Rail trail project steams ahead amid protests from train enthusiasts

The Hinterland Post checked out the rail line at Eltham with Member for Lismore, Thomas George

The Northern Rivers Rail Trail is set to become a reality for our region, evoking an emotional reaction from the local community. We hit the trail to hear from the locals who are for and against.

The grand plans for the Northern Rivers Rail Trail is to have a 132km walking and cycling track from Casino to Murwillimbah, via Byron Bay.

The federal and state government have just committed $6.5 million each to help fund the first stage of the rail trail, which includes transformation of the 24km of rail corridor from Murwillumbah to Crabbes Creek, near Mullumbimby.

The rail trail is expected to revitalise small communities along the route and boost the local tourism industry by encouraging visitors to stay longer and inject money into our local economy.

Figures for a completed rail trail show 88,000 visitors will use the trail each year and spend around $18 million in the region, providing 60 direct jobs and 300 indirect jobs.

The Northern Rivers Rail Trail Group started back in 2013 when locals, including Marie Lawton, came up with the idea and got the ball rolling.

“I’ve ridden rail trails in Victoria and New Zealand and realised how beneficial they were for the small communities they wind through,” Marie said.

Marie also argues that, in addition to all of the tourism and the obvious health benefits for the locals using the trail, it will also help to keep the rail corridor available for public use.

“We run the risk of losing the rail corridor if it’s not used,” Marie said. 

“We’ve run markets, given talks to community groups, written newsletters and media pieces, run petitions, held events and fundraisers which have all helped to get the project off the ground,” she said. 

From all of this profile raising, the funding eventually followed. In addition to the $13 million being tipped in from state and federal governments, $75 thousand was also raised from a crowd funding campaign to put towards a business case for the Casino to Eltham section of the trail.

Member for Lismore, Thomas George, said the project has been a result of a lot of hard work to get it where it is today.

“Originally the Northern Rivers Rail Trail Group were advocating for the whole line, from Casino through to Murwillumbah, to be developed,” he said.

“However, not all shire councils could agree on the plan. There was funding promised to look at it but because everyone along the line didn’t agree, it fell through.

“Then Tweed Shire Council, together with Northern Rivers Rail Trail group and the community, kept pushing for the Tweed Shire to be used as a pilot program.

“This hasn’t been driven by members of parliament, the rail trail has been driven by the community and Tweed Shire Council.

“As a result, their case has been recognised by the state and federal government and funding has been allocated to realise their plans,” Thomas said.

While the Northern Rivers Railway Action Group don’t have an issue with constructing the rail trail within the railway corridor, they have big issues with removing the railway tracks and replacing them with the trail.

Representative of the Group, Bill Fenelon said it’s possible to restore the train services one day, it just requires politicians with a bit of vision and thought for the future.

“The track, in its current condition, can already support lightweight rail vehicles,” Bill said.

“We’re advocating reopening the entire existing 132kms which will link all of these hinterland and coastal towns and villages.

“The remaining 32km to Tweed Heads should be completed and extended to Gold Coast Airport,” Bill said.

Bill also said suggestions that the rail trail will help protect the railway corridor were simply false.

“Section 99a of the Transport Administration Act has worked well to protect disused railway corridors all over the NSW.

“Under Rail Safe regulations, the railway corridor is required to be a minimum of 31 metres but at times it’s required to be over 40 metres around Byron and Mullumbimby where there are multiple tracks.

“With the train tracks being around 1.5 metres and the trail being around 3 metres, there’s ample room for the bike path to run alongside the track and section 99a would remain in force, protecting the corridor against any sell off.

“If Section 99a protection is removed so the trail can be built over the railway, developers could end up getting hold of the land, meaning the railway will never be restored," Bill said. 

Marie Lawton said the Rail Trail Group doesn’t think it would be possible for the trail to run beside the tracks.

“However it’s worthwhile getting the engineers tendering for the project to put the idea to rest one way or another,” she said.

“It might be possible from Byron to Mullumbimby but not from Byron to Bangalow. Through the Burringbar Range, there are tunnels, culverts, steep drop offs and bridges.

“We have to ask ourselves why we’d do that when it would be a lot cheaper and safer to construct the trail along the tracks. 

