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August 17, 2022

Tony’s reflections as king of the Macadamia Castle

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Tony Gilding says he will still visit the animals and staff at the Castle once the new owners take over next month. Photo Jeff Dawson.

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.’

Arni was bred in captivity as part of a breeding program at Taronga Zoo but has been moved to a new home at Macadamia Castle. Photo supplied.

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.

After 14 years, Tony Gilding is hanging up his armour. Photo Jeff Dawson.

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.’

Visit the Macadamia Castle Animal Park website to keep up with all the new adventures.

Macadamia Castle Animal Park – Knockrow.

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  1. Tony and his crew at the castle haas really enriched our area and educated thousands of children about the animal world and the environment.
    Sustainability was always a key concern as seen by the little things like composting and recycling through to big infrastructure like solar and EV charging stations.
    Always ahead of their time. Good luck Tony

  2. I wish you all the best in your battle for your health also a Huge Thankyou from a mum of 2 autistic children for providing a lovely and safe environment for my children to have access to wildlife and hands on animal experiences

  3. Tony Gilding, you’re a true inspiration for us all, and our many wildlife friends.
    There’s nothing quite like relating to wildlife when you gain their trust, and they need all the help they can get.
    This moving article, displays your enormous dedication to so much that matters.

  4. Former owner of Macadamia Castle Tony Gilding comes down from the battlements to rest and to look back on his 14 years in looking after the animals and birds there that acted as a great tourist attraction for adults and children. Many locals got a start in work there that gave them confidence to deal with the public that led to other things.

  5. As a daughter of the director of Taronga Zoo, and your sister in law I am in awe of the energy and commitment you put into all aspects of the Castle. Whilst also focussing on orangutan projects overseas. Not one for being idle.
    It is your investment in staff along side the animals that makes you an outstanding leader and me very proud of you!

  6. What a champion , thank you for your dedication. We have always have loved the castle and its been a favourite place to visit with the kids as they have grown. Good to read the Macadamia castle will continue on.

  7. Your amazing Tony. You’ve been a leader and inspiration in our community for a long time, and certainly the whole time that i have known you. It’s been a privilege to work with you on so many projects over the years and long may that continue.

  8. Just wanted to personally thank you Tony for being such a great role model for our grandsons, who admire you greatly as we do.
    The “keeper for the day” & “wildlife warrior” school holiday programs & the yummy pancakes are still enjoyed by them both.
    Appreciate all you have done for many community groups. Take care in your semi retirement & patient roles Tony. You make many proud. Well done.

  9. Thank you for providing such a safe & happy place for people who have disabilities, such as North Coast Fun Club. Everyone loved it at the Macadamia Castle & staff were friendly & patient. A lot of very fond memories & photos from our vidits there over the years! Wishing you well in your retirement.

  10. Congratulations Tony,Thank you for your wonderful achievement on 14 years and hard work at the Castle.I am proud of you and I know it was never easy. We only put in 13 years to get it established .Sorry to hear about your health, I wish you all the very best for your future. Love Joyce Howard


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