Gunnedah Shire Council will apply for state funding to establish a world-class koala park and education centre.
The resolution was made at Wednesday’s ordinary meeting after the council was shortlisted for the NSW Government’s Rebuilding NSW Program. The council had submitted an expression of interest for a grant through the program’s Regional Growth – Environment and Tourism Fund.
At the meeting, the council moved to allocate a budget of up to $80,000 to develop a feasibility study, business case and application for the grant program.
A council spokesperson said the closure of Waterways Wildlife Park had left a significant gap in what Gunnedah tourism had to offer.
“Council remains supportive of efforts by the Waterways Wildlife Park to re-open but will continue to investigate all available options to fill the gap left by the closure,” the spokesperson said.
During consultation for the Community Strategic Plan (CSP), the spokesperson said the community listed furthering economic development and tourism in the region as high priorities. Retaining Gunnedah’s “Koala Capital of the World” status and promoting the shire both nationally and internationally were also identified as key objectives.
“Ratepayers have told us what they want, and that is for council to look forward and plan for the future,” Gunnedah mayor Jamie Chaffey said.
“The iconic koala has become synonymous with Gunnedah and helps to shape our local identity.
“It’s really important for people to be able to see a koala when they come to the koala capital. It is not only a huge drawcard for our region but has the potential to play a huge role in our economy.”
If the project is funded, the centre could exhibit koalas and other native animals, operate as a wildlife park and a native animal hospital with a kiosk on site. The park could also provide an important local educational service for schools throughout the region.
A council spokesperson said the koala park and education centre project had the potential to attract a major partner, such as Australia Zoo or Taronga Zoo, and could be a “world-class tourist attraction”.
“The project is in a very early conceptual and exploratory phase but if selected to receive grant funding could be a game changer for economic development and tourism in the area,” the spokesperson said.
“At this stage, there aren’t any specific plans for location or building design and these details will continue to develop if the project progresses, in close consultation with the community and key stakeholders.”