Saturday 9 March 2019

Hobart's Mountain: kunanyi/Mt. Wellington

Australia Blog #5 – 10 March 2019
Hobart’s Mountain: kunanyi/Mt. Wellington

kunanyi – the mountain – mount wellington

muwinina. mumirimina. nununi.
These tribes of Aboriginal families know the mountain 
as more than rock.
kunanyi, it is called.
Tribal land made in sacred country.

Season of rain and wisdom of stories past,
kunanyi brings forth life.
For two thousand generations past. And forever more.

Songs and dance honour this power. Listen. 
These words still carry in the
wind, so that kangaroo and mountain berry
will always grow
in kunanyi’s forest cloak.

By Dr. Greg Lehman,
descendent of the Trawulwuy people of North East Tasmania

Mt. Wellington – also officially known by its Aboriginal name, kunanyi – looms over Hobart like a protective giant. Its summit is 1271 metres (4170 feet) above the city of 229,000 tiny people below. And it is spectacular. Check out the web cams here.

On a clear day, you can, in fact, almost see forever – in all four directions. On a dodgy or foggy day, you’re lucky to see a few metres in front of you. In the winter, it often is covered in snow.

kunanyi was given its official European name by the British colonial government in 1832 to honour the Duke of Wellington for his defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Its official Aboriginal name was recognized in 2013 as part of the Tasmanian government’s dual naming policy to honour both Aboriginal and European place names.

Charles Darwin climbed the mountain in 1836.

The first time I visited the summit was January, 1972, when I’d flown to Hobart on my summer vacation. (Summer vacation for most Australian schools runs from mid-December to the end of January.) It was a perfectly cloudless Australian summer day, but at the summit the wind howled fiercely, the temperature was frigid, and icicles hung from the transmission towers built there. I remember hanging on for dear life, afraid I might get blown over the edge!

Fast forward 47 years: Bill and I had been waiting patiently for a clear day so we could join the ghost of Charles Darwin at the peak of kunanyi. Finally, a glorious blue-sky day presented itself, and off we went. It took us about an hour to drive from the Huon Valley to the summit. And I’m glad Bill was driving – my vertigo asserted itself quickly as we started the ascent. The road is very narrow and very twisty. (See YouTube video of someone else’s ascent here.) Guard rails ranged from flimsy to non-existent most of the way. And the drop-off at the edge of the road was precipitous. Bless Bill and his nerves of steel! Once we reached the summit – phew! – we wandered around in awe. We had the place almost to ourselves, there being few visitors that day. I hope my photos do kunanyi justice.

One of the photos shows the Tasman Bridge, the vital link between the eastern suburbs of Hobart, including the airport, and the more populous CBD (Central Business District) and western suburbs. Crossing the Derwent River, the bridge was opened in 1964. I crossed it several times during my 1972 visit. 

Tragically, disaster struck on the evening of January 5, 1975. The bulk carrier Lake Illawarra struck one of the bridge’s support pillars, causing a section of the bridge deck to collapse into the river below. Twelve people died, including seven on board the ship and five in cars that went hurtling over the edge. The ship sank within minutes. Check out a YouTube video here about one of the cars left teetering on the edge.

At the time, the Tasman Bridge was the only major bridge crossing the river in Hobart. Thousands of people had their lives turned upside down, having to drive 90 minutes out of their way to reach the next bridge. The Tasman Bridge was reopened on October 8, 1977. A second bridge was opened about 10 km north in 1984.

If you look carefully at my photo of the Tasman Bridge from kunanyi, you can see where the Lake Illawarrastruck the bridge – look at the far side and count three bridge pylons from the end. You’ll see a wider gap between the third and fourth bridge pylons – that’s the exact point where the ship hit the bridge.

Back to kunanyi: there is an unfortunate proposal to build a giant cable car up the side of the mountain, linking Hobart with a luxury restaurant at the summit. The opposition to this invasive proposal is intense, including from the City of Hobart itself. The state government, however, supports it and wants to force it through. [People of Ontario: does this sound familiar?] When Bill and I walked around the summit, we tried to imagine this incredibly invasive project and its impact on the pristine park. What a terrible idea! Don’t be taken in by the slick vision in the project's promotional website. (Link) Have a look at my friend Philip Lynch’s recent essay about the cable car project in the Tasmanian Times for a reality check. (Link)

I hope you enjoy these photos of our trip up kunanyi!

Alas, Bill and I are leaving our slice of paradise in the Huon Valley this coming Friday, March 15. We plan to travel to Launceston (north-central Tasmania), Burnie (on the north coast), and Falmouth (on the northeast coast), before returning to Hobart on March 21. We fly to Canberra on March 24 and take the train to Sydney on March 28. Our flight back to Toronto is April 2. It will be wonderful to return home...and it will also be hard to leave. Part of my heart now resides permanently in Tasmania.

I hope to continue posting during the rest of our travels, but I'm not sure exactly when.

Panorama view, facing facing northeast

Tasman Bridge, facing north

Bush fires, facing north

 Rock formations at the summit.

Viewing Building at the summit

People at the summit #1

People at the summit, #2

People at the summit, #3

Wise choice. Our friend Charles has ridden
 his bike to the top - twice! A brave man!

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