Queenslanders have fought back against a Chinese developer which has effectively strangled a local tourism destination with restrictions and stringent regulations.
The remaining 80 per cent of the island, 34km from the coastal town of Mackay, is national park.
But locals say the Beijing-backed developer has a stranglehold on tourism and has crippled their way of living by banning boats access from the public ramp, shutting down the air strip and forbidding visitors from the beach – which it hopes to redevelop.
On Tuesday, boatloads of Queenslanders arrived from the mainland – some travelling from as far away as Brisbane – to protest the treatment of locals.
On Tuesday, boatloads of Queenslanders arrived from the mainland – some travelling from as far away as Brisbane – to protest the treatment of locals and support the community
They set their boats up in the marina side by side and parked early on Tuesday morning, vowing to celebrate Australia Day in the waters in solidarity with people who call the island paradise home
They set their boats up in the marina side by side and parked early on Tuesday morning, vowing to celebrate Australia Day in the waters in solidarity with people who call the island paradise home.
They are also demanding Annastacia Palaszczuk and her state government tighten restrictions and step in to assist locals.
‘I think most Australians are reasonable people, but you push them enough and this is what happens,’ insurance assessor Fraser Goodchild from Mackay said.
‘The culture of China has always been a passive nation, they’ve always wanted to help people but now they are turning into (a) nation of bullies.’
One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts arrived in from Brisbane on Australia Day and had a message for the state government.
‘China Bloom gets away with it only because the state government is not doing it’s damn job,’ he told A Current Affair.
While some residents claim their lives have been turned upside down since the acquisition, others say life on the idyllic island has never been better and denied claims of access being restricted.
The protesters (pictured on Tuesday) are also demanding Annastacia Palaszczuk and her state government tighten restrictions and step in to assist locals
Locals are divided over China Bloom’s future plans to develop Keswick Island (pictured, tourists on the island in the Whitsundays)
Keswick Island is located off the coast of Queensland in the Whitsundays region, popular with those looking to sample the delights of the Great Barrier Reef
Rachael Cameron is among the outraged locals concerned about plans to redevelop the beach, which she says a nesting site for turtles, a claim refuted by China Bloom.
‘To be told that turtles no longer nested on Keswick Island and that there had been no human intervention was an absolute disgrace and an insult to our intelligence,’ she told the Courier Mail.
Rayna Asbury claimed she lost 18 months of rent on her holiday home on the island when the developer told her she couldn’t lease it on AirBnB.
She later discovered holiday renting was permitted.
But other locals were quick to defend the developer, including Glenn Leigh-Smith who has been on the island for 21 years.
‘All they’ve done is maintain the island. If you go fly there, you’ll see the place is impeccable,’ he said.
Mr Leigh-Smith slammed protesters opposing the developer’s plans for the island by labelling them as being unfair.
Outraged locals have accused China Bloom of banning boats from accessing the public ramp, shut down the air strip, and attempted to stop visitors from using the beach, which the developer has denied (pictured, one of the signs restricting public access)
The last posts uploaded on Keswick Island’s official social media platforms were in April 2019, a month after China Bloom secured the lease.
China Bloom has denied any closure of the airfield or national parks and claims just four permanent residents live on the island.
‘In the first quarter of 2021, the island’s plane service, which was paused as with the aviation plane industry with the COVID-19 pandemic, will be reinstated to increase capacity,’ the developer said in a statement to the Courier Mail.
The developer also claimed Queensland Parks and Wildlife found no turtles on the island over a 10-year period.
Daily Mail Australia has contacted China Bloom for further comment.
China Bloom snapped up a portion of Keswick Island (pictured) for $20million on a 99-year lease in March 2019
The developer has previously stated they’re working hard to ‘increase visitation and access to the island for both tourists, current and future residents’ and accused the outraged locals of interfering with their plans to make the island more accessible.
China Bloom said angry locals are interfering with their plans to make the island more accessible.
A Change.org petition set up by Ms Cameron urging the federal government to strip China Bloom of its island lease has reached more than 13,200 signatures.
‘We are calling for the federal government to put in place legislation to rescind leaseholders within our Queensland Islands, especially those that are National Parks, in particular Keswick Island.’
The campaigners say access to its national park is being ‘tampered with’ and ‘denied by the leaseholder’.
‘The ecological protections of the island have furthermore been breached through the destruction of turtle nests which impacts on the turtle protection program,’ the petition reads.
Outraged locals have accused developer China Bloom of restricting public access to Keswick Island (pictured)
‘In addition, breaches, such as unauthorised tree removal are currently occurring and we ask that this be stopped immediately.’
Federal Nationals MP George Christensen is another vocal supporter of the Reclaim Keswick Island campaign.
He recently travelled to the island to erect an Australian flag and has called on the Queensland government to intervene and tear up the lease.
‘To date, the Palaszczuk Government has ducked and dived on this issue, falsely claiming the Federal Treasurer signed off on the transfer, and also hiding behind bureaucratic protocols for their non-action,’ Mr Christensen posted on Facebook.
‘We need to put pressure on the Palaszczuk Labor Government if the fight to Reclaim is to be successful.’
Keswick Island is an idyllic holiday spot off the Queensland town of Mackay. Pictured are tourists snorkelling in the island’s waters