THE Gunnedah shire is set to cement it’s claim as ‘the koala capital’ after receiving $6.5 million in funding to construct a new koala park and education centre in the region.
Funds for the future koala park were handed down in Tuesday’s state budget and will see a new koala tourist centre built in the shire, with 20 new jobs expected to be created at the site.
The announcement of the new facility has been welcomed by Gunnedah mayor Jamie Chaffey, who told The Namoi Valley Independent a lot of hard work had been put into the application for the funds.
“It really is awesome news,” Cr Chaffey said.
“As a council we have been working really hard for some time to see this come to pass and when I heard that it was a go, I had a mix of emotions from joy, to relief, to a variety of others.
“For the state government to show their support for this cause is really terrific and fills us with a great deal of confidence knowing that support is there.
“I think it just goes to show the commitment the state government has to regional NSW.”
News of the future koala park and education centre has drawn mixed reactions from some members of the community, as it now remains unclear what the future holds for Waterways Wildlife Park.
The wildlife park was closed by the NSW Department of Primary Industries in May 2017 due to a lack of compliance and it remains unclear if, or when the park will reopen.
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Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson praised the efforts of late Waterways owner and beloved koala-carer Nancy Small when the funds were handed down on Tuesday.
“We owe it to Nancy and her family to continue her legacy,” Mr Anderson said.
“The new park is expected to result in the creation of 20 full-time equivalent jobs, while attracting an estimated 90,000 visitors to the region every year. Our region continues to grow and I am dedicated to capitalising on our regional growth and tourism opportunities to build a better Gunnedah.”
Gunnedah Wires’ volunteer Martine Moran said while the local community may be on the fence about the new park in relation to the future of Waterways, the local koala population would benefit from the facility.
“It’s lovely they have acknowledged Nancy in the announcement because she did do so much for our wildlife,” Ms Moran said.
“Koala numbers are rapidly decreasing so any help they can get is a benefit.
“In my view the most important thing about any new facility is its capacity to care for sick and injured koalas.
“Rehabilitation is key in my opinion, so if there’s no medical centre in place within this new facility, I'm not sure it will help save our koalas.”
Cr Chaffey said it was too early to know exactly what the new facility will include.
“Realistically our first step is to come together and set out what steps are in place for us from here,” he said.
“I’m not sure when that will happen, so at this stage it’s not really possible to set a timeframe on that process.”
The Gunnedah mayor took an opportunity to thank council staff for their hard work in the project during a mayoral minute at Wednesday night’s June council meeting at the Breeza community hall.
“I’m currently putting together a letter to our premier, deputy premier and our local MP Kevin Anderson for their help in making this long-term goal a reality,” Cr Chaffey told the meeting.
“I’d also like to take this opportunity in the mayoral minute to thank the elected staff and all council staff involved in this project for their efforts in bringing what was a community-driven project to pass.”
Along with concerns for the future of Waterways, several members of the community have taken to social media to voice their view that the future park be named in honour of Nancy Small.
Cr Chaffey said it was “early days” for the project and many options would be considered.
“As I say, there is a lot work to be done and the first thing we need to do is come together and work out what the first steps are for this project,” he said.