Wonambi Visitor Centre 20th anniversary and Business Prospectus launch

A celebration of twenty years of the Wonambi Visitor Centre and the launch of the Naracoorte Caves Connection Business Prospectus was held at the Naracoorte Caves on Wednesday night.

Attended by local business operators and supporters of the Naracoorte Caves, the night included a walk through the Wonambi Visitor Centre, led by local paleontologist Dr Liz Reed.

The Wonambi Visitor Centre located at the World Heritage listed Naracoorte Caves tells the story of how the caves acted as pitfall traps, dens and roosts for more than 500,000 years, leading to a vast accumulation of skeletal remains of reptiles, birds and mammals.

Dr Reed explained the global significance of the fossil record of the Caves and that this is the reason the Naracoorte Caves are on the World Heritage list. The Naracoorte Caves World Heritage Area is the major research site for the University of Adelaide’s paleontological research team, where Dr Reed is a Research Fellow in Paleontology.

Brian Clark, the District Ranger of the Naracoorte Caves from 1985 to 2001, who was instrumental in developing the site for tourism including overseeing the Wonambi Visitor Centre project, spoke about the pioneering vision for the Centre.

Specifically, how the Centre and the Naracoorte Caves and particularly its World Heritage status is an important economic driver in the region, and how the partnership between all levels of government was integral to the success of the project.

Two of the most fascinating elements of Mr Clark’s speech was how the Caves were originally seen as something rather burdensome back in the late 1980s, and therefore the roles of the Rangers weren’t respected.

After a major staff shake up, Mr Clark found himself managing the Bool Lagoon area. Bool Lagoon also used to be considered a nuisance of a place, with frequent flooding on pastoral land, and duck shooters becoming increasingly hostile to new hunting laws.

After Mr Clark turned its fortunes around by making it a place of tourism, creating new jobs and respect for its environment, it was decided that the same could be done for the caves.

Passionate and trained guides were recruited to take the tours, and the Stick-Tomato Cave was turned into a self-guided tour site so that visitors had something to do between the more formal tours.

There were bat cameras installed, accommodation for researchers was built, and Caves and management made connections with the media for additional publicity. In 1995, the Caves naturally got a massive tourism boost after it was declared a World Heritage listed site.

But something was missing. Namely, the stars of the show – the megafauna.

Before the animatronics were installed, guides had to (really) hold up artist sketches in dimly lit caves to try and explain what used to roam around in ancient Naracoorte.

Thanks to a talented and skilled modeller called Steve Hader, the physical act of building the animatronics could be accomplished.

Professor Robert Wells, one of the most significant paleontologists at Flinders University who discovered fossil beds at the Caves, also got his research team involved. Their years of collecting knowledge about megafauna made sure that the animatronics were scientifically accurate. 

Once Brian got in touch with designers, engineers and researchers who could bring the massive marsupials to life, it was simply a matter of getting enough money to pay them, and also pay the architects who needed to create the building to house them.

This is where the second fascinating element came in, in that Brian had a very tight deadline to come up with two million dollars. 

After some helter skelter meetings, price matching, and some quick thinking, Brian managed to raise the money thanks to the Regional Tourism Board, the Green Triangle Regional Economic Development Board, and then mayor of the Naracoorte Lucindale Council David Hood. 

“It just goes to show how much good faith there was in the project, and how much community support,” Mr Clark said of the eventual creation and unveiling of the Wonambi Visitor Centre in 1998.

Nick McIntyre, the current Site Manager, reiterated the importance of the role that Naracoorte Caves plays as a major attraction for leveraging visitor numbers to the Limestone Coast.  Having South Australia’s only World Heritage site on its doorstep is a unique opportunity to grow visitation to Naracoorte

The Wrattonbully Wine Region Association showcased wines for the evening and spoke about the link between the unique soil in the vineyards, the Naracoorte Caves and the quality of their wine and how the Naracoorte Caves are integral to branding and marketing wine from Wrattonbully.

The final formality for the evening was the launch of the Naracoorte Caves Connection Business Prospectus by Mayor Erika Vickery OAM. The Business Prospectus details ways in which local businesses and individuals can leverage business opportunities linked to the Naracoorte Caves.

A workshop held in November 2017 among local organisations and businesses identified a range of great ideas to better connect the Caves to the town of Naracoorte and the surrounding region.

The Business Prospectus lists these ideas and are free for anyone to implement or they may inspire new thoughts and ideas that link to your business. There are some great opportunities identified in the Business Prospectus –  the challenge is to find the one you can turn into a new business or add to your existing business!

Many of the ideas developed can be implemented inexpensively, and others may require longer term planning and partnering with other businesses, organisations or government. By making the most of what we have at the Naracoorte Caves, the town can attract more visitors to the overall benefit of Naracoorte business sector.

The Business Prospectus is part of the Naracoorte Caves Connection project which details proposals to increase economic benefit to Naracoorte by promoting increased visitation, and encouraging new infrastructure, commercial development, and to grow businesses, partnerships and jobs.

The Naracoorte Lucindale Council is continuing to implement proposals in the Naracoorte Caves Connection Project Concept Statement.

It is important to understand that Council cannot achieve the proposals in the Concept Statement alone. Many of the proposals rely on working in partnership with others and local businesses seizing the opportunities in both the Concept Statement and the Business Prospectus.

In 2019 the Naracoorte Caves will celebrate 50 years since the discovery of one of the world’s 10 greatest fossil sites and 25 years since the Caves was inscribed on the World Heritage list. These anniversaries are a unique opportunity to attract more visitors and to generate economic prosperity for the region. Creating a stronger link between the town and the Caves will generate greater benefits for both locations.

At the conclusion of the formalities Mayor Vickery cut the celebratory Wonambi cake, which was a beautiful creation by Marj Haynes. 

Local food was provided by the Naracoorte Caves Café, and there was also a range of Wrattonbully wines and apple ciders, as well as Robe Town Brewery beers.

For a copy of the Naracoorte Caves Connection Business Prospectus or Concept Statement contact the Naracoorte Lucindale Council on 8760 1100 or visit Council’s website: https://www.naracoortelucindale.sa.gov.au/cavesconnection