Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary has suffered its fair share of woe, misfortune and abandonment. There have been several closures and the Sanctuary has been left derelict twice over the past 15 years. However, the Wildlife Sanctuary holds a special place in the hearts of many South Australians and it took the courage of two Western Australians, Narelle and David, to resurrect the Sanctuary and help it surpass its former glory.
Today, Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary cares for a beautiful and exciting range of native Australian animals. The Sanctuary offers an interactive and educational experience with its collection of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. It is a thriving eco-system where Australian native animals flourish. Koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, potoroos, bettongs, and birds, rarely seen outside the feral-proof fence, all live safe and protected at Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary.
The future looks extremely bright for Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary thanks to an adventurous couple from Western Australia. Speaking literally, David and Narelle movie style: “We Bought a Zoo”.
It is soothing, it’s romantic, it’s enticing, it’s just a beautiful property — a bit like the land that time forgot. There are platypus in the dam still — wallabies, potoroos, bandicoots, everything just seems so natural.
David Cobbold | Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary
About 17 kilometres south-east of Adelaide, 35 acres of an abandoned dairy farm was purchased by John Wamsley for the purpose of conserving endangered South Australian wildlife. In 1969, Wamsley added another 50 acres to complete the ecosystem.
Wamsley, who has a PhD in mathematics, made news headlines in 1993 by wearing a feral cat skin “to make a point about the destruction feral cats have on native wildlife”.
Wamsley began his project by eradicating all feral plants and animals from the land. Wamsley and his wife Proo later erected a 2.1 metre high, electrified feral proof fence to preserve the Sanctuary’s natural status.
Completed in 1982, this significant conservational initiative was highly innovative for its time. Despite being deemed controversial, Wamsley boldly pioneered the concept of feral proof fencing.
Similar fences are now utilised across Australia to protect wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves. These fences provide Australian wildlife with protection from invasive species that cause damage to the natural balance of Australia’s ecosystem.
Dr Wamsley, described as the father of the feral proof fence, was pivotal in protecting endangered wildlife and has undoubtedly saved many Australian species from extinction.
The fox, cat, and rabbit proof fence around the Sanctuary was revolutionary when first erected. Today it stands as proof that Australian native animals flourish when introduced predators are removed from their environment.
Warrawong Sanctuary was opened to the general public in 1985 and the goal was to generate funding for additional wildlife sanctuaries across Australia. Earth Sanctuaries Ltd was subsequently incorporated in 1988 to create a network of eighty sanctuaries that would span all of Australia’s habitats. Unfortunately, the Company’s listing on the ASX failed and it was delisted in the mid- 2000s.
Poor commercial performance forced the Sanctuary to close in 2005. However, in 2006 it was bought by the owner of the Gumeracha Toy Factory and the Big Rocking Horse, Anthony Miller. In 2010, the Sanctuary was bought by Zoos South Australia and the Ngarrindjeri People.
This partnership was promoted as leaving the Sanctuary in safe hands. However, in 2013, it was announced that Zoos SA would be withdrawing support and ceasing operations due to the Sanctuary being an unsustainable investment. Warrawong Sanctuary was abandoned and lay dormant for several years.
Fortunately, 27 acres of the derelict Sanctuary was purchased on 6 January 2017 by wildlife lovers Narelle MacPherson and David Cobbold.
Seeing it as an opportunity to reinvigorate a national treasure, the couple boldly packed up their belongings, sold their home in the jarrah forests of Western Australia and relocated to the Adelaide Hills, SA.
Narelle and David were able to increase the Sanctuary’s land by 14 acres by crowdfunding $45,000 to purchase the adjacent Lake Cumbungi. This was critical as it had previously been subdivided and cut off the main water source for the Sanctuary’s ecosystem.
Thanks to the vision of the founders, current owners Narelle and David are creating a rich and diverse eco-system, where native animals prosper. Platypus, koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, potoroos, and rare birds all thrive in their Warrawong oasis.
Narelle and David had crucial experience operating Peel Zoo in WA. Thanks to their passionate efforts, dedication and vision, Warrawong Sanctuary had the potential to reopen for the first time in more than five years.
When you realise that you’re not only hopefully creating a future for your family, but also reinvigorating a national treasure, the birthplace of the feral proof fence … it turns into a little personal crusade.
David Cobbold | Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary
Prior to its re-opening, David and Narelle had some work to do. After successfully crowdsourcing Lake Cumbungi, a pump system was needed to bring water from uphill so it could flow back down and create the ideal swamp for the platypus. Dr Walmsley provided advice and assistance in adjusting the pH level to that suited to the platypus.
Warrawong Sanctuary was renamed Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary and re-opened to the public in September 2018. It began attracting thousands of curious visitors keen to learn about native wildlife and the environment.
In September 2020, a female platypus was sighted nesting in the swamp. A little further down the hill, there had been two breeding pairs in the previous season, and it is thought that this female was one of the offspring.
The last confirmed platypus record on mainland South Australia had been in 1975, near Renmark, nearly 300 kilometres away in the Riverland region.
Narelle and David’s ongoing dedication means the next generation will now have the pleasure and privilege of experiencing this unique wildlife sanctuary.
Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary is now said to be the only place on mainland South Australia where you may see the elusive platypus! However, there are also koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, bandicoots, potoroos, bettongs, and birds rarely seen outside the feral-proof fence.
Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary is a serene environment for animals and humans to enjoy and interact. One of our favourite things about Warrawong has to be the Animal Encounters. The Sanctuary helps people fall in love with animals through the opportunity to get up close and personal with encounters with koalas, dingos, birds (including the raptor range…), reptiles and other South Australian mammals.
There’s always a hands-on experience to be had at Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary. Wildlife Presentations feature a wide variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
Learning about Australia’s amazing native animals has never been so much fun. The presenters are always excellent speakers, confident and knowledgeable. It’s clear to see just how much job satisfaction they get from their time working with the Sanctuary!
Capture their hearts and their minds will follow.
Narelle MacPherson and David Cobbold
You can donate your time by volunteering or assist the Sanctuary with the provision of goods or services. Given the size of the project, its research, educational offering and the on-site Shed Cafe, Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary is in constant need of a wide variety of goods and services.
There are plenty of sites around the Sanctuary that make incredible locations for all sorts of events. Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary is available for booking functions, events and birthday parties (and even includes an Education Centre).
The Warrawong Sanctuary Foundation is an independent charity that supports conservation in South Australia. Located at the Warrawong Wildlife Sanctuary, the Foundation works with the Sanctuary on a range of issues such as conservation, education and research.
The Warrawong Sanctuary Foundation is a charity registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. The Foundation has Deductible Gift Recipient status, which means donations to the charity are tax deductible.