Port Macquarie Koala Hospital rises from the ashes of devastating bushfires and donation windfall

Breeding facility: The multi-million dollar injection of donations will be used to build a new breeding facility.
Breeding facility: The multi-million dollar injection of donations will be used to build a new breeding facility.

From the ashes of the devastating bushfires, the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is now eyeing a much brighter future.

Following a breathtaking $7.9m online fundraising effort, the koala hospital has been able to fast-track plans to build a state-of-the-art wild koala breeding facility.

It is expected preliminary work, including designs, could be in place by Christmas. That's along with building and distributing some 140 water drinking stations across South Australia, Queensland and Victoria and on the NSW mid north coast.

The 11-member Koala Conservation Australian Inc, the board that oversees operations and future direction of the koala hospital, is responsible for appropriately directing the funding.

Spokesperson Sue Ashton says she is still stunned at the level of donations.

"You know, our original target was $25,000," she said. "A member of the public gave us the idea, and our own website was not coping with the level of interest from around the world at the peak of the fires in October and November.


"By the end of November we had already reached $1 million in donations which would adequately cover the water drinking stations.

"So we set a second purpose and that was to build the koala breeding facility.

"This was because we realised that the koala is losing the battle and if we didn't do something to help we would lose this iconic animal forever," Mrs Ashton said.

As donations kept rolling in - reaching $2m by Christmas - there was a realisation that the koala hospital may be able to achieve its world-class breeding facility, which was part of its five-to-10 year plan.

New era: Port Macquarie Koala Hospital spokesperson Sue Ashton and Baz the koala.

New era: Port Macquarie Koala Hospital spokesperson Sue Ashton and Baz the koala.

Mrs Ashton says the organisation is acutely aware of its responsibilities to ensure the monies are directed to exact purpose they were intended.

To do otherwise would be a 'breach of trust', she said.

"Every cent we spend has and will be allocated to a specific account so we can track everything in detail. This covers the water drinking stations and the breeding facility. Everything will be accountable.

"We will be open and transparent and anyone can inspect those funds at any time," she said. "The public has donated those funds in good faith to funds these specific programs.

"We are not going to re-purpose (the funds); we won't do that."

Mrs Ashton said hundreds of thousands of donors had made contributions to the causes.

The entire organisation is "totally overwhelmed" by the fundraising effort, she added.

Running alongside these two efforts, the koala hospital is also about to start a major upgrade of its current site in Port Macquarie.

This is being funded under a state government grant of $5 million. The koala hospital will contribute around $1.25m for the redevelopment.

The $6.25 million redevelopment will provide a raised walkway through the trees, new rehabilitation and permanent resident koala yards, training, research and education spaces, a shop, koala museum and theatrette.

There will also be interpretive signs, new clinic, administration area, Indigenous storytelling space and educational nature walks.

Too cute: Lismore Rose.

Too cute: Lismore Rose.

A full-time program manager role was built into the funding application and they will be responsible for overseeing the refurbishment.

"We will build the breeding facility first and then move out there (from the Roto House site)," Mrs Ashton said.

"That site will then be closed temporarily for the work to be undertaken.

"We simply can't develop the site with our koalas in place - they don't like noise, and dust and it will be too dangerous to work from there.

"Volunteers and staff will then return to the site was the redevelopment is complete."

There is no timeframe for those works to be completed, at this stage.

Mrs Ashton said the redevelopment and the construction of the new breeding facility will feature a percentage of local jobs.

The hospital housed 79 koalas during the bushfires, 53 of those were burns victims.

Twenty-six koalas were released back into the wild just before Easter.

This story Koala hospital fast-tracks breeding centre after donation bonanza first appeared on Port Macquarie News.