Online threats against, unexplained land clearing and alleged secret agendas have raised fears for the future of one a beloved tourist destination.
Online threats against, unexplained land clearing and alleged secret agendas have raised fears for the future of one a beloved tourist destination.

‘Go f**k yourself’: Inside tensions tearing island apart

"Go f--- yourself,'' the bile-filled Facebook outburst threatened.

"I'm building a house on that headland for my kids so what you gonna say now you white c----s.''

Behind the spectacular beauty and tourist-friendly facade of North Stradbroke Island, tension simmers - and just occasionally boils over.

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At stake is the future of an icon; a 38km-long piece of natural perfection that is both a sacred home of its indigenous community and treasured hideaway of Queensland.

This paradise might be circled by cleansing, crystal-clear saltwater but it has a festering sore: discontent between Dunwich and Point Lookout residents and businesspeople about the island's economic management.

Now online rants against holiday home owners, unexplained land clearing and alleged secret agendas and lack of transparency have left many of Straddie's inhabitants fearing the island's future could be jeopardised.

Hostilities escalated when Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation (QYAC)-employed ranger Patrick Coolwell threatened homeowners in a public social media tirade claiming Stradbroke had been living with "racial towns for years".

 
 

"Point Lookout still trying to keep the blacks out of their home," Mr Coolwell posted on Facebook last month.

"F**k off we own it and know we got our rights we will build whatever we want and wherever we want.

"Lookout Point Lookout. We are coming."

A post from QYAC-employee Patrick Coolwell’s Facebook page. Picture: Facebook
A post from QYAC-employee Patrick Coolwell’s Facebook page. Picture: Facebook

In a separate post Mr Coolwell declared North Stradbroke Island's holiday enclave of Point Lookout was the most racist town on Straddie.

"Go f**k yourself and I'm building a house on that headland for my kids so what you gonna say now you white c**ts," he wrote.

Patrick Coolwell is employed by QYAC as a ranger on North Stradbroke Island. Picture: supplied
Patrick Coolwell is employed by QYAC as a ranger on North Stradbroke Island. Picture: supplied

The rant instilled fear in some Point Lookout residents, who said they were concerned about the threat of retribution.

"There's a huge divide and that is disturbing," one resident who asked not to be named said.

QYAC CEO Cameron Costello said elders had counselled Mr Coolwell on his posts, and said the young ranger was a highly-regarded part of the community.

"We do have a social media policy and from time to time there are instances where there's social media issues … there's Facebook posts we wish weren't put up," Mr Costello said.

"He (Mr Coolwell) works in the local school educating young people about becoming junior rangers.

"We are very keen to do things which bring the community together and unite them."

The island's indigenous community has also been subjected to disturbing behaviour this year, with Murri flags, including one in a cemetery, allegedly stolen, defaced and burnt.

The island is home to 2102 people, however its population swells during peak periods with more than 375,000 tourists visiting each year.

About 20 per cent of residents (just over 400 people) identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander - well above Queensland's statewide ratio of 4 per cent.

Since the controversial withdrawal of sand mining in 2019, the island's economic future has been placed in the hands of the QYAC - tasked with growing tourism to plug the $55m gap left by the end of 70 years of mining.

But questions have been raised over QYAC's operation as the overarching manager of the island, with some successful local businesses claiming their survival has been compromised.

The owners of one of the island's most well-known exports, Stradbroke Island Organic Honey, allege their livelihood has been put at risk by QYAC.

Owners Phill and Teresa Bowman run 16 bee sites nestled among state forest and had brokered a landmark deal with national brand Kettle Chips to supply honey for a flavour of chips.

Mr Bowman, who has more than 38 years of beekeeping knowledge, sought a lease extension from QYAC to continue his hives, however he claims his request was ignored.

