How heritage-listed Binna Burra Lodge is rebuilding after devastating bushfires


When the heritage-listed Binna Burra Lodge in the Gold Coast hinterland was razed in the September 2019 bushfire which affected more than 50 per cent of the world’s oldest subtropical rainforest, Gondwana, many wondered how the popular lodge could rise from the ashes.

Against the odds, the refuge for bushwalkers, birdwatchers and naturalists is this month hosting the inaugural Gondwana Festival, along with O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat (which, with Binna Burra, is surrounded by Lamington National Park) and Mt Barney Lodge (located on the fringe of world-heritage-listed Mt Barney National Park).

The road to recovery has been long and isn’t even over yet.

Guests won’t be staying in a brand-new lodge: a less-than-hoped-for insurance payout, due to the fire being classed as an accidental bushfire, has stalled any rebuilding efforts.

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Instead, guests will stay in one of Binna Burra’s refurbished safari tents, pitch their own tent, or enjoy a plush stay in one of the renovated sky lodges – a small collection of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments that miraculously survived the blaze with only smoke and some exterior damage.

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Binna Burra safari tents were refurbished after the fire. Photo: Cath Johnsen

Binna Burra CEO Jonathan Fisher said the combination of public sympathy and the COVID-induced desire for domestic travel had left him with “a businessman’s nightmare”.

“We felt like we had a strong brand but nothing to sell,” Mr Fisher said. “When we finally reopened to the public, after a full year of being closed, there was so much pent-up demand that even car parking became a major issue.

“As well as our loyal and returning visitors, we have had more people coming here for the first time than ever before.”

It took 14 months and $30 million (jointly funded by the state and federal governments under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements) to repair the only road in and out of Binna Burra, another factor that has slowed the business’s recovery.

“Now the road is fantastic,” Mr Fisher said. “It begins in the pretty town of Canungra and winds up the mountain to take in sweeping views that make you feel like you’re in the foothills of the European Alps.”

Accessibility may no longer be an issue, but with the resort’s main dining room reduced to a pile of charred rubble, Mr Fisher said the focus of their food and beverage offerings had to shift to the licensed Binna Burra Teahouse, which thankfully survived the fire.

“We’re planning to extend the tea house with an undercover, open-air deck that takes in the views and provides better facilities for day visitors, using funds from the National Bushfire Recovery Agency,” he said.

“We’ve also converted Groom’s Cottage, the former home of one of Binna Burra’s founders, Arthur Groom, into a bushwalkers’ bar. I joke that we’ve transformed it from a heritage hub to a heritage pub.”

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Queensland’s treasured Binna Burra Lodge was largely gutted by bushfire.

Established in 1933, the lodge has hosted generations of visitors who have fond memories of holidaying in its original rustic cabins.

Determined to rebuild, Mr Fisher and the Binna Burra Lodge Ltd board of directors are still settling on a plan.

One idea is to build a collection of “tiny houses” that are private, comfortable and provide an “in-the-woods experience”, Mr Fisher said. But to do so would cost an estimated $20 million.

Initially set up as an unlisted public company with 97 shareholders who shared a passion for ecotourism, Binna Burra today has more than 800 shareholder members.

Now, they’re hoping this same group of shareholders will once again dig deep to help keep the vision of Binna Burra’s founders alive.

“It’s akin to a social collective … no one can own more than 2.5 per cent in shares,” Mr Fisher said.

“We’re holding an extraordinary general meeting in March and we’re hoping we can sell more shares to our existing shareholders to raise $4.5 million. If we’re undersubscribed, we will open it to the public a few weeks later.”

More than anything, Mr Fisher said he wanted to ensure that Binna Burra remained accessible to people of all abilities, and from all walks of life.

“We are the gateway to Lamington National Park, and we want to ensure there’s a range of accommodation options for all people from the cradle to the grave … but the national park will always be the star.”

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#heritagelisted #Binna #Burra #Lodge #rebuilding #devastating #bushfires



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Family ‘disappointed’ man who stabbed two men in north Queensland home won’t face inquest


Thomas Davy, 27, and Corey Christensen, 37, died after they broke into the home of Dean Webber at Alva Beach, south of Townsville, in October 2018.

The pair were searching for Mr Davy’s girlfriend, Candice Locke, who had been injured and had sought refuge in the 19-year-old’s home, before a fight broke out between Mr Webber and the men.

Both men were stabbed, but Mr Webber was not charged, after police ruled that he acted in self-defence.

Lawyers for the families of Mr Christensen and Mr Davy on Thursday lost a Supreme Court challenge of the Coroner’s decision, to allow Mr Webber to give his evidence in writing.

An ongoing coronial inquest into the deaths of the pair is examining why no one was charged, and the emergency response to the incident by Queensland police and ambulance services.

During an inquest hearing in Cairns last year, lawyers representing Mr Webber applied for him to be excused from giving oral evidence, on medical grounds that it would cause him “severe trauma”, in addition to him already suffering Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

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‘Balaam’ buyer onsells for a $500,000 profit without even owning it


The buyer of Brisbane’s iconic Hamilton mansion “Balaam” has managed to pocket a jaw-dropping $500,000 profit on the property within months of signing a contract to buy it, despite never actually owning it.

The house at 33B Harbour Road, considered to be one of Brisbane’s landmark residences, quietly went under contract via an option agreement for $9 million early last year.

Balaam is set on three titles across 1609 square metres of premier riverfront land and the buyer, according to Place Estate Agents Heath Williams, bought it intending to keep only one of the titles and sell the other two.

His option agreement gave him the right to on-sell the two titles before he settled on Balaam.

