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April 22, 2024

Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital attracts supporters from across spectrum

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Sod turning of the new Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital site at Wollongbar, with assembled supporters from across the region and across the political spectrum. Photo David Lowe.

The first sod was turned yesterday for construction of the new $2.8 million Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital on five acres at Lindendale Road, Wollongbar, attracting supporters of all political stripes and other well-wishers from across the wildlife care community.

Former NSW MLC Catherine Cusack told The Echo it had been an ‘absolute joy’ to join the board of the hospital and lend her support to the project. She praised the dedicated wildlife carers of the region, noting there was ‘nothing more voiceless than wildlife’. Ms Cusack said it would benefit the various rescue and care groups to have ‘one big voice advocating for everyone’.

In her speech, she noted that back in 2003 she had been the only female MP in the region, a situation that has now dramatically changed. ‘I believe you ladies are making such a difference,’ she said.

Tony Gilding in 2020. Photo David Lowe.

Sue Higginson MLC then spoke about the role of ‘an incredible giant’ in the shape of the late Tony Gilding, formerly of the Macadamia Castle and various international wildlife groups, who had pressed on her the necessity for a local wildlife hospital, in addition to habitat protection, with many animals dying before they could reach help in Currumbin.

‘They needed critical immediate care in order to survive,’ said Ms Higginson. ‘We’re here today as a result of incredible partnership, politics from all sides, community from all sides, and government coming in and backing the community.

‘But without a doubt, the wildlife carers; it’s their tenacity, their vision, and the maintenance of their support and hope for this project that’s delivered us here today.’

Member for Ballina Tamara Smith with Chair of the NRWH, Ninian Gemmell. Photo David Lowe.

Long journey

Chair of the not-for profit Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital Ninian Gemmell said the journey to reach this point had taken far longer than expected, and it was exciting that construction had finally commenced.

He thanked all the people who had donated their time and energy, as well as the financial support of different levels of government.

‘It’s ironic that we’re looking at another fire season,’ said Mr Gemmell. ‘It’s ironic that we got some bushfire grants ahead of the floods. And it’s ironic that we’re now looking at another very serious bushfire season into the future, so we’re very thankful for that funding.’

He said the centrality of the Wollongbar site in terms of the wider Northern Rivers would be critical for its success into the future.

NRWH Board Member and wildlife vet nurse Kim Hollis-Simpson. Photo David Lowe.

NRWH Board Member and wildlife vet nurse Kim Hollis-Simpson spoke about the hospital as a dream come true, with the facility to include state-of-the-art surgeries, rehabilitation facilities, gardens to support feeding the patients, and a large flat area to deal with mass casualties during disasters.

‘Such an exciting day!’ she said.

In her speech, she talked about switching from being an orthopaedic surgical nurse to wildlife when she unexpectedly encountered a baby ringtail possum in care, later dealing with large numbers of animal patients following Black Saturday in Victoria, as a wildlife nurse.

‘In the aftermath of that event, the pressure on our team was huge,’ Ms Hollis-Simpson remembered. ‘The pressure on those little animals was huge, and the pressure on our community was even greater. Almost 15 years later, those pressures of the world continue to impact our wildlife, with habitat loss, fragmentation, invasive predators, floods and fires.’

NRWH Board Member and wildlife vet nurse Kim Hollis-Simpson. Photo David Lowe.

Vets under pressure

‘So often that pressure is pushed onto private practice, where vets are already strapped, suffering from a nationwide crisis, staff shortages, large caseloads, and the economic pressures of running a small business,’ she said.

‘Often wildlife carers are left to fill the gap by covering the costs of animal treatments out of their own pockets.

‘We become vets, nurses and carers because we care deeply for the animals in our care. It can be devastating for us when we feel we have failed animals in our care, or have fallen short of the expectations placed upon us.

‘By offering a fully equipped veterinary hospital dedicated to the health and well being of Australian wildlife, it is my hope to ease that pressure on veterinary staff and carers in our community.’

New van of the Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital. Photo David Lowe.

Ballina MP Tamara Smith presented Ms Hollis-Simpson with the keys to the new Wildlife Transport Vehicle, which was funded by a Community Building Partnership Grant, with additional signage and fit-out work provided by the Northern Rivers Community Foundation.

Ms Smith said it takes a village to create something like a wildlife hospital, ‘and the village is here.’

