History of the Retreat
About the Retreat … briefly!!
Tumbling Waters Retreat has a long and colorful history, Henry Halloran who originally owned the property back in the 1930’s also owned most of the surrounding land in Stanwell Tops, Otford and Stanwell Park. The Mineral Pool was built by Henry to attract visitors to the local area so he could eventually subdivide and sell his land. He kept men working throughout the great depression by building stonewalls, love seats and castle like monuments, found around the Stanwell Tops area, ultimately making the area an attractive place to live. There was an old Kiosk on site, and the Retreat was a popular camping ground once known as the Pleasure Park.
The water from the Mineral Pool was believed to have special healing properties, and people came from all around to experience its powers, it was a very popular place to come for a swim. At one time the water was bottled and sold.
Andrew and I purchased the property on Valentine’s Day in the year 2000, the property was then called The Garden of Peace, and was used as a Healing Centre for meditation, yoga and alternative medicine, however the business was non profitable, and did not cover the costs to maintain the land, let alone pay all the associated bills.
The previous and numerous owners who had inherited the site sometimes allowed people to wander onto the property at their leisure, people continued to do this for a very long period of time despite our new ownership and private property signs. In their minds they felt that they owned the property and we had ‘stolen’ it from them!!
There were all sorts of things happening onsite; from pot smoking, meditation, scattering of human ashes to dumping of rubbish. Once we found incense burning on top of a large mound of dirt with a cross saying, in loving memory of Uncle Poppy, we never found out who Uncle Poppy was, but we have a feeling it was more than the pet dog!!
There would be as many as 80 visitors to the site per day and often they were very aggressive because of our new ownership. If they liked one of the plants we recently planted in the garden they would dig it up and take it home. If we left the door of the old caretakers area open, they would come inside and help themselves to our food and belongings.
Our property was a dumping ground for rubbish; Car tyres / dogs poo / building materials, old TV’s and anything else that saved people from going to the tip.
Andrew and I felt as if we were funding a public picnic area – a ‘free for all’ dumping ground – what a joke it was, and we thought if we were to be nice to these people they would respect our new ownership – this worked for about 50% of the visitors who came to the site, the others just verbally abused us on a daily basis.
The rotten, dilapidated and rat infested building was on a similar footprint to where the Retreat stands today, we considered renovating the old building but while we were considering it, it collapsed and fell down! Luckily no one got injured.
The locals, a small but very vocal minority, gave us hell when we told them of our plans for the property. We made it onto the front page of the newspapers and headline TV news. (We became famous, or should I say, infamous!!). We knew every single town planner, councilor and politician in the area. There were informal planning conferences to court magistrate hearings onsite, everybody had an opinion on what should happen to the property but in the meantime, the bills for funding the property where adding up.
We got the occasional death threat, we were both attacked verbally and physically, lucky I am a fast runner, and Andrew coming from Africa, had a few tricks up his sleeve. We both developed lots of character and soon learned how to ignore the objectors and play the game of politics.
We spent 12 months full time on a mission to get our plans for Tumbling Waters Retreat approved. It was quite frightening that our local elected councilors had absolutely no business sense or integrity what so ever….no wonder some were sacked a few years later for corruption. Thank goodness for Wollongong Council General Manager, the Lord Mayor along with the support from other business owners in the area, as well as Rex Jackson the previous minister for corrective services who all supported us and were all right behind us from the start. Rex was also the convener of the local neighborhood committee meetings and he was particularly determined to help us get our proposal through Council……he also had spent some time in jail for corruption!
The objectors misrepresented the Council by distributing letters throughout the community with the Wollongong City Council Logo on them urging the community to stop our development and attend the local neighborhood committee meetings to object.
The meetings were held monthly on a Tuesday night and were out of control, people were coming from as far as Canberra to object and some admitted they attended the meetings as it was a lot more entertaining than staying at home and watching TV!
On the night that the local neighborhood committee meeting would be voting on our proposal we were really confused as to why there were so many elderly people in wheel chairs and on crutches attending the meeting. They appeared to be disorientated and confused, Rex Jackson who chaired the meeting organized a bus to get all of the elderly people from the local Nursing Homes to come to the meeting to vote for us so we would win !!!! the vote was 49 / 50 – what a win for us!!!…
It was a real roller coaster ride, emotionally very draining, but this made victory ever so sweet. We both lost the plot on the odd occasion, but luckily for us, it wasn’t at the same time.
When consent was granted Wollongong council imposed 86 very strict conditions of operation to ensure our business would not, and could not grow, or employ or attract too many people to the area. Despite the very limiting and onerous consent conditions we took our legal councils advice and decided to push on. We felt that if we just stuck to our vision eventually the council and the objectors would see that what we had in mind would have a positive impact on the area. At the time the Northern Illawarra had a reputation for having the highest unemployment in Australia, as is still the case today.
