Life has drastically changed on Keswick Island, 30km from Mackay in the Whitsundays.
Land-based entry to parts of the national park has been “locked” or covered with boulders; along the foreshore, keep out signs have been erected.
The airstrip is no longer available and worst of all, one of the island’s most majestic public beaches is off limits, according to locals.
A Chinese developer, who has gone to the ground after buying the 96-year lease for 117 hectares with plans to build a tourist resort to accommodate 3000 tourists, owns the picturesque playground in the Coral Sea.
China Bloom took ownership of the largest lease on the subtropical island in 2019, through Adelaide-based agent Greaton Holdings, after it was listed for sale at just under $20 million.
But access to large sections of public property, including the national park, has been restricted for the tiny group that calls the 530 hectares of Keswick Island home (which accounts for 400 hectares).
Entry to the esplanade on lovely Basil Bay by buggy is now off limits. With rocks and ‘allow only’ signs, the track is blocked.
And there was little or no support from the authorities.
Mackay Regional Council contacted News.com.au, which declined to comment. They raised the issue to the government of Palaszczuk on the basis that the long-term lease is between them and China Bloom.”
A spokesperson for the Queensland Government told news.com.au that the developer is being advised to do the right thing.
“(We) are working with China Bloom to insure that all relevant activities are in accordance with the lease terms, especially as China Bloom is working to upgrade the roads, boat ramps, jetties and marine infrastructure of the island,” said a spokesman for the Department of Resources.
The government gave only this on the issue of public access being refused to Basil Bay:
The public can access the beach up to where the tide goes up to the high tide mark) in areas of Keswick Island where a lease is held adjacent to the beach.’
Before being given three days to vacate by China Bloom, Julie Willis stayed on Keswick Island for six years in rented accommodation because the head lessee decreed temporary accommodation was no longer allowed.
“I’m gobsmacked that it’s happening in Australia,” she told news.com.au. “We were told there were no long-term rentals allowed.”
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That meant that Airbnb operators, including those with foreign visitors who were a week away from arriving, had to cancel bookings.