Stradbroke Island Organic Honey’s Phill Bowman who has operated for 40 years on North Stradbroke Island and who is concerned about his future. Picture: Lachie Millard
Stradbroke Island Organic Honey’s Phill Bowman who has operated for 40 years on North Stradbroke Island and who is concerned about his future. Picture: Lachie Millard

"They wouldn't grant the lease and they just won't talk," he said.

Mr Bowman sought help from state government bureaucrats but only received government jargon and confusion.

"I had a nervous breakdown trying to deal with them," he said.

Mr Bowman claims QYAC operates "on the secret" with little disclosure and communication with business owners and residents.

"I hate that … nobody knows what's going on (with QYAC)," he said.

I go out bush and come across an acre of cleared land … cleared for what? Nobody knows.

In 2018 QYAC engaged several mainland honey-makers to establish hives on the island, which Mr Bowman says has not just undercut his business, but put the whole industry at risk.

"There are not enough resources for more hives, no food because it's a sand island," he said.

Mr Bowman said on top of uncertainty over his future, the island is also for the first time battling the deadly American FoulBrood Disease. He has destroyed 100 hives due to the disease since 2018, he said.

Main Beach on North Stradbroke Island is a haven for holiday-makers. Picture: Lachie Millard
Main Beach on North Stradbroke Island is a haven for holiday-makers. Picture: Lachie Millard

The resilient businessman believes his bees can beat the virus, however, he questions whether his business can survive battling QYAC.

"If they tell me tomorrow to remove my bees I'll have to burn them," he said.

"The uncertainty upsets me incredibly."

The split forming on the island is not by skin colour - it's between those in favour of QYAC's power and those not.

"I'm not going to be managed by more blackfellas," Quandamooka man Mark Jones told The Courier-Mail.

Mr Jones has operated Straddie Adventures, situated 2km northeast of Dunwich, since 2016.

He claims to proudly operate without a commercial activities permit despite being told by Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and QYAC he must acquire one.

He refuses, declaring he won't go "back to the controls of government".

"This is our sovereign right to do what we do," he said.

Point Lookout, on North Stradbroke Island, has become a focus for tension. Picture: supplied
Point Lookout, on North Stradbroke Island, has become a focus for tension. Picture: supplied

Mr Jones, who freely hunts turtles and dugongs in Moreton Bay's protected marine area, says no authority can force him to get a permit.

"Me and a few others oppose and fight against that permit system which controls what we do as first nation's people," he said.

Indigenous people lived on Minjerribah country for 20,000 years before the first contact with Europeans occurred in 1803 when navigator Matthew Flinders went ashore on Cylinder Beach.

Many still hold the scars of dispossession forced onto their ancestors under the guise of 'protection'.

Mr Jones' grandparents were forced into Stradbroke's Myora Mission in the early 1900s.

One century later Mr Jones refuses to follow this "forced assimilation".

Tourism Operator Mark Jones who runs Straddie Adventures is concerned about the management of North Stradbroke Island. Picture: Lachie Millard
Tourism Operator Mark Jones who runs Straddie Adventures is concerned about the management of North Stradbroke Island. Picture: Lachie Millard

He fears for the future of the island's men and women - critical of what he claims is a lack of discipline QYAC demands from its 60 staff.

He says the organisation had not done enough to combat drug and alcohol use, which was having a "devastating effect" on young people's future.

Mr Jones said QYAC needed to consult the wider community and involve elderly people or step aside and let a new entity take over.

"There are other leaders who can take the community in the right direction," he said.

"My biggest thing with QYAC is consultation and transparency with all people."

Quandamooka man Mark Jones claims QYAC has not done enough to combat drug and alcohol abuse on the island. Picture: Lachie Millard
Quandamooka man Mark Jones claims QYAC has not done enough to combat drug and alcohol abuse on the island. Picture: Lachie Millard

Mr Costello - who has been CEO of QYAC since 2013 - said the organisation's annual report, strategic plans and social media accounts informed the community what it was doing. QYAC denies any suggestion of secrecy and mismanagement.

"We try and be as open as much as we can," he said.

