Tomaree Lodge in Shoal Bay earmarked for international tourist attraction

There is a push to establish an aquarium as part of an internationally renowned tourist attraction on the Tomaree Lodge site once the facility closes its doors.
There is a push to establish an aquarium as part of an internationally renowned tourist attraction on the Tomaree Lodge site once the facility closes its doors.

It was once controversially touted as an ideal location for a casino, now there is a push to establish an aquarium as part of an internationally renowned tourist attraction on the Tomaree Lodge site at Shoal Bay once the facility closes its doors.

The lodge, located on prime waterfront land, has been caring for people with disability in Port Stephens for more than 30 years but has faced an uncertain future since the state government first announced its impending closure in 2012.

Around the same time the then mayor of Port Stephens Bruce MacKenzie caused a public storm when he announced that the 8-hectare parcel of land could be turned into a tourist development featuring casino, a five-star multi-storey resort and helicopter pad.

Since that time a string of closure dates put forward by former Family and Community Services (FACS) department heads and ministers have come and gone.

The government continues to advocate for its closure, but has refused to provide a timeline.

Frank Future

Frank Future

A FACS spokesperson confirmed on Monday that residents of Tomaree Lodge would be moving to new contemporary accommodation as part of a redevelopment.

"We will work carefully with each resident and their family to help them move into brand new [group] homes in the community and will not commit to a final date," the spokesperson said.

"Clients and families have already told us where they want to live and some Tomaree clients [want] to move closer to their families in other parts of NSW, while others [want to be] located within the Nelson Bay/Port Stephens area."

There is, however, no confusion over the future use of the land.

In a pre-election campaign announcement made in February this year, the then Minister for Families Community and Disabilities Services Ray Williams made a firm Liberal Party commitment that the land would remain in public hands for community use.

The site - comprising the hospital buildings and surrounding headland - is enriched in military history dating back to 1942, having been used as an Australian Army Garrison Camp and to accommodate US troops during the Second World War.

The aquarium idea was first raised by the newly formed Friends of Tomaree Headland which was formed to provide a strong voice to uphold the historic, cultural, marine and tourism value of the headland.

Friends spokesperson Peter Clough said that a scoping study of the entire site and grants for proposed aquarium, military museum and other tourist attractions were being sought.

"We are also working with Port Stephens Council on areas such as parking and amenities," he said.

Marine scientist Ian Watts believes that the headland, with its access to fresh clean sea water, was well suited to support an aquarium, capable of displaying the underwater world "in our own backyard".

The aquarium could also, according to the Port's Marine Parks Association president Frank Future, include a marine mammals [seals, turtles and seabirds] research and recovery centre.

"The port is a biodiverse hotspot with its various marine ecosystems and mix of cool and tropical currents producing a huge array of sea life," Mr Future said.

"Much of the water has its beginning in the Gondwana rainforest in the Barrington Tops, flowing through the Myall and Karuah rivers.

"There are not many estuaries as rich in diversity as we have in Port Stephens.

"An interpretive centre would be a huge tourist attraction for international visitors as well as having an important educational role with our youth."

Funding for the project could be sourced from state and federal grants.

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