.” No other details have survived of Hackett’s plan, but its key features: its link to cruise ship passengers and its extraordinary speed became central to each succeeding iteration.

1905–1906 WERTHEIMER’S Aerial Railway

(Click to enlarge)

Hackett’s sea to summit, employment scheme thought-bubble was greatly expanded upon by one Arnold Wertheimer of Bellerive, the head of the state’s tourism authority. In his Prospectus (opposite) Wertheimer suggested that because Hobart was experiencing a great increase in shipboard tourist traffic and "the panoramic view obtainable from its summit is universally admitted to be unsurpassed in any part of the world" therefore :— some mechanised transport to the summit would have patronage and uniqueness. Success was assured notwithstanding the fact that the conveyance would “have to deal with an established [road] passenger traffic” because “the difficulties of reaching the summit [on foot] are too well known to need special comment. Not only is the road rough, but the time required to accomplish the journey debars many thousands of passengers."

Wertheimer’s aerial railway would work on the double wire rope principle, each carriage carrying ten passengers. The route from The Springs to the Summit being two miles, the time taken would be ten minutes. Refinements included moving the base station much closer to the mountain—compensated by including "motor transport from the city to the cableway."   

A company was formed, prominent businessmen bought shares, and the route was surveyed. The fact that no land need be acquired reduced the cost to £7,000.

Keen to support the idea, the state government passed an Act leasing the land requested and granting the right to build upon it. The Hobart City Council allowed. The Cascades Brewery approved of an extension to bring the railway to its back doorstop. Ticket prices, estimated income and expenditure were made public, the scheme underwent a Committee of Enquiry, it offered a 9% return on investment…but not a single hole was ever sunk before Mr Wertheimer himself passed over.


1928–1931 CHANDLER’S Aerial cable tramway

Cable_car_Tasmania.png

The next iteration was developed by a local consortium headed by one James Chandler. Like Wertheimer, Mr Chandler’s "aerial cable tramway" would travel The Springs to Summit route and attract those who "through either lack of time or inability to adjust their arrangements are unable to make the trip on foot". Chandler’s journey time: ten minutes. He added a new market segment: the "many more persons of mature years [who] would enjoy a trip to the top of the mountain in safety and greater comfort" and he put five stations along the way. His version topped the previous scheme’s offer of sunrises with the attraction of a ski-run on the back slopes of the mountain. Photographs and a scale drawing completed the picture.

Though it had an employment benefit, a Great Depression gripped the nation and the scheme never had a single rivet popped. Eventually, Chandler popped off his perch instead.


De Qunincey noted sporadic resurfacing during the 1960s (twice), ‘70s (twice) and in 1988. But the next serious contender was a Hobart engineer, one Tim Burbury.

 1989-1994 BURBURY’S Skyway

Burbury posed an “aerial mini-bus" version that would whisk 100 passengers skyward via an aerial cableway—strung between pylons “as familiar as HEC transmission towers”—in two gondolas whose blue cabins looked like they flew out of a Jetson's cartoon.

Grandiosely, Burbury’s summit station was a triple-decker flying saucer on concrete stilts eight storeys high. It contained a conference centre, a hotel and a restaurant.

Composite image constructed from the official "Skyway" promo video, 1994

Better known (from in its third iteration) as "Skyway”, Burbury’s scheme, like its predecessors, was founded upon cruise ship passengers and took ten minutes to reach the summit from the Cascade Brewery base station. Burbury, likewise, offered a (beginner) ski field at the back of the mountain. To photography and a cross-sectional illustration he added moving pictures a promotional video that included pioneering special effects. (Thanks to the ABC, you can still watch Skyway’s promotional video.) His final cost estimate was $35 million.

Burbury too was backed by a Swiss manufacturer and obtained (Liberal) government changes to the Wellington Park Act that granted his project State Significance. No land need be purchased. He could add little more to the idea.

Previous schemes had doubters and scoffers but Burbury faced organised opposition. Cable cars, along with canal estates and nuclear reactors, were no longer welcomed with pleading arms. The Tasmanian Conservation Trust (whose arguments would themselves echo through the succeeding decades) “totally opposed” Skyway. The Trust scoffed at the route, scorched the environmental impact of its ski runs (that could have no appeal to skiers beyond Hobart), forecast that the cable car was “highly unlikely to lead to any significant additional visitation to Hobart”, criticised the proponent for “intruding on South Hobart’s residents, particularly in Old Farm Road”, ridiculed its financial figures as “ludicrously optimistic”, doubted its viability unless “the road was closed” and predicted that its high cost would deter locals from using it more than once.

“The mountain was not a ‘thing’ from which to lookout over the city.” “The people of Hobart value ‘the mountain’ for its natural qualities and do not want to see it desecrated by any sort of development, let alone something of this magnitude”. Skyway was “a gimmick” and a “crass Gold Coast style development with no appeal to those who seek out Tasmania’s unique attractions—its wilderness and its unspoilt places”. “Tasmania’s tourism future lies in quality, not quantity”. The Greens devoted a centre-fold article in The Daily Planet to lampoon the scheme.

