a beautiful green island with sandy beaches on a sunny day, photo taken from the air

With $30k you get a piece of land on this tropical island with a checkered past

After decades of unfulfilled promises, the people of Queensland are giving up on their dream of retiring to a tropical paradise on Keswick Island, nestled on the south side of the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Mackay.

In the late 1990s, several lots on the island were put up for sale with dreamers seizing the opportunity to own their own piece of paradise.

But many of these lots, still bare, are now back on the market.

Basil Bay is one of the main attractions on Keswick Island. Supplied: Mackay Tourism

Resident Dr. Craig Gilbert bought a block on Keswick nearly twenty years ago, on his way to work on the mainland on his private jet.

But dr. Gilbert said this all stopped when Oasis Forest, formerly China Bloom, took over the main lease in 2016 and banned residents’ use of the island’s airstrip.

He said this was just one of the most recent frustrations tenants on Keswick had faced and believed that these shortcomings like this – and lack of development – had prevented many from building houses on the island.

No houses built

dr. Gilbert said that when they first bought, a boat dock and marina were on the line.

“The original lots that were sold in the early 2000s are now starting to change hands because people are too old, they’ve moved, they’ve been through different things in their lives,” said Dr. Gilbert.

there is a sign on a beach
At the height of the tension between China Bloom and visitors, signs were posted around Keswick. ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons

dr. Gilbert said no houses have been built on the island for at least a decade.

The island is home to at least 10 full-time residents, with several others dividing their time between the mainland and their corner of the sky.

Most residents and landowners have a complicated relationship with Oasis Forest.

dr. Gilbert said that when the lots first came on the market in the 2000s, they ranged between $70,000 and $500,000.

One of the lots is now selling for $30,000.

dr. Gilbert said many of the original buyers were tired of “the lack of development” since then.

“Some people have just returned their blocks,” said Dr. Gilbert.

Many Keswick residents and mainland visitors struggled with the company’s previous island manager but say relations and understanding with Oasis Forest have improved since Scott Wilkinson took the position in 2021

a man stands smiling next to a ferry
Scott Wilkinson was appointed Keswick Island’s new caretaker in 2021. ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons

dr. Gilbert said he had seen the prices for blocks on the island begin to improve.

“Quite a few blocks have been sold lately, prices are rising again,” he said.

“The most important thing is the jetty, a dock at all tides. The runway opened up to more commercial people coming in and private and a formal place to park our trailer boats.

‘Exciting time again for Keswick Island’

Despite the frustrations, Dr. Gilbert still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.

“There are breathtaking views, I mean we have a 270 degree sea view from our place,” said Dr Gilbert.

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