Farmers in the Bass Valley view with dismay the recently announced plan to extend the Bass Coast Rail Trail from Anderson through the Bass Valley to Kernot, along the disused railway.
It is a matter of great excitement for our Mayor, Neil Rankine, that this recreational facility is to extend further, providing more citizens with opportunities to improve their general health through exercise.
The word, passed down from old time farmers, is that the land for the railway was taken from farmers, on the understanding that it would be returned, if the railway closed down.
True or not, the fact remains that for historical reasons, the old railway bisects many of the farms in the Bass Valley.
When the railway did close, the authorities showed no interest in maintaining the land, nor indeed selling it or giving it back.
It was simply abandoned and most farmers resumed using the rail land again, as part of their farms.
The actual ownership of the land has been clouded.
Some farmers, like us, paid a lease fee to VicRail until several years ago, when the council took over the rail line management.
We were never asked to pay again.
Farmers were left in an invidious position. Because the railway cut through the middle of many farms, when it was abandoned, farmers had no option but to include it back into farm management routines.
Many farms, ours included, have paddocks isolated on one side of the railway. Cattle must cross it when changing paddocks.
Paddock gates open onto it.
Our water supply for the isolated paddocks necessarily runs across it. We have our cattle graze it to reduce fire hazard.
Bass Valley farmers quite vividly recall the peaceful bucolic existence they once enjoyed, until it was shattered five years ago by the desal pipeline construction, which required an easement, also cutting through their farms.
The saga of the desal pipeline went on and on and on and for some is still not over.
We have all had to endure unannounced strangers tramping over and taking their vehicles all over our land, day and night, any day of the week.
We were reduced to having to check all gates and fences at the end of every day, in the wake of the pipeline teams, who never seemed to respect the importance of keeping gates closed, nor seem to understand that electric fences cannot function when used as a prop on which to lean or drape equipment.
And then when the desal teams took time out there were the trail bike riders taking advantage of a temptingly long off road stretch of easement traversing several farms.
And so, the next challenge to our peace and sanity is to be the “rail trail”, which many view as a Trojan Horse bringing potential thieves and mischief makers into the heart of their farms.
Just as the daily tasks of checking gates, fences, rubbish of the desal teams, comes to an end, we must start a whole new routine to keep our animals and ourselves safe.
We view this “trail” as opening up our farms and our lives to further invasions by unannounced members of the public, spooking the cattle, interrupting our routine movement of cattle, leaving behind dripping taps, rubbish, cigarette butts, plastic bags.
Other imposts on our daily lives will include – padlocking gates, checking electric fences, dissuading our own dogs from barking at people on the rail link, which the dogs will continue to see as their own property.
On the other hand, most farm owners are scratching their heads wondering who on earth would use the stretch of trail from Woolamai to Kernot, when they could be on the beautiful cliff top stretch from Wonthaggi to Cowes.
The Anderson to Kernot stretch has no refreshment stations or public toilet facilities.
I wonder – does that mean one farm may well be the lucky host to a public toilet block, with an ice-cream van parked beside?
Will there be rubbish bins at regular intervals and dog poo bag dispensers dotted through our farms…
So Neil, I am sure you will understand why we cannot share your enthusiasm for this project.
Had we been consulted, we would have expressed these sentiments.
No one has officially advised us when it is to happen or even that it really is happening.
No one has approached us to enter into dialogue about protocols for moving cattle over the railway, which we will all be doing on a regular basis.
We trust that council has thought through the insurance implications of scenarios such as cattle herds in the process of crossing, being stampeded by visitors’ dogs and the like, causing injury to themselves or others…
Lyn Whitlam, Glen Forbes.