Rail Trail boost to tourism - and local economy

The Goulburn Crookwell Heritage Rail Trail presents an “Enormous Opportunity” for the area that could help deliver much needed benefits - and deal with all legitimate concerns of landholders.

This is the view of Mr. Paul Culhane, a member of the rail trail group and Upper Lachlan Councillor as expressed in a letter to the Crookwell Gazette.

Mr. Culhane’s full letter follows.

Rail Trail an Opportunity too good to pass up

The biggest challenge to the fabric of Crookwell and district society as we know (or knew) it is providing adequate opportunities for the youth of Crookwell and young families.

At the last census In NSW the average percentage of people between the ages of 20 to 34 was 20.1% (20.6% across Australia) whereas in Upper Lachlan Shire we have only 10.5%.

One reason is school leavers leave our community to attend higher education in other areas, however, that was always the case.

The real reason is the lack of employment opportunities for this age group.

The potato industry, shearing industry and general farming sector that provided the bulk of employment opportunities in days gone by and have either declined or shed labor through the use of better equipment that saves on labor.

As any long standing resident knows in the seventies and eighties Crookwell had a Saturday tennis competition with up to eight grades, junior and senior men and women’s hockey competitions as well as many other sports much stronger than they are today.

This is perhaps the most obvious social consequence of losing a large chunk of this age group.

On a positive note in the last five years, with the every increasing number of people looking to travel and our improved connecting road infrastructure, we are seeing increasing visitors and hence tourism spend, which is slowly boosting our accommodation, food and general commercial sectors and providing some jobs.

Tourism is the only standout sector that realistically can grow into the future and provide employment for our youth and help keep the right balance of age in our community so that our hospitals, schools, clubs etc can be maintained.

The Goulburn – Crookwell Heritage Rail Trail project presents an enormous opportunity for our district which if properly designed and managed can contribute significantly in delivering those much needed benefits and also deal with all legitimate concerns that affected landholders have raised.

Pleasingly, the consultants who assisted with the local design, found the affected residents were largely positive (more than two thirds) and there was a much higher acceptance of the project than many other similar projects around the country.

There is no doubt Rail Trails have been enormously successful around the world but closer to home the Victorian and New Zealand Rail Trails have without exception been overwhelmingly beneficial to small communities struggling with the same issues we have.

In all cases they have met with fierce criticism and opposition by a minority prior to opening but have subsequently been admired and the benefits welcomed by those same communities with the only regret usually being that it took so long to occur.

The Otago Rail Trail in the South Island of New Zealand which I’ve visited travels right through the middle of the Canterbury Plains with prime fat lamb and dairy farms either side of it which have continued to thrive despite the same dire predictions now being made here.

Not only have the farms continued to thrive but many tourism related and farming cottage industries have sprung up bolstering all parts of the local economy.

Farmer’s children unable to be sustained on the family farm have a much better prospect of local employment and staying in their community as a result.

The idea of a local Rail Trail is not new with the Upper Lachlan and former Crookwell Shire having expressed interest in obtaining grant funding for over a decade.

The only difference now is that the NSW Government has recognised the undeniable benefits flowing to other parts of rural Australia and seeks those same benefits in NSW.

To date, they have approved a single pilot project but all indications are likely to provide more project funding.

If our community rejects being involved in this process other communities are already lining up to take our place.

Some may recall Crookwell had the opportunity to connect to the national gas grid years ago but a vocal minority convinced Council at the time it was a wasteful exercise and could never be justifiable, what a master stroke that proved to be.

Finally, I would note again, that I recognise the legitimate concerns of farmers and residents new and old along the rail corridor who have every right to raise their issues.

If the trail passed through my property, I too would want assurances as to how the trail was built and operated, but, I am convinced ongoing consultation will result in satisfactory outcomes for all concerns as has been the experience elsewhere.

Next time you struggle to get a park in the main street on a Saturday morning because of visitors, think about the benefits these people bring to the place we love now and into the future, if we are prepared to put up with some small inconveniences, not having everything totally our own way.