Dad recently suggested that the Spirit of Tasmania vessels docks on the “wrong” side of the Mersey River, and he’s right. Too many cars turn left upon exiting East Devonport onto the highway, many without even spending a dollar until they hit Elizabeth Town or Launceston.

The Tasmanian Government recently announced that the next Bass Strait ferries will be built in Australia, and that’s great. Wouldn’t it really be something though if they were built in Tasmania?

Tasmania is a maritime destination after all. Many of seafaring’s biggest names – Cook, Bligh, Slocum, Bass and Flinders – made epic voyages around our island, and Tasmanians have built and raced countless ships since then. Before that though, the first Tasmanians skilfully crafted canoes and catamarans and bravely used them to travel as far as the Maatsuyker Islands, 10 kilometres off the coast in the wild Southern Ocean. Grandad worked on the Princess, the Empress, the Abel Tasman and the first Spirit of Tasmania.

Islands in other parts of the world are well serviced by ferries that hop between coastal towns and connect them to larger centres, and while we don’t have that here in Tasmania, we do have some excellent maritime tourism that we can build on. Rob Pennicot, Gordon River Cruises and the Maria Island ferry, are just a few examples, as is the outstanding growth in cruise ship visitation that Burnie has achieved through the efforts of Council, volunteers and others. These examples, together with our region’s manufacturing successes, should inspire us to think big and aim high.

High speed catamarans capable of crossing the Strait in five hours and berthing in the heart of the Living City on the western side of the Mersey River, would be a game changer. I don’t know how practical it is, but having read about and met the man, I know that if anybody can do it, Bob Clifford can and if ever there was a time to do it, it is now.

Extra people in the region – weekend shoppers from Melbourne and new Tasmanians attracted by the fast link to the mainland – would make a real difference. The critical mass would provide demand for high value retail, dining, and entertainment. Landlords would be able to find the time and money to spruce up the beautiful facades that are sometimes taken for granted in our CBD (look up the next time you’re walking through town). Those of us who already live here would benefit from more frequent trips to Melbourne and its cultural treasures. We could have the best of both worlds, being able to visit “the big smoke” more often, while still being able to call this special place home.

I know that “build it and they will come” isn’t a good business strategy, but really, why wouldn’t they? Our region has so much to offer. A scenic railway, a world leading first peoples’ cultural centre, and so much more could all be within the bounds of the Living City. World class mountain biking, murals, Cradle Mountain and the Tarkine are all only a bus ride away. If buses aren’t your thing, you could hire a bike and do chocolate, antiques and wine on a Latrobe – Spreyton – Devonport loop, possibly catching a glimpse of the White Bellied Sea Eagles that hang out over the new section of Coastal Pathway near Ambleside. If you didn’t over indulge, you could pedal, run, scooter or wheelchair your way further along the Coastal Pathway, which will soon link Latrobe to Ulverstone and has the potential to go further still.

One of the challenges we have here, is a lack of scale. While our region suits visitors who want to spend a few days driving between attractions, we don’t always have enough attractions concentrated in any one (short stay) location and nor do we have enough visitors to make many scheduled shuttles and tours viable. Unlike in many larger destinations, a visitor can’t simply count on being able to book a tour or experience that day.

There would also be a lot of pride attached to a homemade ferry or two. Visitors would rave about them, about the build, the customer service, and the Tasmanian fare served on board. We’d be able to say with pride that we made it all here. Many readers will be quick to say that the “Spew Cat” proved this is a bad idea. They’ll say, “We’ve tried it before and it didn’t work”, but that was in a different time. Now is the right time to reimagine how we experience crossing Bass Strait.

 – Daryl Connelly is the CEO at Cradle Coast Authority.