Janet Forster says she has grown accustomed to living with the fish tank that curves a full eight metres around her loungeroom wall. More than three metres high and holding 100,000 litres of saltwater, the aquarium is home to an array of marine life including large morwong, nannygai, and cuttlefish.
The spectacular tank is the stuff of legend but has been kept strictly out of media attention ever since Janet and her late husband, Ron Forster OAM, extended their Lincoln Cove Marina property almost 20 years ago.
Although media-shy, Ron hosted a swathe of sport and media personalities at the home over the years, including Greg Norman, AFL players including Patrick Dangerfield and Gary Ablett, and Australian cricketers such as Merv Hughes and Glen McGrath. If you’re famous and have visited the house, your name is proudly displayed on the office wall.
“When people come out to Port Lincoln to do the shark cage diving, a lot of them have heard about the tank,” says daughter Emma Forster. After taking the Great White cage diving tours, run by Ron, people would often visit his house to see the aquarium.
Although the fish tank has been kept out of the spotlight, the Forsters often welcomed groups from local kindergarten and primary schools.
“Being an ex-schoolteacher, Ron just loved the idea that kids could learn and gain enjoyment from it. So we’d regularly have all sorts of people through to look at the tank,” Emma says. “Quite often I’d just see Dad standing in the background listening and watching all the kids’ reactions. Both he and mum got a real kick out of that.”
Ron passed away in August last year, leaving incredible legacies in tourism, fishing, and property development. Janet is now selling the four-bedroom home to downsize. Emma, who was a television presenter on Out of the Blue for 10 years, grew up in the home and has many fond memories on and off the water.
Ron was a successful property developer, won tourism accolades and game fishing records, and was instrumental in the shark-diving, tuna farming and tourism industries that put Port Lincoln on the map. He founded the Port Lincoln Tuna Classic fishing competition and has a perpetual trophy named in his honour, while Emma and Janet are both game fishing record holders themselves.
Ron was awarded Outstanding Personal Contribution to the Tourism industry in 2014. Janet says Ron continued to look for ways to improve his tourism products into his late 80s. “He had a lot of vision,” she says.
Ron moored his luxury 15-metre Riviera at the home’s private berth, with the family regularly embarking on fishing trips. “It’s a protected block but it’s also very close to the entrance of the marina. One turn in the boat and you’re out into the Spencer Gulf where there’s basically a seafood smorgasbord,” Emma says.
“It’s a very unique allotment, and with Dad’s passion for all things fishing, boating and marine, he wanted the best block — that’s why he put his name on this one.”
Being close friends with multi-millionaire tuna farmer and racehorse owner Tony Santic, the Forsters hosted the private afterparties for all three of Makybe Diva’s Melbourne Cup victories. “We did have a few good parties, especially in the early days,” says Janet, who had Australian musician Normie Rowe play at one of her birthdays. The Forsters are also long-time friends of Adelaide Crows premiership players Mark Ricciuto and Simon Goodwin.
Previously from the Fleurieu Peninsula, it was in 1986 that the Forsters sailed to Port Lincoln on a boating holiday but, falling in love with the Lower Eyre Peninsula, never left.
Ron purchased what he believed was to be the best-positioned block on the Lincoln Cove Marina. He also bought Thistle Island and later acquired Wedge and Spilsby islands, as well as the entire marina subdivision.
“The marina wasn’t really going that well when we came to Lincoln,” says Emma, who was 11 at the time. “We’d bought the block of land to live here, when the marina approached Dad and asked if he’d take over and buy the company.”
During the three-month settlement on the marina sale, there was an agreement that any blocks Ron sold during that period would be deducted from the price of the marina. “Ron believed they weren’t marketing it property,” Janet says. “So he changed everything. We ran it from our house, just he and I, and a good real estate company sold the blocks.
“So, when the day came to the settlement, they had to pay Ron money because he’d sold more land than what it cost him to buy the company.”
In 2000 Ron and Janet travelled across the world on their boat Southern Cross; a yacht raced by Alan Bond in the 1974 America’s Cup.
In their travels, they ended up at Nassau in the Bahamas, where they stayed at the Atlantis island resort — a fairytale hotel created in the image of the mythical city.
“When Ron got home, he bought the block next door and started renovating. He built the entertaining area and the aquarium, inspired by that resort, Atlantis,” Emma says.
“He put a 100,000-litre aquarium in his lounge room. It’s the largest private aquarium in the Southern Hemisphere. People go up to Whyalla to see the cuttlefish, but mum and dad have the luxury of doing that from their lounge room.
“The tank actually helped him get the upper hand with fishing because he’d be able to see what bait the whiting and other species would eat.”
Ron entered the shark cage diving business in 2006 when he bought Calypso Star Charters. He saw an opportunity for one-day shark diving tours, which had only previously been offered as a several-day experience.
Today, thanks to Ron’s vision, the business takes 10,000 people cage diving each year to see Great Whites. Other than South Africa, Port Lincoln is the only place in the world to do such a tour.
“Each customer has to spend two nights in Port Lincoln, so that’s 20,000 bed nights per year just from the one company. A lot of people travel from overseas just to do this tour,” Emma says. Ron also established the in-sea aquarium which is now branded Swim with the Tuna, situated in Victor Harbor.
Ron thought big in everything he did, and his home is no exception. The front of the property is adorned with two large timber doors, which open into the voluminous indoor atrium housing a dolphin-statue water feature, palm trees, and a pond that is home to green tree frogs and even a turtle.
“You’re never really stuck for conversation in the house, because there’s always something to look at,” Emma says.
A chain runs down from the peaked roof to the pond, acting as a downpipe when it rains.
“We don’t need the news to tell us when it’s about to start raining, because the green tree frogs all start croaking,” says Emma, whose four-year-old daughter has basically grown up in the house, captivated by the fish.
Behind the sink, a large windowpane provides a view into the walk-in glass aviary which is home to a resident macaw.
Moving further into the home, the lounge room contains a 10-seater bar, open plan kitchen, and massive butler’s pantry, providing the perfect function space. “It’s the ultimate entertaining house. It’s got the view of the channel, but it’s a bit secluded as well,” Emma says.
On the wall of the study sits a fibreglass mould of a marlin caught by Janet.
“It’s just been a great place to live,” Janet says. “ I’ll still live down here in the marina, even though I haven’t got a boat, I just like the activity. It’s great on a nice day, but even when it’s rough it’s still beautiful here.”
The sale is being handled by Steve Kemp and Georgie Kemp of Kemp Real Estate.