Makepeace Island in the Noosa River is the semi-tropical bolthole of Virgin billionaire Richard Branson and now it's open to the public.

Story By Mark Muller

Makepeace Island has gone through a few changes in the history of its human habitation. It’s a fair bet the Kabi Kabi people of the Noosa region who spent time there prior to Europeans turning up in the in the mid-19th century would be hard-pressed to recognise things now. It was known as Pig Island for many years, due to its being a porcine quarantine station. In 1911 “Mr and Mrs Charles Nicholas” became the first registered owners of the 10-hectare island, building a classic Queenslander there and taking advantage of the tranquil river views thus afforded. In 1924 Hannah Makepeace arrived to act as the Nicholas’s housekeeper and, upon their death, she inherited the island that was later to bear her name and be her home until her death in 1974 at the age of 89. Makepeace next became home in the early 1980s to the artist Brian Spencer and his wife Beverley, who lived there for some 17 years.

Each of these inhabitants made their mark on the island, and each no doubt had the island make its mark on them. For all this time, you basically couldn’t get on the place unless you were invited – now that’s changed.

In 2003 Richard Branson (he of the Virgin empire fame) and Australian Brett Godfrey, with whom Branson set up Virgin Australia, bought the island with the intention of creating a luxury retreat for themselves and senior Virgin staff. Over the next few years $7 million was spent redeveloping the island’s accommodations in the image of a Balinese resort. The process was not without its travails, with the council knocking the edges off some of the proposals, and there being some strife with the first group of builders, but eventually a Balinese-themed paradise took shape on this heart-shaped island in the Noosa River. In July it was opened to paying guests. “I have a passion for islands and I have a passion for Bali,” Richard says. “I’m lucky to be able to combine those passions, but I can’t stay everywhere at once, so we like to rent out our homes when we’re not there. It means that they can help pay for themselves, and we can employ great staff and help support local economies.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #79

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2011