Rail Trails, Interpretive Signage

Lake Macquarie City Council partnered with our team to undertake an extensive project involving research, content creation, and signage design for the Fernleigh Track Rail Trail.

Rail Trails – Fernleigh Track

This 15-kilometre rail corridor, connecting the cities of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle, now boasts an impressive collection of forty interpretive signs, enriching the experience for trail users. From November 2013 to September 2014, our team provided a range of services, including content research, interpretive writing, graphic design, and image searches. The carefully crafted 657mm wide x 1200mm high signs, themed around rail history, the environment, and aboriginal heritage, serve as informative and engaging markers along the trail.

Disused government rail corridors are being re-purposed as shared pathways or Rail Trails. Previously a disused coal haul rail line between Adamstown and Belmont, it is now a shared pathway providing a peaceful and scenic walking or cycling track, through beautiful bushland and wetland areas. The shared pathway is a joint project of Lake Macquarie and Newcastle City Councils. Adaption of the Fernleigh Track to a shared used pathway was completed to Belmont in March 2011 after ten years of construction. It is the most significant local link in the NSW Coastline Cycleway with 16kms of smooth off road cycleway following an old railway line from Adamstown via Whiebridge to Redhead, Jewels and Belmont. The gradients are gentle and features along the way include the historic tunnel, Redhead beach, Jewels wetlands and coffee stop opportunities at Belmont and at Whitebridge. Our rail history signage interprets the heritage of both Aboriginal and European people who lived and worked along the track. The frame structure includes a logo plasma cut into stainless steel with the signs mounted on steel railway tracks.


Dee and Peter responded to the challenges of this project (vast amount of raw content, multiple interpretive themes, constraints of an existing signage design palette and stakeholders/client with little knowledge of the field of cultural interpretation) with great professionalism. I was equally impressed with the designs they provided as I was with their positive, solutions-based attitude and co-operative approach. Their creativity and expertise added great value to the project outcomes, and the response to their work from our local community  has only been positive.

I would have no hesitation to engage The Interpretive Design Company again, and would recommend them to anyone in need of interpretive design services.

Caroline Cook, Landscape Architect, Lake Macquarie City Council.

Interpretive Writing

The cultural heritage of the Fernleigh Track can be observed through numerous railway relics preserved along its length and now the accompanying interpretive signage. The route also provides easy access through some of the most significant and diverse habitats within the region, where visitors can observe a variety of landscapes. It connects into the broader regional walking and cycling network that includes the Great North Walk and NSW Coastal Cycleway and is promoted as a high quality Rail Trail in NSW.

Our key themes for interpretation and story telling were based on the following:

  • Natural environment (wetland and woodland)
  • Aboriginal heritage
  • Natural resources (coal mining)
  • Urban Settlements + Migration (Nissen Hut community)
  • Transport (Railway)
  • Defence (WWII troop transport and facilities).

Personal stories were an important part of the writing process as they can connect with visitor experiences.

Interpretive Design Elements

The Fernleigh Track logo was plasma cut into stainless steel. The signs were mounted on steel railway tracks … the original CORten.

Different themes were represented by different colour palettes.

  • Rail and Coal History – grey and muted tones
  • Aboriginal content – rich colours, browns and orange – view
  • Environmental – greens and blues for the wetland

What are Rail Trails?

Rail trails built on disused or abandoned rail corridors offer people of all ages a uniquely quiet, safe and easily graded path to enjoy. By opening up these corridors, visitors and residents alike can enjoy scenic regional areas while also learning the history of these areas and the rail lines that contributed to their development. They also act as conservation corridors.


Environmental Panel, Reef Balls & Rock Fillets
Aboriginal Panels, Fernleigh Track