Construction work begins on $3 million Koala sanctuary and hospital for Port Stephens

CARING: Sue Swain from Port Stephens Koalas with Eila and joey Patu at the One Mile sanctuary. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts
CARING: Sue Swain from Port Stephens Koalas with Eila and joey Patu at the One Mile sanctuary. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

There was celebrations all round at the ground-breaking ceremony held at the One Mile site of the $3 million koala hospital on Sunday.

As construction officially commenced on the hospital, sanctuary and tourism facilities, Port Stephens Koalas (PSK) revealed the arrival of a baby koala born to Mambo Wetlands bushfire burns victim mum, Eila, earlier this year.

Anna Bay carer Sue Swain confirmed that Eila, who had been in care recovering from serious burns sustained in last December's devastating fire which claimed the lives of at least two koalas, was carrying a joey in her pouch.

The joey has been named Patu by prolific funds supporter Hunter Water - the Wonnarua word for 'water'.

"The birth of Eila's joey, under the stress of such traumatic injury, is nothing short of a miracle and is a testament to her own motherly instincts and the care she received during intensive care," Ms Swain said.

"Recently, the joey has begun to fully emerge from the pouch to ride on mum's belly. Once Patu is strong and independent enough, possibly in 12 to 14 months time - he will be released back at Mambo."

The new sanctuary at Treescape holiday park is a partnership between Port Stephens Council, NSW Government and PSK and is expected to cater for up to 20 sick and injured koalas, double its current capacity, when it becomes fully operational in early 2020.

On hand for Sunday's launch was a long list of politicians and dignitaries including Environment Minister Matt Kean, Mayor Ryan Palmer, State (Kate Washington) and Federal (Meryl Swanson) MPs, plus councillors John Nell, Glen Dunkley, Jaimie Abbott, Sarah Smith and Giacomo Arnott.

The proceedings started with a moving welcome to country from Worimi elder Neville Lilley and smoking ceremony by Leigh Ridgeway.

Mr Kean said that the government had a critical role to play in ensuring a future for the iconic and loved koalas. "There is no doubt the koala population is under threat and the $3 million [government grant] is the start of our commitment to its ongoing survival," he said.

"However, such a facility cannot be achieved without community input and volunteers and it is particularly pleasing for me to thank PSK president Carmel Northwood and secretary Ron Land who are present here today."

Ms Northwood said that the threat to the koala population was very real and that it was hoped the new hospital would make a positive impact on their numbers.

Mayor Palmer said Australia boasted a $1 billion koala tourism industry and this facility posed an exciting and profitable tourist opportunity for the council. "This sanctuary is a world-class facility and a destination in itself - more visitors means more jobs and more money being spent in our region."

The council's corporate services group manager Carmel Foster said that the complex provided economic growth and better outcomes for all of Port Stephens and said that construction would take place in two stages.

Stage one of the construction will deliver the creation of the koala compounds and elevated boardwalk, along with pathways, internal access roads and car parking to support tourist vehicles. Stage two will see the koala clinic and tourism centre come to life.

During his address, Mr Kean announced the release of the first ever koala strategy report and launched the I Spy Koala app, developed for the collection of koala observation and survey data.