By Bonny Burrows
A $50 million transformation of Tynong tourist attraction Gumbuya Park into “the Disneyland of Victoria” will secure work for 500 ex-auto workers and boost annual visitor numbers by 300,000, according to its investors.
Over the next five years the beloved wildlife park, known for its iconic giant pheasant mascot, will undergo a major facelift with plans to bring it on par with internationally renowned adventure parks.
Behind the big plans for the park’s revival is a dedicated consortium of owners, made up of Car Megamart’s Ray Weinzierl, Jayco founder Gerry Ryan along with Adam Campbell, Brett Murray, Jamie Johnson and Wal Pisciotta.
The group purchased Gumbuya Park in September 2016 from its founder, the late Ron Rado, and have wasted no time in creating a five-year plan to secure the ageing park’s future.
Stage one of the redevelopment – to be known as Gumbuya Oz-Venture Park – began on 16 July this year and is expected to be ready for summer 2017.
This stage of works will include a new wildlife area, a water park with Australia’s tallest slide, an assortment of roller coasters and conference and function centre.
“We are excited to develop Gumbuya into a world-class destination for all ages, a great place for our employees to work every day and for customers to enjoy,” Gumbuya Park business director Ron Weinzierl said.
The nearly 40-year old park, home to more than 300 native animal species, will close during the development of stage one, and will re-open on 1 December.
Once complete and after plans for the 166-hectare site are approved by council, stages two and three – to include Aboriginal and dinosaur displays, a microbrewery, vineyard, chocolate factory, helipad and various accommodation venues – will commence as a “side activity”, during which the park will remain open.
It is hoped the workforce will jump from its 24 full-time staff to about 150 workers come its summer re-opening and again to more than 500 employees once the redevelopment is complete.
Priority will be given ex-auto workers in the South-East who have been impacted by the closure of industry.
Mr Weinzierl said the increased workforce would make Gumbuya one of the largest in Gippsland.
“We won’t be far off and that’s a good thing. We will be one of the flagship employers in the area,” Mr Weinzierl said.
“We want to draw people from Gippsland and the local area so people aren’t travelling an hour in to the city every day for work.”
And the benefits to the local economy won’t end with employment, Mr Weinzierl said.
With plans to be one of Australia’s leading tourism attractions, its owners hope to target a similar international audience to the Phillip Island penguin parade, just a 40-minute drive from Tynong.
Mr Weinzierl would like to eventually see Gumbuya host the 1.4 million visitors the penguins attract annually.
It’s a big change for the local park, formerly known for its daggy television ads.
But for those who relished in their memories of the ‘old Gumbuya’ not all will be lost.
Mr Weinzierl assured people its beloved current attractions would remain.
“Everything that’s there originally will continue to be there; old Gumbuya will stay,” he said.
As too, will the infamous jingle, but “we might jazz it up a bit”.
Gumbuya Park attracted state headlines in October 2011, when local vandals loaded the giant pheasant with explosives, blowing out its rear end.
The park’s bird frontage is a local landmark and has been listed along with Coffs Harbour’s Big Banana as one of “Australia’s Big Things”.
The park is expected to officially re-open on 9 December.