Sanctuary Lakes Resort is located in the Point Cook area of Melbourne, approximately 20 km from the CBD. The development is located on the site of the former Cheetham Salt Works where a large scale industrial production of sale supplied Melbourne and Victoria for nearly 100 years. 

The facility was closed in the late 1980s by the Cheetham Company, leaving the site significantly altered form its natural state and making redevelopment options limited. As a result, the development of Sanctuary Lakes had to address a number of environmental and engineering challenges. 

The water management regimes of the salt works caused them to become an important habitat for a wide variety of birds, including rare migratory birds.  As part of the development agreement for Sanctuary Lakes Resort, 405 ha of wetlands was gifted to the State Government as a nature sanctuary called Cheetham Wetlands which is managed by Parks Victoria. This has ensured its long term protection. 

The story of what is now Sanctuary Lakes began when most of the land around Laverton and Point Cook was taken up in an early pastoral run held by William L. Quinlan from 1842 – 46 and known as Skeleton waterholes. The licence was transferred to William Drayton Taylor in 1849 and then to Alexander Irvine in 1850. In the 1850s the crown land was sold and Thomas Chirnside purchased most of the blocks, establishing one of the largest freehold pastoral properties in the Port Phillip area.

By 1857 the Point Cook property had been reserved exclusively for horses, their breeding and racing being the Chirnsides’ major pleasure. The Chirnsides’ connection ended when the property was sold in 1920 to Sydney Dalrymple.  At this time, the Chirnsides’ holding was being broken up with much of the estate being purchased by the MMBW for the Sewerage Farm.

The area of the swamp was purchased by A.J. Cunningham on behalf of Cheetham Salt in 1927 with later purchases around 1935 creating a re-subdivision and the present boundaries of the Cheetham land being established.

Richard Cheetham was born in Manchester, England in c. 1836 and became a manufacturing chemist with some knowledge of the salt gathering industry in Southern Europe. He migrated to Australia in 1862 for health reasons, but quickly saw the possibility of establishing a salt industry on the Victorian coast, starting first at French Island an then for a number of years at Geelong.

Cheetham and his associated in the venture had no surveying instruments of detailed engineering knowledge.  Drains were dug and filled with water to obtain levels, and this data enabled wooden-lined channels to be constructed with an even fall of one inch over half a mile. Sluice gates to control the flow of water were designed so that the evaporation ponds were filled by the incoming tide and the salt-water trapped on the ebb-tide.

In 1924 Cheetham Saltworks Pty Ltd bought the northern part of the former Point Cook Pastoral Estate to harvest salt in man-made evaporative lakes. The first harvest was made in 1926 and only raw salt was produced until 1940 when a refinery was erected along with on-site accommodation for the employees and their families.

During the 1970s work at this site continued with only small capital outlays, although some rolling stock was refurbished. This period appears to mark the downturn of the site and the lack of expenditure on maintenance and improvements led to considerable deterioration of the channels and retaining walls of the saltpans.

Late in 1986 the decision was made to discontinue harvesting at Laverton as the salt-pans required extensive repairs. The refiner continued to process salt until about the early 1990s. The eastern part of the site containing the salt pans and the remnants of tramways and pumping station buildings within the City of Hobsons Bay became an extension of the Point Cook Regional Park as ‘Cheetham Wetlands’ while the western part (situated within the City of Wyndham) was cleared and became the basis of Sanctuary Lakes Resort.