Finally we commenced building in February 2001, all the sandstone was hand-picked from the Bundanoon Quarry, each block weighing about 50 kg. The Retreat was almost completed at the end of 2001, but the Christmas Day 2001 bush fires came and set us back …………We are still not permitted to have the asset protection fire clearance zone around our property as the Royal National Park is our neighbor and so our insurance is outrageously expensive. No insurance company will insure us for longer than 12 months as the risk in their opinion is not worth it so we have to go offshore from time to time to obtain the cover necessary for protecting our business assets.
The Retreat was opened in July 2002, and two months later, Tumbling Waters Retreat was featured on channel nine Getaway by Katriona Rowntree, our son Yaan, was born the next day. The phone did not stop ringing for a couple of years, a new baby and new business to manage all at once, it was a really busy time……I lost the plot regularly.
Tumbling Waters Retreat has been designed for couples, a place to come and relax, take time out, rekindle a romance, indulge in fine cuisine and enjoy the surrounding nature. It has also been designed for boutique weddings……..we host the most beautiful weddings.
The Retreat provides a lot of work for the local community; from massage therapists, stone mason, plumbers, electricians, florists, wait staff, kitchen hands, cleaners, pool service, gardeners, receptionists, Marriage celebrants, photographers, beauty therapist, hair dressers, entertainers, … it’s amazing how many local people are now associated and earn an income from the Retreat. We also provide lots of jobs for the local (sometimes previous objectors) teenagers introducing them to gardening, waiting staff and cooking – some have continued these career paths and are now self-employed and very successful.
We sometimes wonder how our now retired or should i say fired councilors, and the vocal few objectors feel about how they made us fight so hard to build and operate this Retreat. We probably will continue to get the ‘royal salute’ ……but we will always be grateful for the never ending supply of dinner table tales they have give us……….and the deep belly laughs we continue to have to this day!!!
Unfortunately in 2009 we did not take the advice of the Premier of NSW Morris Iemma who stayed at Tumbling Waters Retreat. He warned us to ensure the NSW government and the new LEP put Tumbling Waters Retreat into the correct Zoning: Tourism Sp3 ….unfortunately we were away overseas at the time when crucial decisions were made and came back to find our property had been rezoned into what is similar to a National Park!
In 2010 we applied for permission to remove some of the 86 very restrictive, unreasonable and uncompetitive conditions of consent that prevented our Tumbling Waters Retreat from being economically viable into the future. At the time the council officers were very much in favor of our application, it was a minor modification to our existing consent and as far as council planners were concerned, we had credibility as people and business operators a very good operational record so there should have been little reason for us not to be granted the modification to our consent. It meant that the Retreat would be able to host a few more functions a year, operate the Restaurant and Functions simultaneously, employ more staff and Tumbling Waters could continue to operate in a very tough economic environment during the GFC.…………….Unfortunately the vocal minority came out against us in full force once again… jealousy maybe or scorned from the previous battles they came second in??
The application required many reports, geotechnical, traffic, heritage, drainage, environmental, engineering, acoustic, parking and every other report possible – beaurocracy gone mad. This minor amendment to our existing DA was costing us a fortune, we had to engage more Professionals – Town Planners and Lawyers to fight on our behalf. We had IHAP meetings onsite only to be rejected on numerous occasions.
Personally, I could not believe that the IHAP members could come and visit the Retreat, see how we operate and how we cannot remain economically viable with so many conditions restricting us from trading, meet the staff we employ, and then reject our proposal.
One of our local councilors that visited the Retreat proudly announced he was interested in promoting local tourism in the area….BUT …just not this type of tourism business !!!! MY BLOOD BOILED…..
The icing on the cake, Christmas 2011 we received a fine for $1.1million. yes you are reading correctly, one million one hundred thousand Dollars because Andrew built a kids cubby house at the Retreat without council approval.
My brother sent a copy of the fine to the Daily Telegraph, the next day we were headline news world wide ……………… sky News, channel 9, today tonight, sunrise, channel 7, ABC, SBS and every single radio station – everybody wanted to talk to us about $1.1 million fine for the cubby at Tumbling Waters Retreat. Family from Europe and the UK as well as South Africa called us to say they saw us on TV news – what an International embarrassment to Australia and our local Council!
Everywhere we went, people knew us as the ‘cubby family’. We received discounts on shopping, free cups of coffee and well over a 1000 emails of support from people with similar battles with councils and the vocal minority.
All that media attention on site at Tumbling Waters Retreat for the world to see!!!!!!.. We allocated the advertising budget for that year to something else…….our sister accommodation THE ANNEX in Stanwell Park.
I even had people wanting to book & stay in the cubby!!
Not long after this our modifications to our existing consent were approved….funny about that!!! ….mind you the vote was still very close….mostly the green people objected …and of course our local pro Tourism councilor!!!
Tumbling Waters Retreat and Dining on the Edge is now OPEN FOR BUSINESS and our CUBBY HOUSE is still standing !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!