Words and photos by James McCormack

Tim Watson loves congestion. Yes, that’s right: the GM of Tasmania’s Dorset Council loves traffic congestion. Ask him and he’ll tell you: “It’s a wonderful problem to have.”

Now if you, like me, are living the rat-race in one of Australia’s capital - or even large provincial - cities, congestion is likely a bane of your existence. But not if you live in one of our country’s small rural towns and hamlets, where the streets are likely quiet, where economic activity and populations are stagnant at best, or more usually, dying a slow death. A town, for instance, like Derby.

The tiny Tasmanian hamlet of less than 200 had seen decade after decade after decade of slow decline - a slow rot that had seen the school close and viable businesses dwindle: the cordial factory shut, so too the general stores, the baker, butchers, electrical shop and two haberdasheries. At times, only the post office, the mechanic’s garage and the two pubs remained open. There was nothing else. And with so little commerce, there were certainly no issues with traffic.

Then the trails came to town. Two years ago, with millions of dollars of government backing, an ambitious project to revitalise Derby via a network of mountain bike trails commenced. Six months in, I travelled down there for BIKE to observe the progress; you may remember the resultant feature, published around 18 months ago: ‘The Trails That Saved a Town’. 

At the time, plenty of stories had floated around about how freaking awesome the trail network under construction was; none, however, had really focussed beyond the riding. But the three-plus million bucks being invested wasn’t merely for MTB-ers to have a blast; it was to provide economic and social benefits to a struggling town.

And for all our good intentions, cycling is usually a selfish sport. Here, however, was an example of cycling serving a greater purpose: transforming an entire community. And what I saw, in the course of that story, were the first buds of economic recovery beginning to shoot.

But as a journo, all-too-often you cover a topic once and then move on, never to revisit. Derby, however, deserved better. A lot of money had been spent. A lot of hopes had been raised. An entire community was expectant. So, wanting to see how things had progressed and whether that nascent revival had been sustained, I returned to Derby. And what I see, rolling into town early on a crisp morning, is this: a gleaming new row of ‘No Stopping’ signs.