A Chinese developer has allegedly taken over Keswick, a small Australian island off the country’s northeast coast. After purchasing the islet on a 96-year lease in 2019, local residents said this week that the company, China Bloom, has essentially forced them off the island.
China Bloom gained control of about 289 acres of the 1,310-acre island last year under the nearly 100-year lease. The company plans to develop a tourist resort on Keswick to accommodate an estimated 3,000 people. Since preparations for the resort began, Keswick locals say China Bloom has enacted several measures on the island to force residents out.
“The [island’s] airstrip is no longer accessible and, worst of all according to locals, one of the island’s most majestic public beaches is off-limits,” News Corp Australia’s news.com.au reported on Thursday.
“The airstrip closure means travel by boat is now the only way on and off the island. But even the jetty, provided by the previous head leaseholder, was removed and never replaced,” the news agency added. This has forced locals to navigate a “much more dangerous” approach to the island using a significantly smaller boat ramp built recently by a local resident.
According to the report, China Bloom has blocked “land-based access to sections of the national park” on Keswick with boulders and erected “keep out” signs along the park’s foreshore.
“In areas of Keswick Island where a lease is held adjacent to the beach, the public can access the beach up to where the tide goes up to (the high tide mark),” a Queensland government spokesman told news.com.au when asked about China Bloom denying public access to Keswick’s Basil Bay. Keswick is located northeast of the city of Mackay, which pertains to the Australian state of Queensland.
News.com.au said it approached the Mackay Regional Council to ask about Keswick locals being barred from public lands, but that it refused to comment. The news site said the council referred them to the Queensland state government claiming that “the long-term lease is between them and China Bloom.”
“(We are) working with China Bloom to ensure all relevant activities are in accordance with the terms of the lease, particularly as China Bloom works to upgrade the island’s roads, boat ramps, jetties and marine infrastructure,” a Queensland Department of Resources spokesman told News Corp Australia.
“I just don’t think they want Australians on the island. I think that they want to have this island solely for the use of the Chinese tourism market,” former Keswick resident Julie Willis told Australia’s A Current Affair on Monday.
Willis lived on the island for six years in rental accommodation before China Bloom recently gave her three days notice to vacate her residence “because the head lessee decreed temporary accommodation was no longer allowed [on the island],” she told News Corp Australia on Thursday.
That decree meant Airbnb operators on Keswick were forced to cancel bookings last minute, “including those with international tourists who were a week away from arriving,” according to the report.
“Suddenly we were letting international visitors know, ‘Sorry, you can’t come here’,” Willis said.
According to news.com.au, China Bloom recently gave a Keswick couple who ran a local business on the island “seven days to wrap things up.” The company also recently warned a local resident “who had flown his plane from Mackay to Keswick Island more than 1000 times” that he had “12 hours to get it off the island’s runway.”