After an angry town hall meeting, after the KEENS CURRY stunt when the historic stones of the hillside sign were rearranged to read "No Cable Car", after the Rubbishgate Affair and the bizarre folly of a retired chartered accountant claiming he was the rightful developer. Arnold Wertheimer was the grandson and namesake of the original proponent Arnold Wertheimer, and he “dug out” copies of the two Acts governing his grandfather’s scheme and discovered that neither Act contained a sunset clause—or any time limit on the proposed development. Might he, the heir, assignee and fit and proper person, not have the right to build the cable car? No, he did not. Burbury was saved by the Statute Laws Revision Act 1935, which had repealed both previous acts. But the damage was done. Skyway became a laughing stock.

Repulsed, for a further seven years Burbury tweaked his plan again and yet again. The hotel accommodation was dropped, a revolving restaurant was substituted, the route was changed; but none of his tinkering increased his favour. The local Council and the Labor government turned against him. The Wellington Park Management Plan was altered to outlaw cable cars to the summit.

As Burbury lay on his deathbed without a single skystep cemented, he bequeathed his ideas and his imprimatur to his acolyte, one Adrian Bold.


2010-2018 BOLD’S cable car

MWCC_Cableway proposal.png

Adrian Bold is a Tasmanian property developer with a flair for animation. To photography, illustration and video with special effects, Bold added infographics, VR, a scale model and social media.

With the appellations Ropeway, Railway, Tramway and Skyway all presumably “poorly formulated”, Bold came up with Cableway—“the cable car” for short. His proposal was nevertheless lockstep with the plans of his predecessors. He would start at the Cascade Brewery and take Burbury’s final assault route over the Organ Pipes. He copied Burbury’s two-pylon drop-span, but substituted a gondola ride to a mid-park station. Two cable cars would whisk 80 passengers apiece to the summit (or back) in record time: seven minutes. At the top Bold wanted a similarly extravagant Pinnacle Centre with bars, a cafe and a restaurant. To Wertheimer’s sunrises Bold added auroras, an interpretation centre and a gloomy “sanctum”. To Chandler’s “safety and greater comfort” Bold offered whisky, a wedding walk and wi-fi, as well as reduced carbon emissions. Demonstrating the enduring power of the central idea, despite all the depressing contemporary evidence to its contrary, Bold also offered what all the others had promised: skiing—recast for snow-boarders. Like Professor Hackett, Bold’s iteration was billed as an employment generator. Like Wertheimer, Chandler and Burbury, Bold’s main customers would be cruise-ship passengers. Considering the Pinnacle Road, Bold echoed his predecessors, bemoaning the difficulty of reaching the summit.

His $50M project was backed by a Swiss manufacturer and the (Liberal) state government who re-wrote the Burbury and Wertheimer scheme Acts as the kunanyi/Mt Wellington Cable Car Facilitation Act. Likewise, a syndicate of local investors formed—with the key backer being the Arnold Wertheimer of today: the chairman of Tourism Tasmania, James Cretan.

Alas, after a spectacular slap in the face from Cascade Brewery, Bold was forced to abandon his Masterplan without an inch of cableway stretched above anything.


2018–? MWCC skytram

Remarkably quickly after the failure of the Masterplan Bold launched his second iteration: the Full Proposal, hailing it with a fumbling mass of cliches: "After three attempts, the Mount Wellington Cableway Company is proud to have unraveled the prohibitive red tape one by one to bring the dream to the cusp of reality." 

The new route was shorter, its alignment straightened and its base station closer to the mountain. The gondolas and the mid-park station were lost, but the Pinnacle Station was greatly expanded. The price increased slightly to $55 million, but the benefits skyrocketed from Burbury’s $15 million to $100 million per annum. 

Three weeks later, the Full Proposal unraveled itself. Somehow, unlike Wertheimer, the MWCC clumsily lost its authority from the state government to survey the route. Unlike for Chandler, the Hobart City Council refused consent for any cableway to be built upon any of their land ever. Stymied like Burbury, Bold dreamed that a Hobart City Council election would return an enthusiastic Council. The next election result was instead a nightmare for the MWCC.

Bold’s iteration now lies marooned and hobbled, surrounded by a swarm of detractors on social media, sliding rocks and bushfires. And all its investors’ money is spent.

2030 what-WAY next?

The completion of the Pinnacle Road to the top of the mountain in 1934 eliminated the monopoly and practical merit of any cableway, but the scheme’s power to attract those who combine a fancy for train sets with a desire to exploit mass tourism for private profit remains potent. Like hope, greed springs eternal.

Despite its history of abject failure to get liftoff, might a future scheme one day succeed? The proponents have shown themselves socially responsive and technically adaptable—indeed the technical difficulties have decreased, but as the scheme has been extrapolated and crystallised, its drawbacks and impacts, too, have been made crystal clear. The instrumentalist ideology driving the whole century-long shebang was laid bare by Dr (now Associate Professor) Kate Crowley in the International Journal of Justice and Sustainability in 1997. History does not repeat, but sometimes it rhymes (Mark Twain) and Crowley’s analysis has proved prophetic. The mentality of development expressed in the exploitation of Tasmania’s natural capital is unaltered, its power barely restricted. Future iterations of the cable car fantasy are guaranteed. So too is their fate.

eee_disaster.png