“If we thought there was a train coming back in the not-too-distant future, we wouldn’t be campaigning for a rail trail.

“It just wouldn’t be reasonable for any government to spend that much money on a train, for a low-population area, that not many people would use," Marie said. 

Thomas George said, “The government has made a decision there will be no train back on that track and I doubt whether any government would put a train back on there.”

“The government is funding a $2 million study for the light rail to come from Gold Coast down into Tweed Heads. If that proves successful, there’s nothing stopping the government and the community considering an extension of the light rail, which is common sense.

“However, it will go down the coast where the population is and that’s an opportunity that may happen in years to come,” Thomas said.

Got vegan?

Got vegan?

No longer confined to the fringes of society, veganism is set to become a more mainstream lifestyle choice in 2018.

Around the Northern Rivers region, vegans and vegan food is abundant. However there aren’t hard statistics available on the actual number of those following a vegan lifestyle in Australia.

If we follow the money, Australia is now the third-fastest growing vegan market in the world, after the United Arab Emirates and China. According to market researcher Euromonitor International, Australia's packaged vegan food market is currently worth more than $135 million and is expected to reach $215 million by 2020.

Between 2012 to 2016, according to Roy Morgan Research, the number of Australian adults whose diet was all or almost all vegetarian has risen from 1.7 million people to almost 2.1 million or 11.2 per cent of the population. 

While it’s becoming a nationwide trend, the shift towards vegetarianism has been most striking in New South Wales, where there has been a 30 per cent growth in those following a vegetarian diet.

A vegan is someone who rejects meat or animal products. However there are strict vegans who won’t touch sugar because in some cases it can be processed with bone char. Then there are vegans at the other end of the scale who might eat the odd egg from their chooks or spoonful of honey from their own bee hives.

According to the Vegan Society, modern-day veganism started in the 1940s when a guy called Donald Watson met with a group of other non-dairy vegetarians to discuss their lifestyle and what they should be labelled. After rejecting names such as ‘dairyban’ and ‘benevore’ they settled on vegan, the first three and last two letters of vegetarian.

However, rejecting animal consumption has been around for more than 2000 years. Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras promoted kindness amongst all species and followed what was essentially a vegetarian diet. Around the same time, Siddhārtha Gautama, better known as Buddha, was discussing vegetarian diets with his followers.

We hit the streets and spoke to the owners of insanely popular café, Flock in Lismore. Sarah Jones and Kim Strow started Flock in a small arcade in 2013 and when the 2017 floods hit they lost nearly everything. With some help from the community and a lot of soul searching, they took the opportunity to take over a much bigger premises on Woodlark Street and it has gone from strength to strength.

“When we opened we actually started as a vegetarian café and in the first six months, when we were testing out our menu, our customers were asking for both meat and vegan options,” Sarah said.

“Now around 40 per cent of our menu would be vegan and you can also alter many of our options to be vegan.

“I think veganism is growing in popularity but it seems to go in waves. Last year there definitely seemed to be a spike in the number of vegans,” Sarah said.

This may have had something to do with documentary, What the Health, released in 2017, which brought veganism into the mainstream media and many a dinner party conversation. The film looked at the health and environmental impacts of meat and dairy product consumption, and questioned the practices of the leading health organisations as well as major food and pharmaceutical companies.

Along with vegan food, vegan or natural wine is also gaining popularity.

Local Clunes winemaker, Jared Dixon from Jilly Wines said, “Most wines aren’t vegan because they’re made with animal products which are used to fine a wine and help in stabilisation and clarification of the wine.

“The animal products generally used for this are milk, isinglass which is fish guts, egg whites or gelatine.

“I don't use anything to clarify my wines other than natural stability from malolactic fermentation where lactic acid bacteria convert malic to lactic acid.

“In addition, the cool months in winter help to stabilise my wines naturally.

“I also only ever move my wines on the full moon because the gravitational pull at this time is at its strongest so anything suspended in solution will tend to settle better at this time.

Jilly Wines has seen the financial benefits from producing vegan-style wines with top class restaurants, Fleet in Brunswick Heads, Three Blue Ducks, Roadhouse, DUK and St Elmo in Byron, Harvest in Newrybar and Shelter at Lennox Heads, all stocking his wines.