She paid particular tribute to Lismore MP Janelle Saffin for using her political capital to make the new wildlife hospital a reality, and said she would join Ms Saffin and Catherine Cusack in pushing for a wider wildlife network for the Northern Rivers.

Pivotal role

Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin said the project had brought together the wildlife sector and would play a pivotal role across the region, from the Clarence to Tweed, and west to Kyogle. She praised her fellow political women for working together for wildlife.

Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin with Chair of the NRWH, Ninian Gemmell. Photo David Lowe.

‘One of the things that people in Sydney often say, and they say it to us in parliament, is they’re quite surprised at how we all work together,’ she said.

‘When we need to have a go, we have a go, you know, we’re pretty good at it, all of us! But the way that we can work together, putting the best interests of community first, they say it’s a bit of a model, and today is representative of that.

‘I’ve managed to get some support, but it wasn’t without all the hard work of everybody else, coming together,’ said Ms Saffin. ‘How we care for the animals, our wildlife, it says something about us as a society. And it’s so important that we do that.’

Janelle Saffin said she would also continue to advocate for government funding of the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital, with its unique mobile facility, although the Minns Government is not currently extending the requested support.

Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader. Photo David Lowe.

Ballina’s Mayor Sharon Cadwallader also spoke about the funding challenges of the other wildlife hospital (noting it was actually in Ballina Shire), having attended the successful fundraising event with the Cruel Sea on the weekend, and saying she would continue to push for proper levels of government funding for both facilities.

Mayor Cadwallader then officially turned the sod for the new wildlife hospital, accompanied by her fellow councillors Kiri Dicker, Rod Bruem and Eva Ramsey.

Leading the way

Lorraine Vass, from Friends of the Koala and also a board member of the new hospital, said the new facility showed the Northern Rivers was leading the way with wildlife care, both in NSW and nationally.

Maria Matthes from Friends of the Koala, Maria Borges from WWF, and Lorraine Vass from FOK and NRWH. Photo David Lowe.

Maria Borges from the World Wildlife Fund agreed, explaining this was why her organisation was helping to fund the Wollongbar hospital. ‘We believe it is a great achievement,’ she said.

Sue Higginson MLC told The Echo that the new wildlife hospital represented a significant collaboration between communty and government, to create a world class facility. She said it was designed to not only service the community wildlife care network, and the ‘incredible work’ they do in rescue, rehabilitation and release, but to become a stronghold of advocacy for wildlife conservation and research.

‘That will be driven through research and education principles,’ she said. ‘The idea is that the hospital is one part of the puzzle in the long road that we have to recover and regenerate wildlife. We can’t look at this project as an end game – that was never part of the original vision. This is one essential part in the overarching goal of the recovery and protection of wildlife in nature.’

Sue Higginson MLC with former MLC Catherine Cusack. Photo David Lowe.

Ms Higginson said she would also continue to push the Minns Government to address the biodiversity crisis, with the Northern Rivers a particular hotspot for biodiversity.

She said she saw a crucial role in this regard for the new Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital, but also other established facilities, such as the Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital, ‘which we see a real cause and need for.’

At this stage, the new Northern Rivers Wildlife Hospital at Wollongbar is expected to be open in April 2024. People can learn more, support the hospital and get involved via the website, which has links to social media sites.

You can see more pictures from yesterday’s event below:

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  1. What a terrible waste of money and effort. Everyone seems to have their priorities all upside down. God help the human race. Let’s campaign for a human rights charter in this country not a dog ambulance.

      • I agree. Group rights are a trick. We need our individual God given rights recognised by the Constitution, that way people will know when they are being violated. They won’t do anything about, but they’ll know where they stand. I wonder how many families that facility could house.

    • Waste of time & effort? Alleviating animal suffering not high on your list of priorities then? What a horribly self-centred anthropocentric view! Firstly, perhaps reconsider owning any pets. Why should humans be the only species with rights to exist? or with a right to not suffer? & an expectation their homes & food will continue to still be there at the end of each day? How does this possibly impinge on your beloved human rights?

      Wildlife has been neglected forever – even around here in a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot. Hundreds of fauna species are on the brink of extinction, all entirely because of our actions & we’ve already lost dozens of species locally, even in the past 20-30 years.
      Every tiny thing we can do to slow & reverse that trend helps.


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