‘Outright shame’: Popular Tasmanian sinkhole attraction now decaying and abandoned

It’s a site that well and truly lives up to its name.

Dismal Swamp, near Togari in Tasmania’s north-west, is home to the largest sinkhole in the southern hemisphere.

Once a popular $4 million tourist attraction developed by Forestry Tasmania, the site used to be adorned with art installations designed by local artists, a maze, and an impressive 110-metre slide which would take visitors down to the forest floor.

Now it’s slowly falling into the sinkhole below.

“It’s all just decaying in the wet rainforest swamp,” Circular Head Tourism Association president Clint Walker told news.com.au. “It’s a $4 million asset that is just going down the gurgler.”

Opened in 2004, the attraction had hopes of driving tourists to north-west Tasmania.

“Everyone was really happy about it. It was brand new, it was something interesting and appealing, and something for us all to take to the market to try and entice prospective travellers to travel to our area,” said Mr Walker.

In 2010, the site was leased and later transferred to the Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) in 2013.

However, after experiencing operational troubles, Dismal Swamp later shut its doors in 2019.

“The numbers (of visitors had) plummeted. In that same period of time, (tourist) numbers were steady or slowly growing in the region,” said Mr Walker.

Now the site sits “decaying” behind a locked gate.

Various art installations have also been destroyed.

Former Dismal Swamp employee and local resident, Hazel Tapson, told the ABC that one of the installations, which featured two giant metal praying mantes on wooden poles, had been cut down.

“The praying mantis, one of them was crushed … and one of the legs broken off,” she told the publication.

“Who would do that to someone’s art?” she said.

Another installation had been crushed by fallen trees.

“To see all of those things destroyed, just wilfully destroyed and just been left to rot … it’s been really, really devastating.”

Mr Walker said the destruction of the site has been felt by many locals.

“There’s absolutely frustration in the community,” he told news.com.au. “From a tourism operator’s point of view, it’s an outright shame.

“As a taxpayer, I think it’s terrible…. The Tasmanian Government has allowed this facility to be closed without reopening it, without finding a new operator and without proper maintenance to protect it from this decay.”

To boost visitors to the area, the Circular Head Tourism Association wants to see the site revamped into an adventure hub. Proposed plans include the removal of the slide, maintenance of the maze and the addition of an outdoor cinema, pod-style accommodation, an obstacle course and Aboriginal interpretation tours.

There are also proposals for a world-first “wave-breaker cave” – essentially a glass-walled room.

But promised federal funding has yet to be released.

The Albanese government committed $12.5 million to ready the site for private investment, in the lead-up to the 2022 federal election.

But a year and a half later, the money still hasn’t come through.

“We’re very agitated and sick of waiting,” said Mr Walker.

“The (federal government) assures us that the money is there. (They) just have to work through a process to get it allocated. To which I say, for God’s sake. How long could this process possibly take?”

Having been with the Circular Head Tourism Association’s for over two decades, Mr Walker knows how critical funding and revamped facilities would be for the local area, particularly with the Easter long weekend approaching.

“In the far northwest of Tassie, we have very seasonal tourism … During the summer we run flat out and we have a reasonable shoulder in the autumn but then we’re dead as a doornail in winter,” he said.

“Come Easter Monday, we really need help attracting people to our region, because come Easter Monday, that’s when the tap turns off.

“And then we have six months of being unproductive, a lot of businesses not only lose productivity but lose profitability.”

In a statement to news.com.au, Tasmanian senator Anne Urquhart said the federal government is “committed” to delivering the $12.5 million, however, she did not provide an expected time frame.

“We are working with the Tasmanian Government to deliver the project in a timely and effective way,” said Senator Urquhart.

News.com.au has contacted PWS for comment.

A Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service (PWS) spokesperson said PWS took over management of Dismal Swamp from Forestry Tasmania in 2013.

“The site has been locked and closed since the lessee relinquished operating it as an attraction in 2019. PWS monitors the site and conducts regular routine inspections,” she said.

“The site is remote, and significant vandalism of the site has occurred resulting in extensive damage to buildings and other assets. These events have been reported to Tasmania Police.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.”

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