Exciting changes on track

at Cunnamulla Railway

“If every person who stays overnight to see the Cunnamulla All Aboard sound and light show spends another $150 in town, then approximately about a $1,000,000 a year extra will be spent locally…”

Progress at the Cunnamulla Railway Station is certainly chugging along, thanks to an incredible amount of work put in by the Paroo Progress Association (PPA).

If your curiosity has been growing, here is the latest update.

What is the current status of the Cunnamulla Railway project?

The floor has been put down with the help of a local carpenter and workers including RESQ, and the builder is currently on site. The frame and cladding were completed by mid-February, with the internal fit out including all the audio visual technology completed six weeks after that, dependent on many variables.

Tell us the most exciting thing about the project?

Less than two years ago, the building was derelict and in a need of a desperate facelift, the local community had approached Council to take action, but fearing the huge cost associated with owning another asset the Paroo Shire Council were not keen, and rightly so, as assets are a huge drain on the ratepayer. The PPA were approached by members of the community and although keen, were not sure how they could utilise the space and bring income in to allow for future improvements and upkeep.

An idea was born, to build a theatre that would show a nightly feature -the tale of local entrepreneurs and hard workers that developed the railway line, bringing the Westlander to the bush. Now as we get close to the date to open, we hope this project will attract people from far and wide to stay longer in our town, spend more
money – creating more jobs.

How can the community support the PPA?

Volunteers are always needed, all of the gardens and cleaning have been done using volunteers, most of the administration and all of the project management for the build have been completed by volunteers, we estimate that we have saved the project close to $150,000 just by volunteering. As many volunteers as we can muster in the future will be needed, although there will be paid positions as well. We will need locals (who will become the conductors) to welcome all the passengers every night during the season and sell our famous Fettler’s pie and merchandise.

In the off season, we are already discussing other streams of revenue, particularly the use of the theatre to show latest release movies, and for audio visual commercial hire for groups and companies. We very much need to still raise funds for future developments and to complete much of the necessary work to make the station a focal point for both locals and visitors.

What benefits to Cunnamulla and the wider region do you see coming from this project?

This is a great opportunity for a community owned project to make a huge difference to attracting more tourists to our town. If every person who stays overnight to see the Cunnamulla All Aboard sound and light show spends another $150 in town, then approximately about a $1,000,000 a year extra will be spent locally, creating more jobs and services.

Secondly, it is a fantastic way to commemorate the stories of the people whom the rail was a lifeblood, bringing with it supplies for all the region and taking our main commodity (wool) to the markets. It opened up opportunities for more social interactions with other towns through sporting and social activities. These stories have been recorded and are now about to be seen by a much larger audience.

What funding/grants have you received?

We have been more than fortunate in receiving two large grants and quite a few small ones. Department of Innovation and Tourism Industry Development grant of $350,000 has gone towards the interpretative side of the build, including the audio
visual resources, and the movie “Cunnamulla All Aboard”. From the Building Better Regions Fund we have received $310,000, which goes toward the bricks and mortar, or in this case, steel and cladding.

Although it sounds like a lot of money, the budget is extremely tight, and with any commercial build, there are a lot more details and a lot more costs associated. We have also received smaller rounds of funding for specific purposes, which all need to be acquitted, Community Gambling Fund, Regional Arts Development Fund, and Veterans and Community Grants.

Any committee members you want to give a shout out?

We have a great committee, and they have all helped at varying times. The Railway Committee consists of Merry Higgins, Judy Roberts, Kathy Ashley and myself, all who have placed a huge amount of stress on their already stretched lives to make this happen, with their only reward being that Cunnamulla and surrounds has another
viable ticketed event that will attract more visitors to our community.

Will the facility be available for the community to book and use?

We are currently looking at ways to utilise the space for other events, we hope in the
future to renovate the kitchen to allow for catering and specific events. Conferences could even be held using our audio visual equipment. All these ideas will assist us with the ongoing costs and help us raise further funds for other activities we have
planned in the future.

First published in the Autumn 2020 Edition
of the Paroo Review Community News