‘Love a bell at Dingley Dell’

After more than 12 months of being closed to the public, and uncertainty about its future, Dingley Dell Cottage and Museum will now have a new lessee and custodian, and there are exciting plans to revitalise the heritage-listed cottage and surrounds.

Steve Moignard and his wife Qin Shu, trustees for The Hundred of Comaum Trust, have been granted the lease of the 6 ha Dingley Dell Conservation Park for 15 years, along with a monetary grant of $233,000 (for total project cost of $466,000) from the SA Department of Environment and Water, as one of three recipients for a new nature-based tourism venture.

Having first come to Coonawarra in 2007 when he bought a vineyard, Steve then established the Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park and Coonawarra Discovery wine tours.

According to Steve, they plan to develop accommodation on the site near Dingley Dell Cottage, similar to that offered at Coonawarra Bush Holiday Park, about 20 km north of Penola.

Included at Dingley Dell will be 20 new canvas glamping bell tents (expected to eventually accommodate up to 80 people at a time), showers and amenities, sited around the walking track on site at the park, restoration of the stables, upgrading the existing camp kitchen, as well as ongoing maintenance of cottage and gardens.

Steve said he first came across Dingley Dell Cottage in 2020 while he was running wine tours in the district and some of his guests wanted to see the cottage. He was surprised that it was closed and appeared neglected – a heritage asset that should be utilised. ‘I thought it was a shame to have such a piece of our heritage unavailable to the public,’ he said. ‘It is an underutilised asset.’

He then began making enquiries and working on a proposal to the Department of Environment and Water (National Parks and Wildlife Service).

‘We were already experienced in running glamping accommodation with a low environmental footprint so I thought it would be good to encourage people stay in the Port MacDonnell area for more than just a day.

‘Our enhancements to the cottage, park, accommodation and events infrastructure will allow previously unavailable visitor uses, while protecting the natural resources of the park.’

The project will be developed in six stages over two years, with the first stage, including five solar-powered bell tents, camp kitchen and showers, expected to be ready by Easter 2022.

According to Steve, the first thing they have to do is remove the invasive weed infestation, clear existing walking tracks to allow public access to the whole of the park – which is currently impeded by weeds and overgrowth. ‘We will reduce the bush fire risk profile, as well as making the park accessible to the public for their enjoyment,’ he said. ‘A few dead trees will also need to be removed.’

Steve said he will also prioritise arranging for the items of memorabilia from the cottage, presently in storage, to be returned so they can again be put on display.

‘We plan to enhance the experience of visiting the cottage of Adam Lindsay Gordon with new technologically-advanced multi-media exhibits including holographic presentations,’ he said. ‘We will provide full-time employees to maintain the cottage and staff regular opening times, providing both conservation of its cultural historical importance and allowing increased public enjoyment of it.’

The new management team hopes to attract new visitors to the park by hosting events that highlight its strengths – history, heritage, location and amenities. Themes such as literature/poetry, music, food of the south-east of SA, early settler life, and the natural environment, will be employed. Space will be provided to enjoy events, even in inclement weather, including a covered stage for music or readings, a food preparation area and an indoor seating area for at least 100 persons.

The project is expected to bring employment and tourism revenue to the local community, and will be an additional venue available for community events. It is proposed that Port MacDonnell fishing charters will be included in packaged Dingley Dell offerings.

‘Dingley Dell will be returned to the tourism calendar,’ Steve said, ‘and this will have been made possible by our partnership with the Nature-based Tourism Co-investment Fund.

‘We will work with local businesses and individuals, including the Mount Gambier office of the National Trust, to ensure their enthusiasm for Dingley Dell is harnessed and protected for the good of the community. Dingley Dell will remain a public resource. It is highly valued by the Port MacDonnell community and we will work with all interested parties.’

Dingley Dell Cottage and Museum at Port MacDonnell has a new lessee … and a new future!

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