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Byron Shire
January 31, 2023

Brewery cum koala hospital for Bangalow?

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The concept of a brewery along the Hinterland Way, with a viewing platform and walking tracks through which to view recovering koalas, has raised the hackles of local koala carers, who strongly oppose the plan.’

A development application for the mixed-use facility has been lodged with Byron Shire Council on behalf of property owner Lewis Haigh, who is a board member of the Bangalow Chamber of Commerce.

The property is situated along Hinterland Way between the two Bangalow exits. It is currently accessed from Granuaille Crescent but the plan would require a new access road to be built from Hinterland Way.

Bars and accommodation

It would comprise 12 accommodation ‘pods’ and includes provision for a brewery, three bars, a garden centre, retail area, wellness centre, performance stage, parking for 307 cars and – bizarrely – a koala hospital, complete with ‘elevated viewing area’ and paths through koala trees for ‘ecotourists’ to wander.

According to the documents, the purpose-built koala hospital ‘will be managed by a local koala carer’s network and will be designed with advice from this carer’s network and veterinary practitioners. Injured and sick koalas will be treated and kept at this facility as necessary by this registered organisation’.

But none of the local groups that fit this description have been approached about operating the facility.

The highly respected groups Friends of the Koala and Bangalow Koalas have issued a joint media announcement condemning it as ‘completely inappropriate’ and distancing themselves from it.

The Macadamia Castle’s Tony Gilding, a member of a group set up to establish a wildlife hospital in the Northern Rivers, has also roundly condemned the plan.

WIRES Northern Rivers and Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers were also unaware of the proposal.

No contact

According to the joint media release, ‘The proponent, Lewis Haigh, made no contact regarding the koala hospital with either of our organisations prior to lodging the DA, as he had [previously] with Bangalow Koalas in regard to tree planting’.

‘When contacted by us [he] refused to tell us which groups are involved. From our perspective these statements in the DA are therefore misleading and suggestive of an attempt to persuade residents that our organisations support this DA.

‘For the record, we both strongly oppose this development for a variety of reasons including that it will put extra traffic onto Hinterland Way, where last year five koalas were killed close to that property in a known koala kill hot spot, and put at further risk our highly vulnerable koalas.’

Thought bubble

Mr Gilding told Echonetdaily the DA ‘gave a new meaning to the term mixed use’.

‘To be honest it seems like a bit of a thought bubble,’ he said.

‘The DA for the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is 400 pages long – this one is barely four lines. It doesn’t have a chance of getting through, nor should it.

‘A koala hospital is not a tourist attraction; you need 1,000 koala trees for every koala in care and they need to be housed for weeks or months.

‘One of the biggest problems we’ve encountered in getting a koala hospital here on the Northern Rivers is that none of the local vets have the expertise of the ones working at Currumbin,’ he said.

Mr Gilding added he had ‘yet to find anybody’ who was approached about the DA.

Lewis Haigh, his partner and his planner at Ardill Payne were all approached for comment for this article. None of them responded to our requests.

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  1. The Koala hospital in Port Macquarie is very popular, providing care to many koalas hit by cars on un-fenced roads, and sadly for one hit by an XPT train.

    The Hinterland Way is a great cycling route for those confident to ride on a wide quiet road, and it will provide an ideal connection between Ballina and the Northern Rivers Rail Trail when it is built through Bangalow. This if it were to be approved and similarly well run would provide an added attraction on the way for passing cyclists and many other tourists too.

  2. Koalas are wild animals and the idea of having them recovering from injuries or illness in a facility where people trail past them and stop to look is absurd. Recovering koalas need to be kept from the public so they can be returned to what is left of their habitat without becoming humanised. The days of cages in zoos for exhibiting animals are gone. These animals are on the brink of extinction they are not tourism dollars.

  3. We live in Ballina, and have just visited the excellent Koala Hospital in Port Macqarie which is next to a beautiful historic cottage run by volunteers. It all works very well, and we were most impresses. We were there a few days ago before the fires nearby, and I hope there will be space and labour to care for any injured Koalas. I think tourism and a Koala Hospital can be combined very well, particularly if they follow the Port Macquarie example.


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