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What A Difference A Decade Makes

Rubbish, Railways and Recreation (1970-1978)

The land now occupied by the Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia was once part of an extensive wetland system between Shortland and Waratah West, which was part of the Hexham Swamp complex.  The wetland system was progressively filled as part of sanitary landfill operations, construction of a railway, development of football fields, and other works, until only remnant patches of wetlands remained.

A large part of the site was converted to a complex of football fields known as Marist Park.  The Hamilton Rugby Club used part of the site for its home field, constructing an amenities building and a clubhouse, which was officially opened on 11 February 1978. The facilities proved to be unviable and were abandoned within a few years, leaving the buildings to fall in to disrepair.

An Accidental Passion (1981-1983)

In November 1981 Dr  Max Maddock, Associate Professor of Education at the University of Newcastle, leased part of the wetlands site for grazing horses. Dr Maddock noticed four species of Egrets had established a breeding colony in trees standing in a paperbark swamp on the site (Great, Intermediate, Little and Cattle egrets). As his fascination with, and study of the  breeding biology of the birds intensified, he developed a concept for using the building and wetlands as a biological education and research centre focussing on the egrets as one of its main features. The site began to generate considerable interest due to the diversity and rarity of waterbirds using the site.

Wetlands 1 vs Rubbish Dump 0 (1983-1984)

In 1983 the local Council announced plans to fill remnant wetland to make way for the re-opening of the Lorna Street dump.  At the same time, a plan for State Highway 23 proposed a road cutting across an important Black Swan breeding area in the same wetlands. Implementation of these two plans would have seriously endangered the wetland ecology of the Shortland area and threatened the existence of the egret colony.

A small, committed group of individuals formed as the Hunter Wetlands Group and decided to submit comprehensive documents to Newcastle City Council opposing the Lorna Street wetlands garbage dump. The campaign was successful and Newcastle City Council passed the following resolutions:

  • The land was not to be used for further waste disposal
  • The council-owned land comprising the former Lorna Street site and associated wetlands be declared a wildlife sanctuary
  • A local environmental plan be developed to govern the development and preservation of the area

The Hunter Wetlands Group was reconstituted to form the Hunter Wetlands Trust with the objectives of promoting wetland conservation, research, education and passive recreation.  With support from Newcastle City Council and BHP, Jonathon Falk Planning Consultants undertook a site design and management study to guide the conservation efforts.

The Big Clean-up Begins (1985)  

In 1985 favourable recommendations of the Falk report convinced BHP, Newcastle City Council and the NSW Bicentennial Council to donate funds to purchase the Marist Park land and associated buildings. The community accepted the proposals and in November 1985 the land and building were purchased in the name of Shortland Wetlands Centre Ltd.

The Hunter Wetlands Trust and a band of very enthusiastic volunteers from the local community began a massive clean-up of the site. They  initially concentrated on the dominant disturbed areas of the site, and the removal of burnt-out car bodies and other rubbish was one of the first major tasks.

Applications were lodged with the Newcastle City Council for building alterations and construction of the ponds in front of the visitors centre. The re-construction of these wetlands raised the water levels in most of the wetlands on site and made the water more permanent.  These ponds have now developed into viable ecosystems that regularly support breeding waterbirds, including ducks, swans, grebes, pelicans and magpie geese.

A Big Three Years (1986-1988)

In the period from 1986 to 1988 a massive amount of work was undertaken on the site to improve its recreation, conservation and education values.

A canoe channel was excavated to connect with a flood mitigation channel leading into the adjacent Ironbark Creek and Hexham Swamp.  The canoe trail now has the appearance of a typical NSW tidal coastal creek, with regenerating mangroves and a border shoreline of swamp casuarinas.

Walking trails were constructed, an observation tower was erected near the egret colony and directional signs were placed strategically throughout the site. A perimeter fence was erected and landscaped picnic areas were installed.

A number of service clubs have contributed to facilities on site through funding and construction of site improvements, providing picnic shelters, viewing areas, bridges, boardwalks and deck areas.

The land was rehabilitated and landscaped with native flora, assisted by Greening Australia (Hunter Valley) who planted 2,290 trees.  The Australian Plant Society have made a significant contribution to the site and, together with other volunteers, have planted tens of thousands of native flora throughout the site.  All plant details have been recorded including the species, the number of plants, the locality and people who planted them.   

The Visitor Centre,  hosting an interpretative display area, theatrette, classroom, research library and café was officially opened as a Bicentennial Project in November.

What’s In a Name? (1999)

The organisation changed from Shortland Wetlands Centre to The Wetlands Centre Australia.

International Recognition (2002)

A successful application for protection under the Ramsar Convention was announced in November 2002.  This means our wetlands are listed as internationally important under the Ramsar Convention – an international treaty for the protection and wise use of wetlands. See the Ramsar website for more information on the Convention. 

A New Era (2005 onwards)

2005 marked the beginning of a new era for Hunter Wetlands as the centre’s name was modified to ‘Hunter Wetlands Centre Australia’ to position the centre as a destination—critical as HWCA entered the ecotourism market.

The centre had grown significantly and developed a reputation as a centre of excellence, particulalrly in wetland education. 

Increased grant funding, visitor numbers and the sale of a portion of (non-wetlands) land ensured the Centre’s future and continued growth.

Hunter Wetlands turns 30 in 2015!

With a new CEO starting in October 2014, we move towards celebrating 30 years. We have lots of fun & informative events scheduled through the year that show the wetlands in a variety of ways. We celebrate our conservation and rehabiliation efforts, our commercial successes with our nursery and we showcase how people relate to the wetlands - through stories, artworks, photography, theatre and more. 




1985 - Visitor Centre



1986 - R John Price (State Member for Waratah), Brian Gilligan (HWCA Executive Director), and Max Maddock (HWCA Chairman)



2003 - World Wetlands Day and Ramsar celebrations


Today - Visitor Centre and Wetlands Ponds


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