There’s something intriguing and a little creepy about track walking along a disused line, following rusted rails through knee-high grass across a seemingly endless plain. Old train lines are forsaken places, containing frayed memories that linger beneath the encroaching wild. With this in mind I decided I’d walk a section of the old Casino to Murwillumbah rail line in NSW, which was abandoned in 2004.
Just last week, I arrived at Mullumbimby station with the intention of walking to Byron Bay (roughly 15 kilometres). I stepped onto the train line that stretched across freshly mowed grass, passing houses and industry before reaching a dilapidated bridge over an opaque, olive-coloured creek. Smoke from a nearby fire clouded the creek’s edge. I crossed the bridge, which left the edge of town and as I did, things suddenly changed.
The bush became thicker, the grass taller and the invasive lantana weed flourished. A little further and I saw a brown snake – one of the world’s deadliest snakes – slither silently off the rails. Another 10 metres and I saw what looked like a black tiger snake (another deadly reptile) slide under a rail and it dawned on me there were probably hundreds along this old line.
I stopped and thought how the region had barely recovered from torrential rain the day before. The sun was finally peeking its head out and today was prime time for snakes to reappear. I contemplated going back before deciding to stomp while bashing the rails with sticks to alert any snakes. I began to sing a bit like I imagine a native American Indian would (I don’t know why) and it seemed to give me courage.
I was now at the most romantic-looking part of the old line, as it appeared endless, tapering in the distance. Recent rains had created wetlands on either side of the track and birds gathered in numbers. I turned and saw the sun bewitch a river with islands of gold. The long grass, which was apple-green after heavy rain, flanked the river and the crooked peak of Mount Warning was a silhouette on the horizon.
A little further and the bushland across the tracks became impenetrable. I had to walk across farmland, stepping over barbed wire fences and it was here that I got a small electric shock. I then ascended a grassy hill, while the tracks continued through a crevice beneath a bridge. Reaching a road, I walked across it and stepped under the bridge, past old damp mattresses before descending down a stone wall onto the tracks again.
I entered a small valley covered in lush foliage and crested by tall trees, bashing my sticks on the rails as I passed deserted signals. This place that once clattered with industry and transport was now silent, retaken. The bush reigned supreme and I soon found myself in waist-heigh grass.
A startled wallaby bounded through the forest and I followed its impressions through the thick scrub. Further ahead lay a small bridge that covered sheets of iron and debris strewn across a creek’s edge. Past this the bush became so dense that I had to walk onto the adjacent farmland that ran parallel to the tracks about 10 metres away.
The sun was now setting. I arrived at the property boundary where rain had drowned the earth and realised that reaching the track again would require some serious wading. Besides, I figured I was only about half way to Byron Bay so I decided to pull the pin and head home.
Going off the rails
Cars hummed along the highway in the distance and puddles lay scattered across the dirt road which circled the property. I followed the road along the property’s edge towards the highway but soon found I was knee deep in water. The road was deceptively wet and after a few metres the water reached my groin.
I decided to head inland where it looked drier, although things got progressively worse. Soon I was trudging through chest-high water over tangled reeds, roots and thick tufts of grass. It was now getting dark, each step was laboured and I teetered and nearly fell more than once. For the first time in a long time, I started to panic. I thought I could drown out here and nobody knew where I was.
I stowed my camera gear away and carried it over my head, realising how foolish it was to head off on an abandoned line after cyclonic rains. Finally, after 500 metres and one and a half hours of wading – panic stricken in water up to my armpits – I reached the dirt road again. It was now dark and I approached some houses whose lights gleamed on the river’s edge.
I refrained from calling for help, stubbornly thinking “I got myself into this, I should get myself out of it”. So I followed a lumpy path through the dark, filled with mowing debris and puddles which arched in a big U back to the train line. Each stride was arduous, as my shoes were heavily waterlogged. I was cold, wet, tired and wanted to go home.
After about 30 minutes I reached the train line at the small bridge I’d passed previously. I decided to sit, drink the last of my water and eat my last samosa and an apple. I was relieved to be in familiar territory again and out of the water.
I spent another hour traipsing through the darkness using my iPhone torch, stumbling over old rails and twisted clusters of trees. Thankfully I didn’t step on any snakes. Tonight was a new moon and I reflected it was curious how by mere chance (or was it?) my other recent night adventure was also under a new moon – which are of course very dark.
Reaching the road above the bridge I called my partner, who rescued me in the depths of Myocum. Soon, after a thorough tick inspection, I was warm, dry, drinking a beer and wondering whether one day I’d return to finish the walk.
The Mullumbimby to Byron Bay track walk (in 2016) is recommended for:
People that are adventurous, stubborn, a little crazy and not adverse to snakes.
A few tips
Bring a machete, give yourself plenty of time and don’t try it in the summer or after heavy rain.