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Wye River publican Paul Green was walking through the burned out bushland three weeks after the 2015 Christmas Day bushfire when he stumbled upon an old railway line, going nowhere.
"I had been aware of [the railway] for almost forty years … [and] after the fire went through, all the vegetation was cleaned out, burnt, so you could walk in a lot of country that was otherwise inaccessible," Mr Greene said.
A century ago, that old rail track had carried horse-drawn trams full of logs to a saw mill. As the loggers moved away, the trees grew up around the old line until it was submerged beneath thick rain forest vegetation.
Exposed once again by the flames that razed more than 100 homes in the community, there are now plans to restore the rail as a bushwalking track.
Paul Greene disocvered an old railway track after the Christmas Day fires. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
"People these days don't understand or appreciate what the sawmillers did … and just how difficult it was to get the timber out. So, to see the tramways is a real eye opener," says Geelong historian Norman Houghton.
He said the rail was built by timber merchant John Hay. His mill in Wye River was once the biggest in the Otway Ranges and supplied timber for the construction of Melbourne's South Wharf, but closed in 1923.
While a spokesperson for the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning said the walking trail was still subject to planning approvals, the committee hopes to link it with existing walks to encourage tourism.
"This will allow people to get out and walk into the bush, where previously they haven't been able to," Mr Greene said. "It will make it more evident to a younger generation that it's not just a surf beach and a pretty holiday town; it's a town of some substance and history."
Mr Greene said it had taken time for residents who lost property to process their grief, but the mood in the town had improved as the first houses had been rebuilt. A further 26 have been issued with planning permits.
"We see these walks also serving that same purpose; to get people back enjoying what we all enjoy about the Great Ocean Road, and that is natural beauty," he said.
Chair of Otway Coast Tourism Association, Rex Brown, who lost a rental property in the fire, said that landslides and road closures had caused initial concerns for tourism last summer, but bookings had since stabilised.
"If we develop these sawmill trails into existing walks … that will definitely be a way people will spend more time and stay in the area," Mr Brown said.
This article first appeared on www.theage.com.au
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