Jilly Wines are also being sought after internationally with Japan taking quite a chuck of wine this year.

“The natural and organic wine scene is growing at a rapid rate in Japan,” Jared said.

Where to eat and drink vegan

Flock Espresso & Eats – 49 Woodlark Street, Lismore

7 days a week 6:30am – 4:30pm

As mentioned above, nearly half their menu is vegan or can be altered to be vegan. They have a good range of salads and raw vegan treats and they are really filling and yummy. 

20 000 Cows – 58 bridge Street, Lismore (Vegan restaurant)

Wednesday to Saturday 6:30pm – 9:00pm

This restaurant is a Lismore institution offering vegan fare and there’s suggested prices for the food items. It has a great philosophy and vibe. You feel as though you’re sitting in someone’s lounge room.

Clunes Store, Café & Cellars - 33 Main Street Clunes

Café open 7 days 7:00am – 2:00pm

The Clunes Store, Café and Bottleshop definitely punch above their weight in terms of their range of vegan food and wine options.

Harvest Newrybar  18-22 Old Pacific Hwy, Newrybar

Restaurant open Mon-Fri 12pm-11pm and Sat-Sun 8am-11pm

Set in the quaint village of Newrybar, Harvest is a beautiful place to dine. They have a focus on local and Australian bush foods. The dinner menu has more vegan options than the lunch menu.

The Beet - Shop 6, 90 – 96 Jonson Street, Byron Bay (Vegan restaurant)

Monday – Saturday 6:30pm – 9:00pm

The Beet Vegan Restaurant serve healthy plant-based meals in a modern restaurant in Byron. They have the usual pizza, burgers and pasta but all with a distinct vegan feel.

Manna Haven - 97 Jonson Street, Byron Bay (Vegetarian restaurant)

Sunday – Friday 11:00am – 3:00pm

Manna Haven focus on whole-food plant based meals made from fresh, wholesome and natural ingredients. They serve a range of vegan and vegetarian meals, desserts and smoothies.

Three Blue Ducks at The Farm - 11 Ewingsdale Rd, Ewingsdale

Restaurant opening times

No visit to Byron is complete, especially with kids, without a visit to The Farm. You can wander through the farm and check out where your food comes from or sit back and relax in the industrial-sheike restaurant. While there is quite a focus on meat, there are vegan and gluten free options for breakfast lunch and dinner.

Shelter Café and Restaurant - 41 Pacific Parade, Lennox Head

Sunday – Wednesday 6:30am – 3:00pm

Thursday – Saturday 6:30am – 10:30pm

Shelter is a beachside café and restaurant with great coffee and a relaxed feel. They have a couple of vegan options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

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Top 5 Byron Hinterland Markets

The Northern Rivers is known for their markets and world-class produce.

Most residents are fiercely loyal to their local farmers and will find the majority of their weekly food shop from their markets and family butchers.

They shun the likes of Coles and Woolies due to expensive prices, stupid amounts of plastic packaging and tasteless fruit and vegetables that go bad within days. A great Choice article gives you the low down on what you’re actually eating when you buy from these chains.

Health regulations prevent you from taking pets to any of these markets which is really unfortunate. They are the perfect place to take your fury friend on a sunny day.

Here's our pick of the top five markets in the region. 

Bangalow Farmers Market

The market is held in the Bangalow Hotel car park at 1 Byron Street Bangalow every Saturday from 8 – 11am. You can tie your fury friend up at the entrance and whip in and grab your goodies.

The Bangalow Farmers Market is fantastic for local produce.  If you’re visiting and plan to cook, definitely head here. The vegetables are amazing, you will see a true rainbow of different goodies and there are numerous meat stalls with a variety of fresh and cured meats.

There are usually around 20 stalls so it’s not huge but the quality is fantastic. 

Unfortunately there is no coffee stall but after the markets you can head onto Bangalow’s main drag to grab one. We recommend Sparrow Coffee at 32-24 Byron Street. Say hello to Alice, she’s awesome.

Our top picks

French bread stall – they are there without fail, the bread is top notch and the ladies are lovely.

