by Ian Blyth

MITCHELL Shire Council has moved to set up a working party following growing community opposition to the planned Wallan to Heathcote rail trail.

With some 45 per cent of the proposed route currently in private ownership and much of this over private farm land, concerns over biosecurity, land acquisition and loss of privacy have been widely expressed.

Critics of the community consultation process have also raised concerns over the objectivity of the consultants. Pyalong resident, David Waye, described the consultants who conducted the process as “hipsters who were condescending to local residents.”

“The lead hipster was a man clad in cycling Lycra whose main selling point was that the rail trail would result in the local store growing into an IGA supermarket, increasing employment in the town, due to walkers, cyclists and riders dropping in to do their grocery shopping,” Mr Waye said in a letter to the North Central Review (see page 8).

When the matter was discussed at the March council meeting Cr Bill Chisholm, clearly aware of the community concerns, moved an amended motion to establish a working party comprising landholder, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and user groups, to increase community involvement in the process.

The motion to endorse the findings of the feasibility study and matters relating to seeking external funding, along with the forming of the working party was put and carried seven votes to one with Cr Bob Humm, who has previously expressed concerns over farm biosecurity issues, voting against.

“It’s a long term project, 30 years at least, and we should be looking at more important issues in the same detail. We need to concentrate on these important immediate issues now,” Cr Humm said.

Speaking to the North Central Review following the decision Mitchell Shire Mayer, Cr Rhonda Sanderson said that the working party will be a positive step in the process.
“Everyone needs to talk and it important that we find a solution. I believe working together will achieve this. Issues such as the route, biosecurity and potential fire hazards will all be on the agenda,” Cr Sanderson said.

“I also think that it important to realise that at this stage the rail trail is very much at concept stage – it is an extremely long-tern project. As our shire grows, community will expect this sort of infrastructure to be in place but we’re talking very long term – 20-30 years,” Cr Sanderson added.

Cr Sanderson also said that council had no plans to compulsory acquire private land for the rail trail.

The Wallan to Heathcote Rail Trail is projected to be some 78km long, will cost at least $17.8 million to construct. Even with funding for construction coming from other sources the ongoing maintenance will fall to council and ratepayers.

The current route travels through farms, residential and rural properties despite over 70 per cent of the owners consulted opposing the project.  Many of the landowners haven not been consulted as yet, despite the route being mapped across their properties.


  1. Given my name is mentioned by two correspondents above, I feel obliged to join in the conversation.

    Firstly, I would like Anna to elaborate on how I was “loud or rude” at the Rail Trail Listening Post, held at Pyalong Primary School. I asked only one question, if I recall. I would not regard having a letter published in the local newspaper as having a “big say”; I was exercising the same opportunity as anyone else in this community.

    Secondly, I do not recall such an angry crowd at the Listening Post as referred to here and at the NCR or Bendigo Advertiser FB pages. I do recall a degree of cynicism and mistrust from many of the attendees. This was possibly fuelled by the claims by some affected landowners that the consultants had made appointments to meet with them on-site, and had failed to honour those appointments. For farmers and other rural workers, this could be quite disruptive to their planned work for the day. There was also the surprise for some seeing the planned route for the first time; going through their properties. The consultants wanted questions to be asked privately after the initial briefing, but given the level of mistrust already developed, the attendees asked that all questions be asked and answered publicly. No wonder there was an air of cynicism and mistrust.

    Thirdly, the consultants were quite offhand and dismissive. For example, a landowner raised concerns about liability due to having strangers transit their land. This was dismissed with the comment that “it is your responsibility to ensure that you have adequate insurance”, or words to that effect.

    Finally, Jenelle B, in her letter to the NCR recently, insinuated that all opponents are couch potatoes. The landowners who do oppose are not couch potatoes, but hard working farmers and rural contractors – hardly lazy idlers.

    I think people who have legitimate concerns are entitled to have their questions answered.

  2. Can the shire guarantee the trail will be open to all in perpetuety?

    History records nearby trails being heavily backed by horse riders…only to see lycra clad hipsters complain about horse poo dirtying bicycle wheels…. which ended up with horse riders banned.

  3. I support the rail trail too. For all the above reasons. I have no idea why David Waye gets to have such a big say in our community. Just because he is loud or rude doesn’t make him- or anyone else behaving that way- right.

  4. Opposing the rail trail is short sighted. Mitchell shire is missing out on our share of the tourist dollar by not supporting these types of projects. I believe with broader consultation, the community would support the project as it is ideal to showcase our beautiful region so close to Melbourne. Well done to the Councillors in their support of the working group to further this work. We need a long term vision to ensure the long term prosperity of our businesses and community.

  5. I attended the Pyalong listening post and have a very different perspective of what occurred there. I have publicly said so on The Bendigo Advertiser FB page. Please feel free to quote me so you can balance the opinions in your articles.

    I saw council workers abused and not given opportunities to answer questions. I was in fear for their safety and was too afraid to voice my support until they left the listening post. A group of us supporting it then quietly chatted to the workers and made sure they were aware of our support and that they were ok.

    Those against are very vocal. Those for it are often afraid to speak out. I find Mr Waye’s personal attack on one of the supporters disappointing but in line with treatment I’ve received when voicing my support.

    To stoop to personal attacks, abuse or put downs is unacceptable and does not further the debate. It certainly does not rally people to your cause.

    Let’s stick to the facts and leave the emotions and personal attacks out of it.

    For the record I obviously support the trial. I’ve participated in all of the stages and have attended the council meetings. For at least 15 years I’ve tried to get the council to make use of this fabulous untapped resource.

    I have a background in road safety and an only too aware of the repercussions of vulnerable road users sharing our busy roads and highways with cars and trucks. I look forward to safely riding my horse, cycling and walking along our rail trail one day and to exploring the next phase of the project.

  6. I am a property owner in Pyalong (between Wallan and Heathcote) and will be traveling to Warburton over Easter to ride our horses on their rail trail.
    Really hope the local trail goes ahead (with proper consultation with land owners and community) – let’s make our region a holiday destination and grow local economies!
    I also can’t see a problem with hipsters or men in Lycra (hipsters would never wear Lycra) visiting our area. Active people spending time outdoors have their priorities right in my book.

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