Real Estate

‘Robinson Crusoe-style living’: the Australians turning to private islands

The way Bill and Barbara Collyer tell it, a private island is just about the best place to raise a family. The middle-income couple (Barbara is a public servant and Bill is a Queensland University of Technology lecturer) bought their own slice of paradise in 1985 after seeing a tiny ad in the Courier Mail listing the island for $120,000.

They held on to Temple Island for 30 years.

Now a new family has a chance to buy, with the island near Mackay put up for sale again – although it will set buyers back $1.75m.

“We went there every school holidays,” Barbara says. “It was a great place. The kids just would run wild, you know, they all learned to fish and swim and drive cars.

“It was just the isolation and, you know, being able to do your own thing. We would get a shock if someone pulled up in a boat on the beach.”

Picture of Temple Island from the air
Temple Island has its own airstrip to service the sole four-bedroom home. Photograph: Richard Vanhoff/Private Islands Online

Agent Richard Vanhoff says his business – which focuses on the sale of private islands – has taken off since the pandemic, with turnover doubling since 2020.

Sick of the city life, and more likely to be working from home anyway, more and more Australians are looking to a private island for an alternative to the rat race, he says.

“Not just millionaires,” he says. “Obviously, people with some form of affluence. You’ve got to have a million bucks [of] loose change, I guess, to start.”

That said, there are more than a few millionaires looking for their own private spot. He’s currently selling Temple Island on behalf of the rock music promoter Hamish Henry, who bought it from the Collyers. It’s just one of a dozen private islands and island homes listed on his website.

Located about 3km off Cape Palmerston, 60km south-east of Mackay, it’s right on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef and accessible by helicopter, light plane, boat or jetski.

The former entrepreneur behind the Myponga music festival in South Australia, Henry made several improvements to the island, including adding a battery and solar system for independent power, Vanhoff said. It already had its own airstrip, a four-bedroom, two-storey dwelling and a “pristine coastal environment … practically unchanged since James Cook sailed past,” according to its listing.

It’s close enough to the mainland to still receive phone reception.

Vanhoff says most buyers are attracted by the isolation – “no neighbours, no drop-ins”. “It’s Robinson Crusoe-style living – it’s great,” he says.

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“However, buying an island, you’d be surprised how many new friends you will have obtained very quickly or friends that you thought you had in the closet.”

Bill and Barbara Collyer would never have sold their dream getaway by choice. But they simply could not afford to keep the place after it was revalued by the state government at a much higher price, driving up rates and other costs by about 100 times.

Temple Island’s sole residence.
‘Robinson Crusoe-style living’: Temple Island’s sole residence. Photograph: Richard Vanhoff/Private Islands Online

But the couple have found a happy ending.

“About 18 months ago, our son bought a house on Keswick Island off Mackay about 60km north of Temple,” Bill said.

He works as a “fairly senior executive” for an Australian bank, and the alternative lifestyle is an attractive place to unwind. But it’s not the only reason.

“He has three sons, the eldest being now 18. And they are just loving the island,” Barbara said. “Their children are just loving Keswick.

“Our son actually told one of the other people on the island that he bought it because he wanted his children to have the experience he’d had as a kid.”


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