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Gina Rinehart toyed with the idea of buying Great Keppel.

AUS - Paradise or purgatory? The Aussie billionaires buying islands

Mission Beach Dive water taxi operator Nancy Lowe owes her existence to nearby Dunk Island. Her parents met when they were working at the resort, back when “Dunk” was a byword for paradise, and a holiday there was one of the most sought-after prizes on Sale of the Century.

She hopes its new owners, Sydney’s environmentalist multibillionaires Annie and Mike Cannon-Brookes, will “bring it back to its heyday”. “Water sports. Sailing regattas. Jetskis. The Dunk Island Billfish Classic – Fosters [beer] used to sponsor it. All sorts of cool stuff.”

Dunk Island has been purchased by Annie Cannon-Brookes for $24 million.
Dunk Island has been purchased by Annie Cannon-Brookes for $24 million.

The prospect of the jobs and tourists that would come with a Cannon-Brookes-funded re-opening of Dunk’s resort has buoyed the Mission Beach community, south of Cairns in north Queensland, which has watched its beloved island sit idle since being destroyed by cyclones Larry and Yasi and listened to empty promises from mercurial investors. “This time it looks like someone has purchased it with real money,” says Lowe. “It’s the key to this area moving forward.”

Island-buying has become a trend among Australia’s billionaires. In the tradition of entrepreneur Richard Branson, who owns shares in three – two in the Caribbean and Makepeace, near Noosa, pub tsar Justin Hemmes bought a share in Haggerstone Island in 2020; Twiggy and Nicola Forrest took over Lizard, with its $3000-a-night villas last year; Gina Rinehart has been considering the derelict Great Keppel; hotel baron Glenn Piper bought Hook in May; and United Petroleum’s Eddie Hirsch and Avi Silver own Brampton.

Attracting paying visitors is not always the billionaires’ priority. Many just want a private retreat, and are happy for already-established, exclusive resorts, with strict limits on guests, to fulfil any lease requirements for tourism operations on another part of the island. The Cannon-Brookeses have not revealed whether freehold Dunk – with its picturesque, coral-fringed beaches and rainforest sitting alongside a disused golf course and boating spit – will be a personal refuge, a tourism project, or both, although they have said they want to “preserve its natural beauty for years to come”.

If they’re interested in tourism, they only need to look at their once glamorous, now derelict island neighbours up and down the Queensland coast to see how the dream of running a resort in paradise can end in mouldy ruins.

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