Imagine this! You are walking or riding from Mullumbimby to Byron Bay. Before you the easy track undulates around beautiful green countryside. Skilfully built old embankment cuttings keep it all level. There are no cars in sight. Is this a dream? There is a disused railway, a track that goes all the way from Murwillumbah through Billinudgel, Mullumbimby, Byron, Bangalow, Lismore and on to Casino.
Many say we should bring back the trains. Considering the invasion of our roads with the intimidating juggernaut B doubles driven by drivers speeding in every sense, the image of a safe solid train groaning with freight, and passengers sitting back in a convivial dining car setting makes a nice alternative thought-form from yesteryear.
In the long run the train dream may be possible, but while we wait, other parties more interested in profit may be making their plans around this desirable long paddock real estate. Mullum Woollies for example, looks like they are already there, on old railway land, but fortunately it's still open line.
In olde England there are many ancient traditional walking and bridle paths with stiles between farms, but here, where private property is king of crass, farms are fenced cheek by jowl, with not a chink in between where the folk can walk.
As a local doctor I ask the community, 'what is healthier than a long walk in the country?'
An unfenced piece of land like this disused rail, all the miles from Murwillumbah to Casino, is an irreplaceable resource and the surest way to keep it as a community asset is to, at least in the first instance, walk on it. The Byron shire has long been a living laboratory for social change so the Mullum to Byron section would be a good start. A café at Tyagarah junction would link Brunswick Heads. Possibly a slow quiet light electric transport for those who cannot walk might still be ok, because the strong old rail bridges, such as the high bridge over the Brunswick river, known to boating people (not visible from the road) have surely weathered too much for conventional trains. This is an opinion from the eye of a yacht builder, sorry, no real engineering qualifications at all.
From direct experience, anyone who has walked a railway line will know how difficult it is to negotiate the wooden sleepers, sharp chunky blue metal, steel lines and assorted hardware, so its currently unusable. The removed materials could be recycled to pay for a transformation to accommodate even a wheelchair on its new fair smooth level surface, as a community project. But there's more. The railway land is not only level, but wider than the visible tracks, in places much more so, as old service roads used to run alongside the rail, in gullies and slopes. After all, where can a horse go these days?
In keeping with the new political mood for ideas from the people, we should be prepared to talk about these things, rather than the old way of entrenched positions. Its been done in other places. Next time, in your car zooming over the highway bridge at Tyagarah, steal a quick glimpse at the rail below. The grass is so thick you can’t even see the lines anymore. Is this a case of 'out of sight, out of mind?' For a longer experience, stop one day at the rickety bridge on the Wooyung cutting. Take a good look, and imagine.
Dr David Miller, Brunswick Heads