Tomaree Headland – what’s at the end of the road?
Story and photos by Nigel Dique, Treasurer, EcoNetwork and
Vice-President Shoal Bay Community Association.
An ongoing talking point in Port Stephens is the future of Tomaree Headland now that all residents of Tomaree Lodge disability accommodation have been transferred to group homes.
The NSW Government is keeping deliberations close to its chest, giving rise to all manner of speculation in the community about how best to make use of such a spectacularly beautiful location. It owns The Tomaree Lodge site, Lot 453, located on the western section of Tomaree Headland, and the Department of Communities and Justice is the manager. The National Parks and Wildlife Service owns and manages the eastern elevated section including Tomaree Headland summit (Lot 454).
What we do know is that the Tomaree Headland and Heritage Group (THHG), with members comprising business and community organisations, is in possession of written bipartisan Government support, including from previous Premier Gladys Berejiklian, for keeping the site in public/community ownership.
But can that commitment be relied on? THHG learned at an inspection of the site on 19 November 2021 that:
- the Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment will decide on the future of the 9 hectare site, with February 2022 referenced as ‘a date of interest’.
- the NSW Government has completed a ‘voluminous and costly’ Conservation Management Plan for the site that identifies a number of WWII tunnels on the headland including behind and part of the lodge site.
- there are two Worimi land claims, one for the entire site and one for a portion of it.
- the Department is unwilling to provide the existing oyster hatchery a lease until the future of the site has been determined.
- 24 hours a day, seven days a week security will continue.
- NDIS is funding general maintenance staffing.
THHG, an affiliate of EcoNetwork, has a vision: ‘to support the retention of the Tomaree Lodge in public ownership and the creation of the Tomaree Headland as a nationally significant visitor attraction recognising and showcasing the culturally significant history and the natural environment.’
At the 19 November 2021 inspection, facilitated by Port Stephens Council, THHG was given a sneak peek into Tomaree Lodge, which has been out of bounds to visitors since closure. Only one person was permitted access – THHG president Peter Clough.
Others at the inspection (representing Council) were Mayor Ryan Palmer, former Clr John Nell, Clr Glen Dunkley, Clr Chris Doohan, Council Engineer John Maretich and Group Manager Development Services Steven Peart.
Craig Heinjus, Director Infrastructure, Sydney and Paul Roberts, Newcastle, attended for the Department of Communities and Justice.
One plus one
Only Peter Clough was permitted to accompany Mr Heinjus on a tour of the buildings. Peter took some photos and commented as follows:
“We were allowed access to a few buildings including the administration block and the recreation room.
“Mr Heinjus could not confirm if there was any asbestos. All furniture and equipment had been removed.
“Most of the buildings are dormitories with residential and carer accommodation, kitchen and amenities, which appear very suitable for possible student accommodation or restaurants.
“Not all buildings will have heritage value.”
Mr Heinjus also commented that the decision to transition the Lodge to the community was made ‘two ministers ago’ and the issue had not been discussed with the current Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services (Alister Henskens).
He said Mr Heinjus made the point that as the Department of Community and Justice had no further use for the site, the Department of Planning, Industry and the Environment would determine its future.
When it was mentioned that a commitment to public ownership had also been received from the previous Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, Mr Heinjus said the current Premier (Dominic Perrottet) had a completely different style.
Premier’s ‘different style’
Mr Heinjus also raised the matter of two land claims on the site, one for the entire site and another for portions of the site including the northern open park areas. It was not clear what reasons were behind the land claims. Both are subject to appeal through the Land and Environment Court, and he mentioned February 2022 as a key date.
If a claim were successful there would be a significant ongoing maintenance liability for the successful claimant.
The Tomaree Lodge site is listed on the State Heritage Register as one of the few surviving, relatively intact army garrison camps dating from WWII in NSW. It was developed as a military base by the Australian Army-United States Navy defence venture in March 1942.
THHG Inc’s participating groups comprise Business Port Stephens Inc., Nelson Bay RSL Sub-Branch Inc., Destination Port Stephens Inc., Shoal Bay Community Association Inc., EcoNetwork-Port Stephens Inc., Marine Parks Association Inc., Tomaree Ratepayers and Residents Association Inc., Port Stephens Historical Society Inc. and Tomaree Museum Association Inc.
Among its objects are to retain the Tomaree Lodge site in public ownership with appropriate public access, to create a nationally significant tourist attraction based on Tomaree Headland complementing the Tomaree Coastal Walk and to realise the potential of the site for educational and research relating to marine science, nature conservation, indigenous culture and more recent historical events.
THHG believes the best model for the future management of Tomaree Lodge is the establishment of a Management Trust comprising government, Council and community stakeholders.
THHG has received a Federal Department of Veteran Affairs grant of $10,000 to prepare a comprehensive military history of the Tomaree Lodge site and adjacent area, which is due for completion in June 2022. It also received a $2,800 ‘seed capital’ grant from Port Stephens Council to cover registration, planning and website costs, and a further $10,000 from Council to commence the planning process and Trust investigation.
THHG is now seeking expressions of interest from a suitably qualified person or organisation to prepare a Concept Plan supported by a report inclusive of a Business Case for the future adaptive re-use of the existing Tomaree Lodge site and its buildings.
THHG lists possible activities that could enhance the financial sustainability and appeal of the Tomaree Lodge site as education and research activities, cafés, restaurants, eco-activities, history and nature-based walking tours, marine related activities such as tours of the existing oyster spawning business, boutique accommodation and events such as weddings, and school and university excursions
It also advocates re-instatement of a demolished jetty near the lodge, with a pontoon, opening the opportunity for public transport access by ferry and cruise vessels. This could provide an important link to the new Tomaree Coastal Walk and headland summit and future Tomaree Lodge site activities, and help the already constricted parking and traffic management.