Rail trail could have villages steaming on
Region on track for a cycling, horse riding and camping future
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.