Nimbin Valley Dairy – they are not always there but I always grab a few bits of cheese if they are. The washed rind and marinated goats cheese are both delightful.  

Boomerang Creek Farm - Will runs a bio-dynamic farm and their produce, especially the garlic, is beautiful. Boomerang Creek basically starts at Nightcap Ridge so we know the water they’re using is the best in the world.

Apples - they can sit on the bench for weeks and still taste as fresh as the day they were picked. Apples aren’t really grown around the area so they come from a farm out at Stanthorpe.

Bangalow Market

The Bangalow Market is held on the fourth Sunday of the month from 9am – 3pm inside the Bangalow Showground. Get in early to beat the long lines of flash cars winding through Bangalow to get a park at the Showgrounds.

There is a great range of goods on offer with a definite artsy feel. You can find clothing, plants, art, records as well as hot food and the mandatory coffee.

The Showground is a lovely location for markets, especially in good weather. You wander under the huge trees and you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time.

Lismore Car Boot Market

The Lismore Car Boot Market is held in the carpark under Lismore Square on the first and third Sunday of each month from 7:30am – 2pm.

On first inspection it looks a bit daggy but, like Lismore, there’s so much to love! It’s a huge market with a wide range of different items on offer and a great community vibe. There are four or five decent coffee stalls there but I recommend getting there early to beat the lines before you start wandering around.

You can find an abundance of fruit and vegetables, hot food, plants, bric-a-brac, antiques, records and books, linen tea towels, wool and crocheted blankets. Lismore has a rich musical history and you get a sense of it there with the fabulous buskers and performers.

Our top picks

Cupcake stall - walk in the main entrance on the corner or Uralba and Brewster Street and she is on the right. They are freshly baked and the flavours are always changing. She is such a delight as well.

Knitwear - there are many stalls with nice older ladies showing their knitted items such as beanies, jumpers, blankets and baby clothes. For the quality and time items would take to produce, it’s all reasonably priced.

Handmade furniture – we have purchased a few sets of Aidrondack chairs from OzMark Creations. They are made out of recycled fence posts so they will stand the test of time and the quality is excellent. Mark and Sue are lovely

Plants – I never leave the car boot sale without purchasing a few plants. My favourite stall is Miss Tree. Stephanie lives locally, in Rosebank and she always gives good advice.

The Channon Craft Market

Held at the Coronation Oval in The Channon on the second Sunday of the month from 9am – 3pm.  

It’s known as the longest running market in the Northern Rivers. You’re in true hippie territory here and it’s awesome. The whole community comes out for the Channon Market and it has a bit more of a crafty, chilled vibe.

It has a great range of fruit and veg stalls, fruit trees and plants, hot food, clothing, baskets, and arts and crafts. 

It’s held around the outside of Coronation Oval and they will often have musical acts in the middle where kids run around and dance and play.

I haven’t been there at the end of the market but apparently there’s a drumming circle in the middle and everyone joins in and dances.

I’d recommend getting there early and getting a park as the traffic can get a bit hectic (for country standards!) around lunchtime. Have a gold coin ready for entrance to the carpark.

Our top picks

Tridosha – they’re a small family business from Bangalow who make salt, pepper and spice blends. You buy the shaker, which is a really nice gift, and you can buy packet refills. The Mediterano blend goes with just about anything.

Shopping baskets – the hand-woven baskets are a must-have for market shopping!

Waffles – their waffles with banana and ice cream are pretty awesome.

Mullum Farmers Market

Held every Friday morning from 7 – 11am at the Mullumbimby Showground located at 51 Main Arm Road, Mullumbimby.

The Mullumbimby community is known for their clean, green way of life and the market is a perfect example of this.

You will find all of your fruit and vegetables as well as homemade jams, local meats, baked goodies and a wide range of other items. You wander under the massive fig trees and there’s always really good live music and a great community vibe.

Our top picks

Alive Foods – if you’re into fermented foods, you will love their traditional Sauerkraut and Kim-Chi.

Bangalow Potatoes – their Dutch Cream potatoes are absolutely delicious and perfect for your potato salad and great for frying. They’re also at Bangalow Farmers Market.