Looking back on 14 years at the Macadamia Castle, Tony Gilding says the important things to him were the conservation of the animals and the development of staff.
‘The highlights have been watching young people come in as assistant teachers and trainees and then moving on in their careers going into other animal parks or staying to learn more here,’ says Tony. ‘That’s the same in the kitchen and retail – the graduation and progression of the people has been great.’
‘Getting a koala was obviously a major highlight – any animal park wants to have a koala and they are not easy to look after. They require a lot of peace and you have to have access to about 1,000 trees for them to eat from, they are very fussy eaters.’
Koalas and wombats and macropods, reptiles and birds
Tony knows a lot about koalas and wombats and macropods, reptiles and birds, but after 14 years as owner, he has sold the Macadamia Castle to people who know their animals, a not-for-profit company called Wildlife Recovery Australia (WRA), who will be the new owners on October 1.
It has not been an easy decision to make but a cancer diagnosis and treatment means it’s time for Gilding to focus on his health and family. During his time at The Castle, Tony has overseen significant changes including establishing conference facilities, expanding the range of wildlife, developing a conservation and education programme and the free-flight bird show, and recently building a water play feature.
Let down by the RMS
Tony says the most difficult time was when traffic was diverted from his door. ‘Dealing with the RMS was the absolute low point. Dealing with a bunch of bureaucrats who were more concerned about their careers than looking after community assets, and their refusal to assist when it was in the community interest, was just a low point in my life.
Tony says that the RMS’s refusal to answer questions, their extremely long delays in sending letters back and their intransigence on obvious matters, were big problems. ‘I just cannot believe how bureaucracy can be so self-centred, and that the ministers can’t keep it under control. It’s beyond me.
‘It has affected me, and I think it has affected my health.
The business struggled after the RMS debacle but it was 2020’s JobKeeper that came to the rescue. ‘We were down for the count. It was COVID that saved us when we got some job support and we renovated the park, Since we reopened we’re doing fine. We were very lucky to have had that little boost – not that anybody’s lucky to have COVID, but it’s what saved the Castle.
The retirement you have…
And retirement? ‘I’m not exactly retired. My big passion is orangutans and I’ve got major infrastructure projects happening in Borneo – $5 million construction projects, and they’re all coming to fruition at the moment. Every night I am on conference calls for an hour or two and we go through the budget stuff and getting it all done because I can’t physically visit there.
‘Then we’re getting the Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital open – I’m deputy chairman and one of the joint founders and we are very keen to get that up and running.
‘So they’re my retirement.’
Tony also says he will still be at the Castle. ‘I will visit regularly and see the animals. I’ll keep watching the staff develop and grow.’
Tony says one of his take-aways is the amount of support he has had from the community and The Echo. ‘I’m so glad that I live in an area where there is an independent newspaper. I think a lot of what we’ve been able to achieve is because we’ve been able to get that message across in an undistorted way and in a respectful way. The Echo has been absolutely instrumental in doing that, and we’ve always really, really cherished that.
‘I just can’t imagine living in an area where you’re press is dominated by a New York mogul and you’ve got no choice about what happens to what say – it’s all going be clickbait and dramatic headlines. It’s not the way the world is. We’re extremely grateful to have The Echo.’