The proposed rail trail from Culcairn to Corowa would be 73 kilometres of cycling heaven, taking in tranquil rural scenes, green grazing pastures, golden canola fields and wide open skies.
Come with me on this virtual tour of flat easy cycling, townships of history and character, significant environmental wetlands, and people who will open your eyes and hearts.
For our virtual tour we started in Culcairn. The XPT train runs through Culcairn linking Sydney, Melbourne and Albury. Alternatively, an easy drive from the major population centres of Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney would bring you to the Hotel Culcairn.
The historic pub was owned by two brothers, Wayne and Garry Barber. The current lease is owned by two cousins, their sons, Kieren and Shannon Barber. Shannon lives locally.
Dedicated locals Peter and Debbie Graham help with the garden, trying to get the hotel back to its former glory days.
Peter and Debbie acted as guides for the first day of our tour. They used to run winery tours down to Rutherglen. For the second day, our guide was James Stanford.
The line runs from Culcairn to the town of Walla Walla.
This is the heart of the Lutheran exodus from South Australia back in the 1860’s. It took nine months for the wagons to get to this area of NSW. There are still many families with Germanic names. The historic Zion’s Church in Walla is the centre of Lutheran religious activities. The large high school, St Pauls, boasts first class equestrian activities.
When the rail trail gets going (out of virtual land), horse riding alongside the track will be a feature.
Pastor and ‘Spiritual Landscaper’ Darren Kupke showed us his church and we were given a recital on the organ by a descendant of the original settlers.
We were introduced to Andrew Kotzur, of Kotzur Silos. Andrew gave us a tour of his design and manufacturing facilities. We chatted briefly about the state of Australian manufacturing. Employing a hundred people, with a full engineering CAD section, this was a real antidote to feeling the bush is being bypassed.
Andrew listened attentively to our description of the Victorian tail trails. He could see the benefit of bringing more people to the area, and the prospective use by locals.
I didn’t need to prompt him about the need to tackle isolation and depression through healthy activities such as cycling.
We left with the distinct impression Andrew was going to take up our cause.
Bushranger Mad Dog Morgan’s lookout is a short distance along Lookout Rd from Walla.
The next stop on our virtual rail trail was Burrumbuttock Siding. Just before the siding is a magnificent trestle bridge. It looks in good condition, but this is one for the engineers. What a grand thing it would be to be able to ride across.
Over a hundred years ago a group of people got together and built something for the future, something that was meant to be used. I can only think that the greatest honour we could pay them would be to put that engineering heritage to use.
Just before the siding there is a set of points, a spur line to some kind of goods area, still in use for road haul. The points have the year 1890 embossed, with some kind of manufacturer’s initials.
The town of Burrumbuttock is not on the line, but what a wonderful thing it would be to have a track to the town. It has the Wirraminna Environmental Education Centre, set on four hectares, showing the ecology of local woodlands and native plants.
Speaking of things environmental, the number and variety of birds on the trail is astonishing.
Burrumbuttock issued a tongue in cheek invitation to Liz Hurley to come and visit, after she mused on twitter about funny sounding Australian place names.
Brockelsby is another small town, again with railway artifacts, a couple of low wooden bridges just outside. The bridges could well be left intact and a short diversion of the path around them provided.
After Brockelsby we arrived at Balldale.
Here we met the Corowa shire mayor, Fred Longmire.
More significantly, Fred told us of the slow descent of Balldale, of how the pub closed three years ago, and of the slow but steady decay. The police station, the school, the bank…
I told Fred of the projected numbers of visitors and of the average spend, his eyes lit up, he wanted to believe.
But there is no leap of faith. The numbers are based on solid evidence from the existing Victorian rail trails. As I explained to long time resident, Penny, leaning over the fence of the former bank building: “You might think, why would anyone come here? But you see this everyday, for us, from the city this is all new. We can’t get this in the city.”
“I can see you as a mamil,” she said to Fred.
Of course, I didn’t go on to explain that Balldale would have a stream of mamils (middle aged men in lycra) on fancy expensive bikes, asking for soy lattes and requiring bircher muesli at all hours of the day.
From Balldale and on to Corowa, home of the Federation conferences. A border town on the Murray River, traded goods between the two colonies required customs duties. The customs house just next to the Foord Bridge stands testament.
Next to the rail line lies the old flour mill, converted into a chocolate factory. The old races still stand, where bags of flour would be slipped down onto the back of labourers, to be loaded onto the train carriages.
Our hosts in Corowa were Heather Kerr and Maurice Wilson.
They showed us the Federation Museum. The volunteer on duty (who’s name escapes me, very sorry) showed us a book about the Culcairn-Corowa line. She had taken a number of the photos for the book.
From there the trail crosses the border into Victoria, and on to the wine district of Rutherglen.
Thank you so much to our hosts who took the time to show us what the district has to offer.
A video of the day exploring the Culcairn – Corowa railway.