Gabrielle Rish, BookMark

The Romance of Mount Wellington, by John and Maria Grist, Franklin Press, $29.95, from bookshops, Hobart City Council or

As brains are racked over how best to manage Wellington Park over the foreseeable future, a recent book of beautiful historic postcards and photos shows the way southern Tasmanians enjoyed their mountain recreation a century ago.

In simpler times, groups of nature enthusiasts banded together and built huts on the lower slopes of Mt Wellington to use as bases for walks and conviviality at weekends. The huts, with their characteristic lacy decoration of woven dogwood branches, were secluded but, according to Maria and John Grist’s book, The Romance of Mount Wellington, “most hut syndicates prided themselves on their fine cuisine and their love of culture and gentle company”.

The Grists quote extracts from the Fern Lea Hut visitor book, including this comment from November 1907: “Rather a hot walk up here but rewarded with strawberries and cream when we arrived. Had a bonser (sic) tea and reached home safely.”

Reading the new draft Management Plan for Wellington Park (the final stage of public comment on the plan closes on October 26), it’s clear how much times have changed: no one could level a grove and build a chalet on it these days, though community Bushcare groups have a residual special relationship in the stewardship role they undertake.

The striking thing when reading the public submissions on the issues paper that informed the draft plan is the crossfire of different user groups. There’s the walkers, the dog walkers, the bikers, the horse-riders, the skiers and the people who don’t want to do any exercise at all, other than walking from their car to a café with a panorama that really enhances that necessary hit of caffeine.

There’s those who feel the Mountain is all about natural ecosystems and those who believe that great big looming lump of dolerite isn’t earning its right to exist if people aren’t making money out of it – especially right on the top of it.

Amazingly, reading the background material to the draft Management Plan, there are now 76 commercial operators in the Wellington Park, up from 25 in 2005. So already, in a low-key way, there’s abundant commercial activity.

Mythical cable cars aside, the commercial operation on the Mountain that comes most to mind is the old Springs Hotel. The hotel site is still there clearly marked out, just above the Springs picnic area. The hotel itself burnt down in the 1967 bushfires, along with the Ridgeway tea room and the Fern Tree Hotel (which also burnt down in 1900). The Grists say the social club huts were mostly razed by fires in 1912.

The Romance of Mount Wellington is divided into chapters from lower slopes to summit. A photo from 1912 shows a cart drawn by five horses heading up Huon Road, crammed with 15-20 people. The Springs was the most likely destination. Before the Pinnacle Road was extended past the Springs in the 1930s, the only way people could get to the top was on foot, via the Ice House Track.

Now there’s traffic all over the Mountain, and not just on the Huon and Pinnacle Roads. Walking tracks have become shared-use tracks in recent years. The Management Plan review notes tensions such as this: “Dangerous downhill riding on Radfords Track. It is recognised that the speed at which downhill cycling can occur on sections of the Radford Track can create some risks to other track users, however its width and location make it popular and convenient for downhill biking.” One respondent to the issues paper suggested making this comfortably graded and popular walking track bike-only.

A majority of the 163 respondents to the directions paper on the new draft Management Plan favour any commercial activity on the mountain being restricted to its traditional area – the Springs.

That sentiment, if adopted by the Park Trust, would quash the notion of a helipad on the summit for scenic flights and the cable car. (Why does the latter proposal always remind me of the Sydney monorail, or the Springfield monorail from The Simpsons? Construction engineer’s dream morphs into civic white elephant.)

There is scope to enhance people’s interactions with the Mountain in a way that doesn’t involved 100s of millions of dollars of unnecessary infrastructure. Suggestions to the Management Plan review include designing and publicising long walk experiences within Wellington Park and building a collection of simple cottages for tourist accommodation on the lower slopes. If that suggestion gets adopted, I sincerely hope that the art of dogwood branchwork weaving is revived.

The Wellington Park Trust has set up a web forum (Here) to facilitate community discussion on the draft Plan. To read and make a representation on the draft plan go to Public comment closes on October 26.