WHEN I saw the front page headlines in this week’s Sentinel Times, I felt like I’d stepped back three decades.
Over four detailed pages, our local paper did a complete hatchet job on the proposed new pathway between Inverloch and Wonthaggi.
According to the front page article, adjoining landowners fear the pathway will cause “disruption to agricultural production, risks to biosecurity and personal safety”.
It reminded me of the outrage that greeted proposals for what we now regard as some of our finest assets: the Wonthaggi-Kilcunda rail trail, the George Bass Coastal Walk, even the Bunurong Marine Park.
Concerns were expressed about the planting of native vegetation alongside the track which would attract foxes and blackberries. Apparently it would also funnel fires towards the town and force the evacuation of hospital patients!
Back then we had a steering committee – the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, CFA, council, South Gippsland Conservation Society, etc – to address all the issues and work out who was going to do what. Each individual section had its own management prescription.
Two cattle crossings were installed for farmers who owned land on both sides of the trail. Now if a farmer needs to get cattle in for milking, they just need to close the gates on the trail for a few minutes while the cattle cross.
Now it’s overwhelmingly seen as a great asset. It’s used from first light to dusk, and well after dusk on nights of full moon when cyclists can enjoy a magical moonlit ride along the coast.
On a fine weekend, I’ve counted 40 cyclists and walkers in an hour. In 2020, I passed a former councillor who was one of the strongest critics of the rail trail when it was proposed. What a difference 27 years makes!
Farmers adjoining the walk had been getting free grazing on public land for decades and there was a sense of ownership. Some of them used to throw their rubbish over the cliff. It saved a trip to the tip. They didn’t want it fenced off. They certainly didn’t want people walking along the cliff’s edge. The dogs would chase the cattle, they said. And walkers would drop their rubbish and open gates.
That walk is now widely regarded as one of the finest in Victoria. And what was a barren windswept hillside, denuded of all vegetation, has been transformed by selective planting of hardy species such as casuarinas and boobiallas into a wooded sheltered wildlife corridor – at least on the public side of the fence! Most of the land on the other side remains barren and windswept.
Most people are rightly suspicious of change. But the world is headed towards disaster if we don’t change our habits. And that includes our transport.
The Sentinel Times has slammed the route for going inland rather than round the coast. Inverloch to Wonthaggi via Cape is 23kms. A 46km round trip. It’s hilly and exposed; depending on the wind, it can be a hard slog for those who aren’t at their peak. A nice ride for tourists, perhaps, but not a practical commute.
For local people who want to ride between Inverloch and Wonthaggi the direct route is best. It’s 14kms – an easy half hour ride. How much more enjoyable to get away from the traffic and commune with nature. Best of all, it’s flat. A viable, no-emissions form of transport and an enjoyable and healthy way to start the day before school or work.
I can see Inverloch people riding to Wonthaggi, and vice versa, to do a bit of shopping, visit their friends and make a day of it. We will be able to ride from Inverloch to Cowes! As electric bikes become more popular, it’s a pleasure within range of all ages and abilities.
Once the trail is completed, most landowners will appreciate how much value it adds to their properties to have a recreational trail that their kids can use to bike to school or ride a pony.
Some vegetation may need to be removed but a shared pathway only needs to be a few metres wide. Rather than cut down trees, the trail can weave between them. There will be a net gain in vegetation as the trail is planted out.
The route might look a little ordinary now but it will be fantastic in a few years. Once the wildlife corridors are in, the animals – kangaroos, wombat, echidnas, snakes and a multitude of birds – will return, as they have done on the rail trail. Perhaps even koalas which were once numerous around Inverloch. They’ll need to leave a gap in the vegetation so riders can catch a glimpse of the sea.
"Adjacent landowners to the proposed path alignment have been consulted with since the beginning of detailed design, and infrastructure such as cattle underpasses will be provided so that they can continue their operations.