Mr Costello pledged to follow-up the Bowman family's qualms about bee hive leases and said the corporation was "very supportive" of the business.

"The Bowmans are well respected by the family by the Quandamooka people - they're an institution on the island," he said.

We look forward to working with both the community, government and industry to really drive forward the post-mining agenda.

There are fears the island's crime rate will again grow as the end of sand mining leaves many people out of work and struggling.

Coronavirus has caused further pain, with 80 per cent of the island's 1,200 workforce declared unemployed in April.

Dunwich Newsagent Jan Petherick was the victim of a violent crime which shook the small island.

Speaking for the first time about the life-threatening attack that occurred in May, 2016, Mrs Petherick said she was putting away stationary when a young man entered her store wearing a hoodie and holding a knife.

"He pulled the roller door down and before I could realise what was happening he was in front of me waving the knife," Ms Petherick recalls.

"He kept at me with the knife. I was just shaking.

"As soon as he left I just broke down and two people driving past saw me, stopped the car and ran to me and one of them stayed with me."

Long-time local Jan Petherick, who owns Dunwich Newsagency, was held up at knifepoint. Picture: Lachie Millard
Long-time local Jan Petherick, who owns Dunwich Newsagency, was held up at knifepoint. Picture: Lachie Millard

The offender was barred from the island and four years after the armed robbery Mrs Petherick said the response from the community was what kept her on the island.

"I just love this community," she said.

I want it to become a happy place, a peaceful place where people can come and enjoy the island and have good times here.

Despite community concerns over drug use and crime, Queensland Police Service data shows the number of offences on North Stradbroke Island has fallen slightly in the past two years.

Dunwich officers reported 298 offences in the past year and 307 the year before.

The majority of charges related to good order offences - which include public nuisance, offensive language or trespass among others, while traffic and drug charges each makeup about 13 per cent of offences.

 

 

Despite assurances by QYAC and the state government that the management of the island was in safe hands, the corporation's most recent annual report reveals PKF auditors raised concerns about its ability to continue, with the corporation's liabilities outstripping its assets by $1.66m.

A $3.6m whale statue project slated for the Point Lookout headland has been a flashpoint in the tense relationship between island homeowners, businesspeople and QYAC.

The Yalingbila Bibula cultural learning space was due to begin by the end of 2019 before being pushed back to mid-2020.

Construction has again been delayed, which residents say is another example of the lack of progress made in the island's economic transition strategy.

Under the strategy, 23 projects were supposed to be delivered under a five-year, $28m strategy.

Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation CEO Cameron Costello with Aboriginal dancers outside the Federal Court in Brisbane in November, 2019, after the Quandamooka people were officially recognised as the traditional owners of Moreton Island. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation CEO Cameron Costello with Aboriginal dancers outside the Federal Court in Brisbane in November, 2019, after the Quandamooka people were officially recognised as the traditional owners of Moreton Island. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

However, just $8m of taxpayer money has been spent on projects including six eco cabins, a pippi shell sculpture and Australia's first Indigenous-owned whale watching boat that according to ship tracking data is currently in Sydney Harbour.

Mr Costello confirmed whale watching tours would not occur this season and said QYAC was working to establish Southbank to Stradbroke tours by the end of the year.

Some locals told The Courier-Mail they felt little had been achieved to plug the economic hole left by sand mining and questioned where the government funding has gone.

Dunwich Business Group spokesman Bill Giles said with one year remaining to complete the strategy, only glamping tents, sculptures and walking paths had been built.

Mr Giles, representing 21 businesses in the small village, said the key to the island's economic growth was increasing its population and holding QYAC to account.

"I have no concern about native title, but purely about how it's managed," he said.

Mr Giles hopes the LNP's tough rhetoric for accountability will prompt the party to review the North Stradbroke Island Economic Transition Strategy and its 23 projects if it wins the election.

