A Mount Gambier councillor has called for a second, less well-known area next to the city’s famous Umpherston Sinkhole to also become a tourist attraction.

The bottom of the Umpherston Sinkhole was first developed into a garden by the owner, James Umpherston, in 1886, but it became a rubbish dump by the 1970s.

It was turned back into a garden in the 1970s and 1980s and was handed over to the City of Mount Gambier council in 1994.

But a similarly wide sinkhole about 170 metres south-west on land owned by the timber company OneFortyOne remains off-limits to the public.

Emphasising he was expressing his own opinion and not speaking on behalf of the council, councillor Josh Lynagh said that, currently, the second sinkhole was only seen by timber mill workers.

But he believed it could join the Umpherston Sinkhole one day as another tourist attraction in Mount Gambier. 

The Umpherston Sinkhole (left) with another sinkhole (right) in land owned by the timber company OneFortyOne.(Google Maps)

“Perhaps we could so something similar,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be the same scale, but something … to have access to it and to see it, because I feel it’s just sitting there and not being appreciated as much as it could.”

The Umpherston Sinkhole rivals the Blue Lake as the most popular tourist attraction in Mount Gambier.

OneFortyOne declined to comment or provide a photo of the sinkhole.

No access to site

Councillor Lynagh asked at Tuesday night’s meeting whether the council had ever considered what could be done with the second sinkhole.

General manager of city infrastructure Barbara Cernovskis replied that an enquiry was made 25 years ago but the owner at the time said the area was essential to its operations.

“In recent times, nothing formal at all has been proposed for that site,” Ms Cernovskis said. 

Timber piled up at the Jubilee Sawmill next to the Umpherston Sinkhole.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

The second sinkhole is not viewable from the park the Umpherston SInkhole sits in but can be seen on satellite pictures, such as from Google Maps.

It appears to have trees growing inside and to be surrounded by piles of processed timber.

The council is developing a master plan to fix up the Umpherston Sinkhole, in particular focusing on making it more accessible for people with a disability.

The steep stairs into the sinkhole and the uneven slate paths within it can make it difficult to access for for people with mobility issues.

‘Grand plan’ for second sinkhole

Roger Norton’s late father Ken Norton led a 33-year project to fix up the sinkhole while working for the state government’s Woods and Forests Department.

Roger said his father knew the second sinkhole existed but never actually went into it.

He said his father had talked about also opening it up to the public, possibly with a walkway between the pair. 

“He wanted to make it a double attraction in the big grand plan,” he said.

“Coming into the Mount from the east, there’s a major tourist attraction there — Umpherston Sinkhole — and the other one.

“I don’t think anywhere else in Australia has got quite the same combination, so it would have been a real advantage for the Mount.”

Ken Norton among hydrangeas at the Umpherston Sinkhole.(Supplied: Roger Norton)

Colin Thompson was part of a committee that led to the Lady Nelson Visitor and Discovery Centre opening nearby in 1986.

He said there was some discussion of building a “Limestone Coast Museum of Human History” between the two sinkholes.

“At the time we were told emphatically that, no, the land by then was privately owned — when we started it was state government — so it was privately owned and there were pollution issues,” Mr Thompson said.

Improvements underway

Visiting the Umpherston Sinkhole for a walk yesterday, Mount Gambier resident Cowen Gordon said he never knew the second sinkhole existed.

He said it “definitely” should be opened to the public.

“Well, hopefully if they can come to some sort of agreement with the council and get it done, that would be great,” he said.

The Umpherston Sinkhole is known for its gardens and its possums.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

The Umpherston Sinkhole was closed yesterday and again today for gardening work.

Heavy machinery and skip bins were lowered into it to collect debris and plant clippings.

“The ivy will be getting a fairly significant haircut and we’ll be going through the hydrangeas and other plants are also going to be pruned,” said the councils’ Ms Cernovskis.

“It’s all in order to encourage that new growth within the gardens at the site.”

The council is taking over running the kiosk and souvenir shop at the Umpherston Sinkhole later this year.

Sinkholes are common in the lower South East, and are caused by rain pooling and dissolving limestone in the earth.

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