Tomaree Lodge is a heritage-listed former military camp, hospital and residential disability accommodation located on the southern entrance to Port Stephens at Tomaree Headland at Shoal Bay.
It was designed by the NSW Government Architect’s Office and built by the NSW Department of Public Works for the Commonwealth Government in 1942.
The headland was formerly known as the Tomaree Head Army/RAAF Camp and was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.
Tomaree Lodge comprises a range of ten predominantly single-storey weatherboard ex-World War Two Australian Army garrison camp buildings, a large hall and an administration block (built in the 1980s), and 8.8 hectares of terraced and landscaped land on the western foreshore of the headland. Tomaree National Park occupies the remainder of the land on Tomaree Head.
The Port Stephens area, including Tomaree Head, is part of the land occupied by the Worimi Aboriginal language group where historical maps refer to the headland as `Toomaree’.
Captain Cook noted Tomaree Head in 1770 while travelling along the NSW east coast. Following European settlement to the east coast of NSW from 1788, Port Stephens’s rich resources were harvested. Fishing and cedar logging were the main industries in the early nineteenth century.
Port Stephens was occupied by the Australian Agricultural Company from 1824. Point Stephens lighthouse was erected in 1864 to provide a safe entrance to Port Stephens.
Under the Crown Lands Alienation Act 1861, Tomaree Head was declared a reserve where it was used for recreational purposes and occasional squatting from the 1860s until the 1930s.
In 1932, Alfred Ernest Dickenson applied for a special lease of Tomaree Head to graze goats. Dickenson’s lease was withdrawn in 1947; however, before this Tomaree Head had played an important role in the defence of Australia during the Second World War.
Following the withdrawal of Dickenson’s lease in 1947, the site has been used for health purposes until 2020.
Tomaree Lodge has heritage significance at a State level. It has historical significance because of its use as an Army Garrison Camp during the Second World War.
The site is a physical demonstration of Port Stephens’ important contribution to the Second World War when it was developed as a military base by the joint Australian Army-United States Navy defence ventures in March 1942, following the appointment of General Douglas MacArthur as supreme commander of the South West Pacific sector.
The site has high archaeological potential and high archaeological research value. There are relatively few intact former World War Two army camps in New South Wales that have such high archaeological potential. Any archaeological relics dating from the World War Two period on the site can potentially contain information unavailable from other sources. It also has strong interpretive values and research potential due to its relationship to other World War Two military sites in Port Stephens and Newcastle, including Fort Tomaree (and the associated camps at Tomaree Head), Camp Gan Gan and HMAS Assault, also known as the Joint Overseas Operational Training School (JOOTS).
In 1949, the Annual Report for the Inspector General of Mental Hospitals reported that “the establishment of a Convalescent Hostel for mental patients by the adaption of an ex-army camp situated at the southern headland at Port Stephens is more half completed so far as the accommodation required for male patients is concerned. Future development of the Hostel will provide for female as well as male patients, and in the meantime, the accommodation for about fifty patients will be put into use.”
Works at Tomaree continued into the 1950s, following the initiation of a “five-year plan of general development” in 1950. This plan involved the demolition of “the old army huts high on the hill” (presumably, this is in reference to the camp at Upper Tomaree), with some ‘re-built in a modernised form on the present site to provide additional accommodation for the increasing number of patients enjoying the hostel’s peaceful surroundings.
A new recreation hall was built from material salvaged with great ingenuity from the old army installations. Garages, workshops and other outbuildings were also erected.
By 1952, the number of patients at the Tomaree Holiday Lodge increased to 118, with a staff of eleven. In 1953-55 “two tennis courts and a concrete cricket pitch were laid in the lawn area in the entrance to the grounds“.
In 1960 a holiday scheme was introduced whereby patients from other hospitals were given a two-week holiday at Tomaree before returning to their permanent accommodation; by 1962, there were approximately 40 holiday beds available. During this time, a permanent population of around forty residents carried out maintenance works on the buildings and grounds.
In 1965, it was reported that Tomaree Holiday Lodge was “used by the Health Department to provide holiday accommodation for long-stay patients from metropolitan and country psychiatric hospitals“, known as Schedule 5 Hospitals. In this year, it was reported that “a new fresh water, white tile, swimming pool equipped with dressing and toilet facilities” was under construction.
Tomaree National Park, comprising 2266 hectares, was gazetted in 1984. The hospital reserve was divided, and the eastern portion of it was added to the park. In 1985, the practice of providing “holiday beds” was suspended when permanent residents were relocated to Tomaree Lodge from the Stockton and Kanangra Centres.
In 1989 the State Government proposed to sell Tomaree Lodge, but the decision was retracted following fierce local opposition.
In 1992, Tomaree Lodge was in the ownership of the Department of Health and was included in the Department’s s170 Heritage and Conservation Register in this year. By this time, the centre no longer provided respite holiday care for patients at mental hospitals in New South Wales but was providing long-term accommodation for people with developmental disabilities.
Tomaree Lodge has been operated by the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care as a Large Residential Centre since 2001, providing accommodation for around 45-50 residents. Today, Tomaree Lodge occupies 8.8 hectares of land on the foreshores of Shoal Bay. Site plans dated to 1942 and 1959 show that Tomaree Lodge has changed little since it was erected in 1942; as of 2008, the buildings on the site were roughly the same location and configuration as they were in these years.