"I hope the LNP will redirect some of this money to strengthen the local economy," he said

A sore point for many of the island's business owners is the running of Minjerribah Camping, a QYAC subsidiary which manages the island's campsites.

QYAC closed five of its sites in the July school holidays and this month banned people from some Queensland postcodes over COVID-19 fears.

Tourists Scott and Darcie Spellacy from Tamborine Mountain paddleboard at Brown Lake on North Stradbroke Island. Picture: Lachie Millard
Tourists Scott and Darcie Spellacy from Tamborine Mountain paddleboard at Brown Lake on North Stradbroke Island. Picture: Lachie Millard

The haphazard closures left tourism operators furious and Mr Jones questioning QYAC's purpose.

"You're not there to create an empire in business - stick to Native Title," he said.

Native Title, which was granted in 2011 with much celebration, gives QYAC and the Quandamooka people the right to occupy and use resources on state land.

However, across the island unexplained land clearing has frustrated residents who are forced to comply with Redland City Council town planning laws.

An acre of land had been cleared in pristine bushland behind Point Lookout's Tramican Street, home to expensive holiday houses.

A painted Aboriginal flag now stands above the pile of cut down trees - some which were dated around 200 years old.

The cleared land sits off a sandy track high above the mansions and beach shacks dotting Point Lookout.

A flag rests on trees, including some estimated to be hundreds of years old, that were recently cleared in Point Lookout. Picture: supplied
A flag rests on trees, including some estimated to be hundreds of years old, that were recently cleared in Point Lookout. Picture: supplied

'The Point', as the locals call it, is still seen by some people as a haven for the rich and retired.

Mr Costello said QYAC was not clearing land and warned anybody who did risked prosecution.

"We don't encourage and consent to any traditional owner just going out and clearing land," he said.

"That's not legal."

When asked about reports QYAC rangers had cleared sites, Mr Costello said "I haven't been alerted to that".

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Another issue of contention for some ratepayers has been the beach permits, which were raised in price to $158 per vehicle for a year, yet are allegedly free to anyone with indigenous claim to the island.

However, despite the simmering split between locals on how to achieve unity and economic stability, everyone The Courier-Mail spoke to wanted a successful future ensured for what is one of the southeast's most treasured tourism icons.

Regardless of the tensions, Mr Costello said QYAC would continue to work with the community to transform and protect the island.

"We won't always agree on things but at the end of the day we're united going forward," he said.

We all love the island … caring for country and caring for the animals is one thing we agree on.

John Truman, who runs the point's Blue Room Cafe, Green Room Grocer and Gelati store, is considered one of the region's most successful businesspeople.

Blue Room Cafe Owner John Truman with staff Kiwani Goebell 22, and Jade Beutel 18 at Point Lookout. Picture: Lachie Millard
Blue Room Cafe Owner John Truman with staff Kiwani Goebell 22, and Jade Beutel 18 at Point Lookout. Picture: Lachie Millard

He is part of Stradbroke's old guard, a surfer with little tolerance for drama.

While he acknowledges tensions exist, he says QYAC was right to give a leg-up to people and culture but said the state government should have ensured more accountability.

Mr Truman said QYAC needed to work on growing tourism in Dunwich, declaring Point Lookout's economic prosperity was "fine".

He said the controversial whalebone statue earmarked for the Point Lookout headland would be better placed in Dunwich.

"They don't need that whale thing here because we've always had tourists coming here and they'll keep coming," he said.

Mr Truman said the island's tensions were driven mainly by QYAC's minimal consultation with the community and that the division could be eased with more consultation.

"We're all here together, whites and blacks," Mr Truman said.

"All you want is honesty."

hayden.johnson@news.com.au

 

Originally published as 'Go f**k yourself, white c***s': Inside tensions tearing Straddie apart

 
 
A number of Facebook posts by North Stradbroke Island QYAC ranger Patrick Coolwell. Pictures: Facebook
A number of Facebook posts by North Stradbroke Island QYAC ranger Patrick Coolwell. Pictures: Facebook

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