Busselton is breathtaking in its audacity, becoming the shining light in Western Australian tourism.
Its proposed Australian Underwater Discovery Centre, fermenting for five years, will elevate Busselton jetty to heady new highs in international tourism.
Non-profit Busselton Jetty Inc (BJI) has netted funds from big fish like the Federal and State Governments, as well as the local council to the tune of $30 million.
Losing national and international tourists due to the pandemic, Busselton Jetty’s 52 staff and 86 volunteers are bouncing back from the $2 million hit to their income.
“We are building something that’s truly amazing,” said BJI CEO Lisa Shreeve.
“We have set out to triple our income because 25 per cent of our ticket sales goes back into Jetty maintenance, a unique business model to ensure sustainability of this State heritage asset.
Busselton is getting bang for its buck with a new building appearing to be lurching, whale-like, out of the water – emulating a whale spy hop.
But, like an iceberg, the bulk of the building will be below the surface. Tourists descend a staircases 8m to the ocean floor.
Its four storeys will include marine-flavoured artworks, museum-style exhibits and sensational underwater viewing in spaces for more than 140 people.
The jetty’s burgeoning popularity has pressured progress on this jetty juggernaut. Currently, its underwater space is limited to 50 people. The jetty train is limited to 90 passengers. Unique ways of getting more people to the end of the Jetty are in the pipeline.
Underwater, tourists will view 300 species of marine life including stingrays, corals, marine mammals, octopus and seagrass meadows. Perhaps a passing shark or young whale.
With marine scientists on hand, visitors can learn about conservation, clean oceans and the fight against plastics polluting the sea.
There will be underwater dining and rooms for conferences and social events.
“On top of the end of the Jetty we are building a village to house food and beverage options, host weddings and corporate functions, birthdays and other events nearly 2kms out to sea with amazing ocean and sunset views,” Lisa said.
She said that with Australia’s great international attractions like the Great Barrier Reef, WA needed a point of difference.
“We believe the Discovery Centre will be the catalyst to bringing international tourists back from early 2023, especially those we lost due to the pandemic.
“Travel bubbles would help us attract Singaporean and Malaysian tourists. In many Asian countries people don’t swim so they never get the chance to see what’s on the ocean floor.
“Seniors are also welcome. They can take the train out, use the lift in the building and all our facilities are accessible.
“We see many people spending quality time on the jetty with their grandchildren – on the train, teaching them to fish or visiting the underwater observatory,” Lisa said.
An 84-year-old lady recently went on the jetty’s underwater helmet walk with air tank and hard helmet.
The marine building, made of bio-receptive concrete to encourage marine-life growth, will be put together at Perth’s Henderson marine centre and towed to Busselton.
Cyclone-proof, it will be floated over its pre-built foundations and fixed on the sea floor.
Opening 31 December, 2022 for a big New Year’s party, it will be a tribute to Busselton volunteers and locals who fought for decades for government funds to re-build the fire and storm-damaged jetty before giving it a major overhaul and fresh appeal.
BJI advertised nationally for design and building companies to put their best ideas forward. The winning business was Perth’s Subcon Blue Solutions who are partnering with England’s Baca Architects and Norwegian underwater engineering specialists, CoreMarine.
Ben Fitzgerald, the boss of CoreMarine that built a famous Norwegian underwater eatery, said the Busselton centre may herald a new age for underwater architecture.
“We’ve been dreaming about these environments for over a decade and now we have the computer technology and engineering skills to deliver.”
In Perth, Subcon’s Matthew Allen said: “With this project we’re literally giving a window into what lies beneath.”