Railway station transfer declined

Mount Gambier City Council will not transfer ownership of the heritage-listed Mount Gambier Railway Station to the National Trust of South Australia, a year after the offer was made to council.

A motion by Councillor Frank Morello at council’s June elected members meeting called for council to hold onto the Railway Station building instead of gifting ownership to the Mount Gambier National Trust branch, which in June 2020 said it would fund its refurbishment while working with council.

At the time, Mount Gambier National Trust branch chair Nathan Woodruff said instead of complaining about the looks of the station as an eyesore on the rail lands precinct, the group would like to step up to the plate to help get the station looking its best.

However, council has finally revisited the proposal and voted not to give ownership to the National Trust branch, with Cr Morello’s motion on the matter passing council after being seconded by Cr Ben Hood. “Given the expected increase in pedestrian traffic in the Margaret Street precinct when Wulanda opens next year, I would expect the railway station would be an attractive proposition to a commercial operator,” Cr Morello told The SE Voice.

“The building is an important community asset that has the potential to be transformed into a major destination place. Now is the time for council to explore all options.”

The motion appeared a year after the National Trust – a non-profit and non-government organisation that conserves, manages and promotes historic South Australian sites – made its proposal. Mr Woodruff said the National Trust branch would continue negotiating with council, but he was disappointed by another delay to the opening of the Railway Station, which was recently vandalised.

“That’s basically put the nail in the coffin and it’s all laid the opening to rest for however long it takes the recreation hub to be finished and fully operational,” he said. “Whereas I’d like to see the station open tomorrow.”

The Wulanda Recreation and Convention Centre is on track to be opened in autumn 2022. Mr Woodruff said ownership was stretching it, but at the end of the day the National Trust was going to undertake all of the funding and work with council.

He said the Mount Gambier National Trust branch was still in negotiations around the Railway Station because it did not want to let it turn into something like a micro-brewery as there was a lot of great real estate along the railway. “Our feedback from the community has been they’d like to see the station as a hub to showcase the region.

Whether it’s through art, craft, local produce, your food, your wine,” Mr Woodruff said. “As well as showcasing some of the history of the area and other tourism sites to see around the area.”

Cr Morello said recent discussion between council and the National Trust in 2021 had brought the offer to gift the site back into the foreground after a 2020 delay to conversations. “Without diminishing the importance of this site, the railway station building featured a little lower on the priority list during the height of the pandemic,” he said.

At the time, council had not established a formal position on the future use of the site. At the time of Mr Woodruff’s correspondence, council had also been finishing a significant renovation to the exterior of the heritage-listed building, which in late-2020 saw many of its original features restored.

“It has always been the council’s intent to undertake further planning for the future of the site once the exterior refurbishment was completed,” council’s acting City Infrastructure general manager Barbara Cernovskis said.

Mr Woodruff told The SE Voice he supported the renovations. As part of Cr Morello’s recent resolution, council voted to convene a workshop to discuss future options for the Old Railway Station building.

Discussion would include temporary initiatives, in the broader context of the surrounding Railway Land and Olympic Park precincts.

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