Lake Macquarie History

The zoos of Lake Macquarie

Lake Macquarie has been home to some zoos in the past.

Carey Bay Zoo

photo: lions at carey bay zoo

The Carey Bay Zoo, officially known as Toronto Zoo, opened in 1944. It was located on the corner of Ambrose Street and Excelsior Parade, and was in action until 1958. The zoo was also known as “Bimbimbie” from the Aboriginal term for “place of many birds”. Visitor numbers at is peak were up to 3000, many of them using the Belmont to Toronto ferry service. There was seating under cover for 600 people and the zoo featured a children’s funfair, cafeteria, kiosk and swimming pool.

The Carey Bay Zoo was originally set up by Tom Brown who bought the land initially to grow tomatoes and house his growing aviary. As his collection grew, the site started to attract visitors. Apart from the birdlife such as ducks, galahs, pheasants, brush turkeys and a swan, it also included Australian animals, including dingoes, kangaroos, koalas, possums, rock wallabies and Tasmanian devils. A small museum was set up to exhibit stuffed animals, butterflies, fossils and rocks.

Tom Brown died in 1951 and his family sold the zoo to Reg and Angela Ward.The Wards increased the collection with overseas animals including lions Nero and Flora, monkeys and an African tortoise. Local resident, Peter Wilkinson grew up at William Street Toronto and has fond memories of the lions at Cains Zoo and Carey Bay Zoo roaring to each other in the early evening.The long hours required to upkeep the zoo and look after its inhabitants and the seasonally fluctuating financials - boom in summer, bust in winter - saw the Wards close down the zoo in 1958. It is now the site of Paradise Palms, Carey Bay.

Stony Creek Zoo

photo: catalinas at stony creek

Not so far away was the Stony Creek Zoo, located at Blackalls Park near the end of Lake Street. Also known as Cain's Holiday Park and Zoo it covered an area of 6 acres. The zoo was created by John Cain over the course of a few years and was initially open to the public in December 1952, though construction was still ongoing. Most of the work was done by Mr. Cain and his wife, who built much of the zoo using bush timber and made accommodation cabins out of former Catalina flying boats, army disposal igloo huts and converted buses. The original plans for the zoo included a miniature train track, a swan pond and a museum in the form of a New Guinea hut housing artefacts from South Pacific. Floodlights were installed to allow for evening animal presentations.

The zoo housed grizzly bears, lions and monkeys in addition to local fauna.In 1953 a number of animals at the zoo died, suspected of being poisoned.

photo: monkeys at carey bay zoo

It was shortly after this that the zoo was moved to a 7 hectare site in the Charlestown area.

In 1954, Mr. Cain made an application to move the zoo to Highfields. It was turned down due to concerns about parking, as it was proposed to be on the Pacific Highway, and the potential for loud noise and the smell from the animals. The Northumberland County Council suggested that land between Glenrock Lagoon and Burwood might be more suitable.

The exact location of the zoo in the Charlestown area is debated, but a likely location was in a gully near Madison Drive and the Apollo International Hotel. Ray Richardson, born and raised on Charlestown Road, Charlestown, recalls regularly playing around the bush surrounding The New Calendonian Colliery in raspberry gully. Ray recalls the old zoo bordered on the eastern side of the colliery and was accessed by a dirt road that came off the Pacific highway close to where the Apollo international hotel now stands. Ray and a mate unofficially accessed the zoo through bush tracks off the old gully railway line just before it entered the colliery grounds. Ray and his mate would sneak into the zoo and feed the monkeys with fruit scraps.The zoo was short lived in Charlestown, and Mr. Cain gave up the zoo business for the motor industry.

Wangi and Pulbah Island zoo

photo: wallabies at pulbah island

Over the years, there were a number of calls to establish a zoo at Wangi Point, but it never eventuated.Pulbah (also known as Bulba) Island was set up as an Australian zoo after suggestions from the Australasian Society of Patriots. It was to be a natural zoo, with no enclosures allowing the birds and animals to live in their native environment. Animals and birds were transported to the site, including emus, kangaroos, koalas, wallabies and wombats.

There were problems with food and water, as it had to be transported to the island. Eventually permanent water tanks were installed.

Caretakers were employed during various eras and a wharf established in 1929. The animals never really settled and due to acts of vandalism and animals being shot they were eventually transferred off the island. Despite these issues, the zoo was a popular destination with the ferry from Toronto being a favoured transport option.

Zoos can be dangerous

A couple of incidents reported from the time highlight the potential dangers of the zoos.

From the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate, 25 August 1953:

Monkey bites boy's finger: "A boy had his right little finger amputated at the first joint after he was bitten by a monkey at Carey Bay Zoo yesterday. William McVinnie, 6, of Kemp-street, Hamilton, was feeding the monkeys when one of them snapped at the food and caught his finger, causing severe lacerations. Lake Macquarie Ambulance took the boy to Wallsend Hospital where portion of the finger was amputated. The boy was later awarded £360/10/ by the Newcastle District Court, after a claim of £600."

From the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate, 17 May 1954:

Zoo Bear Bites Man's Finger: "A man had the tip of a finger on the left hand bitten off by a grizzly bear at Stony (Stoney) Creek Zoo, Toronto. yesterday. He is V. J. West, 45, of Cain's Cabins, Stony (Stoney) Creek. Lake Macquarie Ambulance took him to Wallsend Hospital for treatment. The proprietor of the zoo, Mr. J. Cain, said the bear, Bruno, had been performing and was back in is cage when the man fed it peanuts through the wire."

In another article on the incident in the Sydney Morning Herald, a zoo attendant was quoted as saying "The bear is tame, but it does like peanuts".


1948 'CAREY BAY ZOO', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 23 March, p. 4. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1952 'New Inmates Of Zoo's Pets' Corner', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 26 December, p. 3. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1953 'Lion At Lake', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 5 August, p. 1. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1953 'MONKEY BITES BOY'S FINGER', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 25 August, p. 2. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1954 'Zoo Bear Bites Man's Finger', Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954), 17 May, p. 3. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

1954 'Grizzly Bear Bites Off Man's Finger', The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), 17 May, p. 4. , viewed 15 Apr 2019,

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