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Lake Innes

Lake Innes Management

Lake Innes and Lake Cathie are joined by Cathie Creek to form an estuarine system which enters the ocean at the village of Lake Cathie.

Prior to 1933 when it was deliberately drained, Lake Innes was not part of the Lake Cathie estuarine system, but a freshwater lake.

Recent Lake Cathie Progress Association submissions regarding Lake Innes
Cathie Creek


Lake Innes


Innes Ruins

The Lake Innes house was the home of entrepreneur Major Archibald Clunes Innes, who was an influential settler in this area, using convict labour in several stages between 1831 and 1843.Innes spent some time stationed at the Port Macquarie penal settlement, and had also purchased quite a lot of land in the area as well as a few businesses. He felt that he was really a part of the community.

Since he liked the Port Macquarie area, in 1880 he decided to use the 1039 hectares of land that he had received in a land grant, and have himself a lovely home built on part of it.

The property was originally 2560 acres (1036 hectares) and Innes was convinced that Port Macquarie would become the main gateway to the coastal area around the Hastings River and to nearby New England. The extensive complex was an ambitious creation by one of the most influential of the early European settlers in the area.

With 22 rooms in all, the Lake Innes house was a very imposing structure, as befit a man of Major Innes’ importance. However, Innes and his wife did not get to enjoy their new and expansive home for very long at all.

Lake Innes Heritage Building
innes ruins
innes ruins

The Depression of the 1840s bought him to near insolvency and the closure of Port Macquarie as a penal settlement deprived him of convict labour, his businesses, his land, and the beautiful home he had built. When he finally left the Lake Innes house, he was nearly penniless.

Following Innes’ departure the house was occupied by a number of people but was derelict by the beginning of the 1900s and subsequently deteriorated to its present state as a result of natural decay, vandalism and theft of building materials. This expanse of jumbled bricks and boards is one of the oldest structures that is made of brick in northern New South Wales. It represents an important chapter in Australia’s history, as it gives evidence of how things were in colonial times.

The ruins are classified by the National Trust of Australia (NSW)

The site is managed by National Parks and Wildlife Service who offer guided tours on the first Saturday of the month between 2pm & 4:30pm. Bookings can be made by contacting the Greater Port Macquarie Visitor Information Centre.


Getting There

Location: The Ruins Way, off John Oxley Drive, Port Macquarie.

By car: 10 minutes from the Town Green.

Contact: The National Parks and Wildlife Service conducts tours. Access to the site is via private property with no entry permitted without guided tour.

For information about these tours contact the Visitor Information Centre, phone (02) 6581 8000. Charges apply for a guided tour.

Lake Innes Speech to NSW Parliament

The following is a speech the Member for Port Macquarie, Peter Besseling, gave to NSW Parliament on Nov 30 regarding Lake Innes

Mr PETER BESSELING (Port Macquarie) [2.01 p.m.]: 

The Port Macquarie electorate is known far and wide for its wonderful climate, its friendly locals, its pristine beaches and its picturesque hinterland. But away from the popular tourist destinations often are natural gems that otherwise are hidden to all but a few adventurous local enthusiasts. One such gem is Lake Innes. Lake Innes is of historical, environmental and cultural significance to the people of Lake Cathie and Port Macquarie, and to the people of New South Wales.

Once it was the largest freshwater lake on the New South Wales coast, which made it an integral part of local Aboriginal life and early European settlement, with Major Archibald Innes, after whom the lake is named, setting up his homestead along its shores. It also played a large part in the invention of the surf ski, which was based on a sit-on-top kayak made by Harry McLaren for the purposes of duck shooting.

In 1933 a poorly executed plan to drain the watercourse resulted in inundation from the Lake Cathie estuarine system and a lake that now fluctuates between hyper-saline and freshwater, with most areas considered brackish. This has impacted significantly on the flora and fauna of the lake, with freshwater species of fish unable to survive, given the changed conditions, and most freshwater vegetation now confined to the marginal areas along the edges of the lake.

In 1929 Albert Dick reported 8,000 to 10,000 hardhead ducks on the lake, which also supported breeding Pacific black ducks, black swans, Australasian shovelers, black-necked storks and a range of other wildlife. The rich bird, aquatic and flora inventory was radically affected by the 1933 attempt to drain the lake. As the largest freshwater body on the mid North Coast, the loss of Lake Innes habitat is considered regionally critical.

Eighty-seven years on we have had a chance to take a fresh look at this huge and significant lake system and to act on the findings of existing reports that suggest a window of opportunity to recolonise freshwater vegetation by approximately 2015. A plan to revert the lake to freshwater has been discussed, debated and analysed for years. It is widely believed that the lake’s reversion would provide a secure and permanent breeding habitat for many waterbirds that currently are listed as threatened species. It will provide also a drought refuge for those waterbird species restricted to fresh water, and it would provide a tourism bonanza via the reintroduction of freshwater fish species that often are favoured by anglers.

Aside from that, recreational opportunities abound and there is evidence that a reversion to freshwater would drought proof the mid North Coast by providing a freshwater reservoir.

Lake Innes is one of a number of areas within the Port Macquarie electorate that is struggling to come to terms with past practices designed to turn watercourses into farming land, which have had a significant environmental and ecological impact. The Big Swamp project that currently is the subject of public discussion for Greater Taree City Council shows the effects that draining natural wetlands can have on river systems, with the resulting acid sulphate run-off impacting on the Manning River.

The Lake Innes reversion plan, which would increase freshwater habitat on the mid North Coast from 40 hectares to more than 700 hectares, has been discussed locally with various environment Ministers for more than a decade. Its history includes the Lake Innes Nature Reserve Plan of Management adopted in 1999 followed in 2004 by the Umwelt report—”A Tale of Two Lakes”—which recommended that an environmental impact statement [EIS] be carried out. Since then the process has stalled.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service and Port Macquarie-Hastings Council have agreed that the reversion should be investigated through an EIS process, which would cost around $120,000. Much of the research work has been carried out and there is data on water quality, terrestrial and aquatic fauna, vegetation and the physical processes required. An EIS is required to complete the process and would include input from the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the council, the Lake Cathie community, Fisheries, professional fishermen and other stakeholders—input that is crucial in resolving uncertainty over the future of the lake.

Lake Innes Nature Reserve stretches into Lake Cathie and from Lake Cathie to Port Macquarie, and is within easy reach of the Port Macquarie central business district. It is on the edge of a high-growth neighbourhood and is already a popular ecotourism resource. There are plans to develop a walking and cycle track around the lake which, with support from the Government, will provide even greater tourism and lifestyle opportunities for our community. I urge the Government to support an environmental impact statement into the reversion of Lake Innes to freshwater before that opportunity is lost for all time.

I thank the member for Port Macquarie for raising this important issue relating to Lake Innes and his local environment. The clear message is that we should never interfere with the perfection of nature. Once again we have seen the tragedy of such interference.

The member referred earlier to a reversion plan—a plan for which we should advocate so that future generations can enjoy the beauty of our environment. I thank the member for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. With the advocacy of the member for Port Macquarie, who is fairly tenacious, this proposal will come to fruition.

On this last day of November I thank the member for growing a great Movember moustache—one that would rival any European moustache I have ever seen. I am sure that his efforts raised a great deal of money for research into men’s cancer. [The Assistant-Speaker (Mr Grant McBride) left the chair at 2.07 p.m. The House resumed at 2.15 p.m.]