The Rail Trails for NSW team recently attended the launch of the supporters group for the Coolac, Gundagai, Tumbalong Rail Trail.
This trail has been supported by Gundagai council, with Miriam Crane, council’s Economic Development Manager working closely with councillors and the regional representative of Infrastructure NSW.
A feasibility study has been undertaken, along the lines of what was recommended for the Expression of Interest process that has now led to only two projects preselected for possible pilot status.
The large Sydney team, lead by Rail Trails for NSW president John Moore, were joined by the Tumbarumba lead Owen Fitzgerald, Goulburn’s Bob Kirk, and Ian Jackson and Ant Packer from the High Country Rail Trail. All had come to lend their support and to boost this trail’s profile.
The initial phase of the meeting saw a number of council staff and elected representatives present, as well as interested members of the local community.
Katrina Hodgkinson, local NSW member and Minister for Agriculture came for a short time. She was obviously impressed by the professional video of the NZ Hauraki Rail Trail, and by Gary Hackett’s succinct and engaging presentation.
Katrina Hodgkinson presented a demonstration cheque, funding a shared use path along an old travelling stock route leading to the Dog on the Tucker Box visitor site. Although not a rail trail, and probably too short to attract metropolitan and interstate visitors, this will be a fillip for local Gundagai cyclists and those locals wanting to try a short burst of healthy outdoor exercise.
Will Owens, Ant Packer, Owen Fitzgerald and Bob Kirk presented information on rail trails from their local perspectives.
One highlight was the cameo role of two passing cyclists. Tim Coen, Sydney team member wandered outside for a moment to discover two passing British cyclists, on a grand ride along the Australian Eastern seaboard. Tim pressed them to come inside to prove there were actually people comfortably riding long distances.
The meeting ended with selection of a leader. Paul and Rebecca Britt rose to the challenge, prompted by Miriam Crane. Paul had been involved in the initial push for a rail trail, and has been active in the local BUG (bicycle user group) and Scouts.
It is worth exploring the possibilities of the trail more closely on a map or searching historical details on some of the rail heritage sites.
One of the best railway map site is http://www.openrailwaymap.org/ This shows the line clearly. Search for Coolac.
You can see this line once branched from the main Sydney Melbourne line at Cootamundra, running to Coolac, Gundagai, Tumbalong then Tumut. A further branch line went from Tumut to Batlow.
This line is distinct from the branch line which ran from Wagga Wagga, through Rosewood and on to Tumbarumba.
Gundagai council is willing to fund a small part of the trail trail in town as part of its existing bike plan.
After the meeting the team explored the Gundagai station, now a museum. We were given a comprehensive tour by the caretaker Nathan. The station has been meticulously maintained, and is well worth a visit if you have some time to spare in Gundagai. Of course, cycling on the rail trail, the station would be a must visit.
Also of great interest in Gundagai is the historic Prince Albert road bridge. Sadly this bridge is in a great state of disrepair. A sign announces that it is now a managed ruin, somewhat of an oxymoron. The cost of the major repair work, ten million dollars, is beyond the means of Gundagai council. Without state or national support for this Australian icon, nothing, it seems, can prevent it being washed away in the next major flood.
Before the meeting at Gundagai, the team had visited Coolac and examined the goods siding. The station has been demolished. Coolac is now very much a dwindling town. Visitors from the rail trail would help bring some activity back.
After the meeting the team travelled to Tumbalong pub. Paul Young, the licensee, had been at the meeting and was keen to show his support. Tumbalong is now a small side town just off the highway. The garden out the back of the pub was a welcome oasis after the energy of the meeting.
We drove on to Adelong, Batlow and then Laurel Hill Forest Lodge just north of Tumbarumba. This rustic convention and school camp centre was once a prison farm. Owen and Cathy Fitzgerald now run it for such activities as school camps, adventure and outdoor group activities. They have a cycling tour this Easter.
Own and Cathy have imaginatively named the accommodation blocks after famous prisons; Pentridge, Bogo Road, Long Bay. The accommodation is simple but friendly. The surroundings are peaceful, with bird life, kangaroos and other wild life in abundance.
That night Owen and Cathy put on a great meal; soup, a stew and dessert, almost all from local ingredients of their property.
Bushed from that day’s drive and meeting we went to bed early. Those of us doing the Tumbatrek had to have breakfast at five thirty and be on the road to Tumbarumba by six.