During the 1970s and 1980s Port Macquarie was the home of many theme parks including the Dolphin and Marine Park which was later known as King Neptune’s Park. The park is now long gone but its memories are strong for those who worked there and visited it during their holidays to our town.
The concept of a marine park took many years to bring to fruition. It was first raised by Jack Evans the well-known owner of the Tweed Head’s Porpoise Pool in 1967. Mr. Evans proposed to lease the area within the southern breakwall towards Town Beach, with the lessees of Port Macquarie’s Caracamp agreeing to make the necessary land available for the porpoise pool. With the support of Port Macquarie Municipal Council and the Public Works Department, Mr. Evans was optimistic that he could have the first pool and grandstand installed by Christmas of that year. He proposed to catch porpoises for the pool in the Hastings River. The marine park was viewed as progress in developing Port Macquarie as the State’s number one holiday resort.
Pluck a Porpoise
In April the following year representatives from Queensland’s Marineland came to town to discuss their interest in a marine park. Forty people attending a public meeting about the proposal were informed about the challenges in establishing such a park and were told, “…you don’t just pluck a porpoise pool out of the sky…”. Nonetheless the mayor, Ald. Adams, felt strongly that the establishment of a porpoise pool would be the beginning of a regular flow of tourist buses into the town.
Despite a weak business case, in June 1969 Port Macquarie Municipal Council approved a proposal from builder and plumber, Mr. W. J. Heffernan, to build a Marine Park, research station and aquarium on land adjacent to the Caracamp below Mrs. York’s garden. This proposal also did not proceed.
Finally, in 1972, the construction of Port Macquarie’s Marine Park was well underway. It was not without its problems and modifications to the pumping systems were needed before it had even opened. Constructed by Bill Wozencraft on a land lease in-perpetuity, the $200,000 marine park opened to the public in 1973. Its initial inhabitants included a locally caught 600lb giant turtle and a four year old male dolphin. A dolphin trainer, Richard Smallman, was brought over from England to train and care for the seals, dolphins and other marine life.
The popular tourist attraction, King Neptune’s Park, closed on 31 January 1989. Faced with restrictive government legislation regarding keeping dolphins and sea lions in animal parks, mounting costs, and unable to expand, the park owner’s Syd and Marie Murphy had little choice but to close. The park’s residents including Cheeky the dolphin, crocodiles, fairy penguins and birds were moved to new homes.