Current status of Tomaree Lodge
In 2015, the NSW state government announced that Tomaree Lodge would close to allow the site to be redeveloped. It began privatising services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme and relocating residents to group homes.
A local residents group, the Shoal Bay Community Association, raised concerns about the precinct being sold off to the highest bidder and proposed that it be managed under a trust to preserve permanent public ownership. The facility was closed in upon the completion of the privatised group homes.
Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care (DADHC) land in the vicinity includes the ten Tomaree Lodge accommodation buildings, a number of administrative and amenity buildings, and 8.8 hectares of landscaped (terraced) land on the western side of the headland.
Land held by DADHC in this area accommodates a range of structures, including a swimming pool, work sheds, a fisheries laboratory, and at least two relics associated with Fort Tomaree, namely the surf battery and the footings for a torpedo tube.
The sealed access road to the site terminates in a cul-de-sac with accommodation buildings to the west and administrative buildings to the east.
The site’s landscape is terraced, with random rubble retaining walls and features mature Norfolk Island pines. The buildings on the site are mostly single-storey, and the clustering of cottages used for accommodation provides a village atmosphere. A stone wall constructed by former residents runs along the foreshore of Shoal Bay.
The ten cottages, which collectively make up Tomaree Lodge, are single-storey weatherboard buildings on the western foreshore of the headland. Typically, these buildings are timber framed and clad with weatherboard and corrugated metal gable roofs. Those built on the embankment have un-rendered or painted brick bases or engaged brick piers.
Several cottages have fixed awnings, and some retain timber-framed double-hung sash windows. Ramps to the buildings, often with timber balustrades, provide equitable access to the accommodation.
Internally the cottages typically have timber floors and internal gyprock lining. Building Eight has caneite ceilings, wood-grained panelling and exposed trusses. Previously, most of these buildings had internal linings containing asbestos which has been replaced. Internally Building Four retains the most intact room layout, although the doors have been extended.
Various alterations to the cottages have taken place. The footprint of the cottages was extended, and alterations were made to the roofs or modifications to doors, windows and other fittings. Various modifications have been made to the site and buildings to allow equitable access, including installing ramps and widening doors. Services have been updated, verandahs have sometimes been enclosed, and original windows replaced with aluminium-framed glazing. Some cottages on brick piers have had brick enclosures built below.
The site contains distinctive features of its earlier uses, including fortifications and installations, roads, gun placements, and a random rubble-walled battery. On the headland’s rock platform are random rubble terracing, drains, a roadway and sea walls.
Tomaree Lodge adjoins the Tomaree National Park. The native vegetation of the Tomaree Peninsula is predominantly woodland, with a number of identified rare and/or threatened plant species local to this area. The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage/National Parks and Wildlife Service considers the natural areas to have a high conservation value.
As of 3 September 2008, Tomaree Lodge comprises various buildings dating from its use as an army garrison during the First World War. The buildings are generally in good condition.
The DADHC lands surrounding Tomaree Lodge have high archaeological potential, high archaeological research value and high heritage significance. There are likely to be archaeological remains of the Fort Tomaree Battery Camp, established on the headland in WWII.
The camp was adjacent to the torpedo tubes and gun emplacement at the end of the headland, and the remains would partly extend into the national park. Evidence may include building footings, artifact deposits, underground services and evidence of changes to the landscape, including terracing. There may also be concrete bases and fixtures from searchlight towers, gun platforms and other defence works.
The slope up behind the former Infantry Camp (now Tomaree Lodge) is also likely to contain archaeological evidence associated with the camp and Tomaree Battery, similar to that described above for the Battery Camp.
Although the area has been heavily disturbed by WWII activity, given its location, it is possible there may be remnant evidence of Aboriginal occupation of the area.
One of the conservation strategies in the endorsed Conservation Management Plan (CMP) prepared for Tomaree Head National Park in 1999 was the systematic site recording and assessment by a qualified Historical Archaeologist for the whole site. A detailed archaeological assessment of this site is recommended in conjunction with the adjoining national parklands.
Tomaree Lodge is a functioning Large Residential Centre, meaning that most of the buildings on the site are in good working order. Even though many buildings have undergone alterations and additions, the original form of the buildings is generally discernible.
Tomaree Lodge is one of the few known surviving examples of this type of purpose-built accommodation for the military in the State. New South Wales has relatively few intact former World War Two army camps.
The original ex-World War Two Australian Army garrison camp at Tomaree Head was modified as a hospital in the 1950s. The site has been added to over the second half of the twentieth century to accommodate changing hospital needs, as outlined below.
Modifications to the site have included:
- 1950-1955 (by staff and DPWS) – army huts on the hill were demolished and rebuilt in the modernised form to provide additional accommodation. The new recreation hall was built from salvaged material. Garages, workshops and other buildings were similarly built. Terracing, gardens, drainage, roads, rock work on the original pool, and land forming to Zenith Beach.
- 1950-55 (DPWS) – major construction work, including renovations and conversions of huts to staff cottages, wharf, and swimming pools.
- 1953-55 – 2 tennis courts, concrete cricket pitch.
- 1965 – new swimming pool and facilities.
- 1966 – administration building, new kitchens, dining room and balconies.
- 1990s – land transferred to NPWS as part of Tomaree Head National Park.