Rail trail could have vil­lages steam­ing on

Re­gion on track for a cy­cling, horse rid­ing and camp­ing fu­ture

Central and North Burnett Times - - ROAD - BY Digby Hil­dreth

HAVE you tried eat­ing out on a Satur­day night with­out a reser­va­tion in Lis­more lately? You’ll go hun­gry. The town is “pop­ping”, one re­cent vis­i­tor re­marked – bounc­ing back af­ter its near-death by drown­ing fol­low­ing Cy­clone Deb­bie ear­lier this year.

Now the coun­cil has an­nounced plans to re­vamp the river­banks, cre­at­ing a “South­bank” precinct found in cities from Lon­don to Bris­bane. Pro­posed ameni­ties in­clude a walk­ing and cy­cling loop, a re­pur­posed train sta­tion and the hot-hous­ing of cre­ative in­dus­tries, set­ting up an en­ter­tain­ment and cul­tural quar­ter un­prece­dented on the North Coast. It’s mu­sic to the ears of pro­po­nents of a cy­cling trail along the rail­way line from Casino to Mur­willum­bah, the North­ern Rivers Rail Trail As­so­ci­a­tion, who say it would bring tourists and lo­cals alike into the town.

The other big towns on the route would ben­e­fit sim­i­larly from the 132km rail trail, its sup­port­ers say, in­clud­ing Casino, with the re­de­vel­op­ment of the Old Casino rail­way sta­tion as a start-point for the ad­ven­ture ahead, cel­e­brat­ing its past as the rail cap­i­tal of the re­gion and its present as beef cap­i­tal of Aus­tralia.

The busi­nesses in Mul­lumbimby and Mur­willum­bah would also ben­e­fit, not least the Tweed River Art Gallery, that could be joined to the trail by an added link.

The trail has re­cently taken gi­ant steps for­ward, with the as­so­ci­a­tion re­cently crowd­fund­ing $75,000 to de­velop an en­gi­neer­ing plan for the trail, boosted by $100,000 from Rich­mond and Lis­more coun­cils. The State Govern­ment has re­served $6.3 mil­lion for con­vert­ing the Mur­willum­bah to Crabbes Creek sec­tion of the track.

But it is the small hin­ter­land vil­lages that stand to be the big­gest win­ners, at­tract­ing scores of the “right kind” of tourist, travellers seek­ing some­thing be­yond the usual ur­ban dis­trac­tions. The many unique vil­lages con­tain sto­ries and an easy in­for­mal­ity amid bird­song and stun­ning, di­verse scenery, from farm­land to for­est.

‘‘ I think it’s a mar­vel­lous idea for fam­i­lies with kids.

The hid­den de­tails of his­tory are qui­etly thrilling. Leyces­ter, for in­stance, was named af­ter the first white man to ex­plore the Casino re­gion, the mag­nif­i­cently mon­ick­ered Au­gus­tus Adol­phus Leyces­ter, in 1843. It was once a thriv­ing set­tle­ment at the heart of a fer­tile area, where al­most any­thing would grow. It had a school, post of­fice, ten­nis courts and dances well into the 20th cen­tury.

Like other set­tle­ments be­tween Casino and Lis­more – Fern­side, Bent­ley, Naughton’s Gap – it once had its own rail­way plat­form, where trains col­lected cream for pro­cess­ing in Lis­more, and beans, peas, ba­nanas bound for Syd­ney on ships from By­ron Bay.

A more elab­o­rate struc­ture was at Bungabee, where there was a sid­ing for trains to pass, and fet­tlers’ huts for the gangs of sin­gle men work­ing on the lines.

Au­gus­tus was re­port­edly a well-ed­u­cated English gent, re­spected by all. He and his busi­ness part­ner cre­ated the vast Tunstall cat­tle sta­tion, nearly 8000ha, ex­tend­ing to to­day’s Tunces­ter. They fell out with a sheep gra­zier next door, Au­gus­tus was ru­ined and de­camped to the Cal­i­for­nia gold­fields.

The mer­est peep into the past in such places re­veals a trea­sure trove of ma­te­rial – food for the mind of in­quir­ing tourists; those in­ter­ested in his­tory and keen to en­gage with the lo­cals, the to­pog­ra­phy, indige­nous and con­tem­po­rary cul­ture; peo­ple whose leisurely two-wheeled ap­proach would make the ride a richly re­ward­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The sen­sual plea­sures are catered for by the vil­lages too – places such as Eltham, with its grand old steel bridge across the Wil­sons River, which is al­ready a des­ti­na­tion for food lovers, with the Eltham Pantry and a pub of­fer­ing a peace­ful at­mos­phere and good healthy meals.

Ev­ery­thing from pecans to pork is avail­able on the track through Booy­ong and Nashua, with one grower there say­ing the rail trail could mo­ti­vate them to re­fur­bish their old barn and cre­ate a farm shop.

“And the many crafts­peo­ple in the area could do so more openly and ob­vi­ously, and open up lit­tle shopfronts,” she said.

The vil­lage once had a butcher’s shop and gen­eral store but now pro­vides a “beau­ti­ful land­scape, and so quiet”.

Booy­ong (the iron­wood tree) also boasts one of the last stands of Big Scrub rain­for­est – 16ha of cen­turies-old canopy, with up to 150 species of plants, in­clud­ing the red cedar that drew thou­sands of work­ers to the area, and some of the world’s largest gi­ant water gums.

The lush Tweed sec­tion of the pro­posed rail trail prom­ises a vari­a­tion in the land­scape, with the great bent head of Mt Wol­lumbin beck­on­ing in the dis­tance.

Here the res­i­dents of the four main vil­lages – each a day’s horse ride apart in the 19th cen­tury – present a vari­a­tion on the theme. As well as a boon to busi­ness for the cafe, gallery and an­tique store own­ers and ac­com­mo­da­tion venues, they say the trail would pro­vide much needed con­nec­tiv­ity – a safe and leisurely trans­port cor­ri­dor be­tween cen­tres from Crabbes Creek

SLEEPER IDEA: Plenty of other places have had suc­cess with slow tourism, now it could be time for the North­ern Rivers to ben­e­fit.

◗ Lisa Young has Stok­ers Sid­ing De­sign Stu­dio, just across the road from the old rail­way sta­tion.

◗ Big skies and panoramic ru­ral views await cy­clists be­tween Casino and Lis­more.

◗ Places such as the Moo Moo Cafe at Mooball pro­vide dis­trac­tions along with re­fresh­ments.

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