Let’s celebrate Healesville Sanctuary’s 90th birthday together

The exhibition has opened since 20 April. Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Dongyun Kwon

Healesville Sanctuary is inviting local families to come over to its 90th birthday party on 25 and 26 May.

To celebrate, the Koala Picnic Lawns will come alive with local acoustic music, food trucks, Yarra Valley produce, lawn games, face painting, arts and crafts and Indigenous culture talks free with entry.

Healesville Sanctuary director Ross Williamson said autumn is a great time to visit the sanctuary.

“I encourage everyone to pop in and celebrate the occasion with us,” he said.

Healesville Sanctuary first opened to the public on 30 May 1934, known as Sir Colin Mackenzie Sanctuary at the time.

Mr Williamson said while many things have changed over the years, the mission to create a future rich in wildlife remains the same.

“We have a long tradition of all things Australian wildlife. Our main purpose is to connect people with Australian wildlife and to preserve it as best we can,” he said.

“Reaching 471,000 annual visitors was a fantastic achievement in the 2018/2019 financial year. In the next 10 years, I would love to get to the point where every Victorian visits Healesville Sanctuary at least once every five years. I think that would be superb.”

Along with the 90-year journey, Healesville Sanctuary has marked a number of milestones.

One of the most significant historical milestones was becoming the first place in the world to breed a platypus in 1943.

“More recently, we had a one-of-kind breeding breakthrough with Leadbeater’s Possum joey of mixed origin genetics born,” Mr Williamson said.

“The wildlife hospital has gone from strength to strength. The Australian Wildlife Health Centre sees approximately 2,000 wildlife patients each year.

“Late last year we opened the giant Raptor Rehabilitation Centre which has increased our capacity to care for native birds and return them to the wild.”

As well as a two-day birthday party, Yarra Ranges Regional Museum has been holding a special exhibition to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Healesville Sanctuary.

The Wild and Ourselves: 90 years at Healesville Sanctuary has displayed Healesville Sanctuary’s archives for behind-the-scenes insight into how it has protected Australia’s wildlife.

Yarra Ranges Council community heritage officer Sarah Sato said Healesville Sanctuary is representative of the local government area.

“It [Healesville Sanctuary] is something that Yarra Ranges Council really values. It [Yarra Ranges Shire] is an area that really cares about the environment and wildlife,” she said.

“The sanctuary was founded on the idea of protecting and preserving Australian wildlife at the time when that wasn’t a priority.”

There are many incredible items on display at the exhibition, from beautiful historical images, ticket stubs and signage, to badges, collectable teaspoons and husbandry equipment.

Ms Sato said the most impressive items in the exhibition to her are the first visitor book, the platypus squeegee and the taxidermy platypus.

“The first visitor book for the Sir Colin MacKenzie Sanctuary was signed in 1934 on opening day by Count Lewenhaust, Master of the Hounds to the King of Sweden,” she said.

“Another one is for platypus squeegee which is a device that staff at the sanctuary came up with to solve the problem of the platypus tunnels getting clogged up with dirt and mounds. When platypuses ran through this, it cleaned all the mud off from their bodies and stopped tunnels from getting clogged up.

“Yarra Yarra is the [taxidermy] platypus on display in the exhibition. He and his twin Barak, named after William Barak, were bred in captivity in 1999 at Healesville Sanctuary, 55 years after Corrie was the first platypus to be bred in captivity anywhere.”

The exhibition is available for free and is open until Sunday 11 August.

Healesville Sanctuary events and tourism coordinator Donna Paterson said they love collaborating with local partners in the Yarra Valley.

“We were thrilled when the team from Yarra Ranges Regional Museum were supportive of an exhibition to share Healesville Sanctuary’s 90 years of history. It’s been an absolute joy to work with them,” she said.

“Our volunteers who look after the sanctuary’s archives along with the incredible curators from the museum did a fabulous job to showcase some of the special, unique and quirky items that have been collected over decades.

“Showcasing our amazing collection of artefacts at the Yarra Ranges Regional Museum was a wonderful opportunity to reach a new audience and share our incredible stories.”