Tasmania, as with most of the world, was coping with severe economic depression during the nineteen thirties. The State Government initiated capital works programmes to employ those who were ‘on sustenance’ as it was called. It was considered beneficial to the physical and mental welfare of the unemployed to have gainful work. ‘Work for the dole’ could be considered the modern equivalent.
In Hobart, one such project was the construction of a road to the summit of Mount Wellington to allow access for motor vehicles. At the time, the Albert Ogilvie led Labor Party was in power. Ogilvie was passionate about promoting Tasmania as a tourist destination, so the building of the road, dubbed ‘Ogilvie’s Scar’, would have a double purpose. Work commenced in 1934.
Unfortunately, nothing is simple. The union rep. on the project worried about the undermining of conditions for its members. Men from the ranks of the unemployed were simply unable to afford union fees.
On February 21 1935 there was an Unemployment Rally at the Hobart Town Hall. Naturally politics were at play and critics spoke out against the Pinnicle Road initiative.
‘Another speaker said that the Labour Government was not prepared to put into operation the things it asked the previous Government to do when it was the opposition. Some of the conditions the Labour Government were forcing on the unemployed were a disgrace. in humanity. The men engaged in constructing the Pinnacle Road on Mount Wellington worked under conditions that no Tory Government would tolerate. The Labour Government, continued the speaker, were shirking responsibilities , and the Pinnacle fund would be a monument to the ‘so-called’ Labour Government and the ‘scab’ conditions it forced on the unemployed.
Nevertheless, the project was eventually completed, opened with great fanfare by the State Governor in 1937.
There is no doubt that Men endured freezing conditions on the mountain, often hacking their way through sections of solid rock. Some had no previous experience of pick and shovel work, but were driven by the need to provide for their families. A memorial plaque paid tribute to them, reading;
THIS TABLET WAS ERECTED TO COMMEMORATE THE ACHIEVEMENT OF THE MEN WHO LABOURED UNDER DIFFICULT CIRCUMSTANCES ON THE CONSTUCTION OF THE PINNACLE RD., PLANNED AND SUPERVISED BY THE OFFICERS OF THE PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT, AND BUILT BY THE GOVERNMENT OF TASMANIA IN ASSOCIATON WITH THE HOBART CITY COUNCIL.
I wonder if the tablet is still there?
Perhaps a final, enthusiastic word should go to Mr A. Butterfield of Newtown. In a letter to The Mercury published on March 26 1937 he wrote;
Sir. – Do dreams come true? Yes, sometimes. The Pinnacle Rd. is evidence. For many years some easy method of reaching this point has been written about, such as haulage or aerial tramway, but always passed over as a dream. It is to the credit of the present Government and to the honour of the engineers and the fine body of men engaged in the work that the present, wonderful road is in existence. Some morning we will wake and find a bridge across the Derwent at Hobart. My first visit to the Pinnacle Rd. was on a trip organized by the Bowling Association for visiting bowlers. I had a seat in an up-to-date motor-car fitted with the latest luxuries and devices; radiators, wireless etc., and made the trip in perfect comfort.
UPDATE – That ‘aerial tramway’ mentioned by Mr. Butterfield is still being planned 90 years on. For the latest information, CLICK HERE.