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The landmark residence Balaam at 33B Harbour Road, Hamilton. Photo: Ray White New Farm

Mr Williams said he managed to find another buyer in October – but that new buyer only wanted to purchase the entire property with all three titles, not just the two.

“So this new buyer was sold all three titles, under the option agreement mention, and paid $9.5 million,” he said.

“Buyer number one made $500,000 profit, without even owning the property.”

The deal, which settled on Friday, was highly unusual for residential real estate in Brisbane, Mr Williams said – he had never seen it before in 12 years of real estate.

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The landmark residence Balaam at 33B Harbour Road, Hamilton. Photo: Ray White New Farm

Balaam was a property originally built for prominent Brisbane property developer Don O’Rourke. Designed by celebrated architect Shaun Lockyer and constructed by Hutchinson Builders, it sold for $11.8 million in 2015 to Naiqi Duan, vice-chairman/president of China-based Tempus Global Business Service Holding.

It features 1034 square metres of living space with eight bedrooms, nine bathrooms, 48.3 metres of river frontage and uninterrupted city views.

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Brisbane City Council development applications flooded with public submissions that may not be properly made


While one social policy and digital technology expert warns the online system could be susceptible to bots or spamming, urban planners say many submissions don’t meet the criteria for consideration at all.

Many development applications are considered impact-assessable, meaning the sentiments of public submissions are considered by council planners.

Queensland’s Planning Act 2016 says submissions are “properly made” if they included a name, phone number, email or postal addresses and an electronic signature.

University of Queensland Professor Paul Henman, who studies social policy, administration and digital technology, said online consultation systems could be exposed to spam and “bots”, generating responses to manipulate results.

High-profile development applications frequently get hundreds of submissions, many often with a single line of commentary supporting or rejecting the development.

In one instance, more than 850 public submissions were lodged with the council for a major development, of which many were a single line of commentary uploaded on the same day.

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How to estimate the value of a home when the property market is rising


Estimating the value of a property can be challenging at the best of times, especially for first-time buyers. 

But when the market shifts, median values rise and properties sell at auction well above reserves, it becomes even tricker.

Buyers may be left confused when properties they pursue turn out to be beyond their means, especially when comparable homes were previously within budget.

So how can buyers accurately estimate the value of properties to avoid disappointment?

Why some properties sell well beyond the price guide

When a home is put on the market, agents use comparable recent sales to form an estimate of its selling price, which is included in the agency agreement with the vendor. The property can’t be marketed at a price lower than its estimated selling price.

In Victoria, comparable properties must be included with the Statement of Information, while in NSW it’s common to include details of recent local results with marketing materials.

As an auction campaign continues, agents may adjust a home’s price guide based on feedback from buyers and offers rejected by the vendor. Guides typically increase in a rising market.

Problems can arise when sale prices rapidly escalate, as agents rely on yesterday’s data to estimate tomorrow’s value.

“The most accurate way is to look at recent sales of comparable properties,” says Belle Property Albert Park auctioneer David Wood. “But when a market is moving away it’s very difficult to be accurate.” 

The likelihood of truly comparable results decreases if there are few recent sales, and unusual homes or those with specific features may be harder to price.

“Some properties are feeling their way as they go,” Wood says. “When you get properties that are unique, it makes it extremely difficult to appraise them.” 

A vendor auctioning a home typically launches their property at lower price point because guiding too high risks repelling buyers accustomed to sale prices exceeding guides. The reserve doesn’t need to be set until right before the auction.

“Buyers are still quite price sensitive,” Wood says. “If you’re not appealing price-wise, you can get caught out.”

Estimating the value of a property is challenging at the best of times, let alone when prices are surging.
Estimating the value of a property is challenging at the best of times, let alone when prices are surging. Photo: Frank Maiorana

Compare apples with apples

Unless buyers are regularly monitoring the market, it takes time to understand values, but research needs to become more focused when prices are rising. 

“You need to make sure you’re looking at super-current sold results,” says Melbourne buyer’s agent Cate Bakos. “We can’t even use November data reliably for comparable sales.”

Online investigations can only go so far. Physically inspecting properties allows buyers to understand the positive and negative variables that affect values beyond the size of the home or the number of bedrooms. These include the surrounding properties, views, streetscape, aspect and noise levels.

It’s a numbers game,” says Sydney buyer’s agent Nick Viner. “You need to be constantly inspecting properties. You’ve got to inspect a really good, solid number so you can have a better feel for how a property compares.”

Viewing homes that were never going to be within budget can be a waste of time and set buyers back, Viner says. “By the time you realise properties are selling beyond the guides, a month or so might have gone and prices have continued to rise.”

House hunters need to consider leading indicators such as auction clearance rates, and lagging indicators, such as median sale prices, when assessing a home’s value.

“If you’re looking at a sale that’s a month or two out of date then numbers like that are useful to extrapolate what the sale price might be.”

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Buyers disillusioned by underquoting need to think realistically before becoming invested in securing a particular property.

“Unfortunately you just have to take it on board and not rely too heavily on the price guide,” Viner says. “Really, the property will sell for the best price someone is going to offer.”

The highest prices are usually achieved when multiple buyers with ample budgets fall in love with an extremely desirable property, and are prepared to compete to secure it.

“If people make an emotional connection with the home, that’s really the key,” Wood says. “That’s where they will spend as much as they possibly can to ensure that they are successful.”

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North Stradbroke Island Easter camping restrictions will impact tourism say island business operators


Minjerribah Camping has capped the number of campers per site across North Stradbroke Island and closed three popular camping grounds but denied it has permanently banned camping or cancelled Easter bookings.

The move has led to an outcry from campers who flock to the popular holiday destination annually and left small business and tourism operators fearing downturns during the peak season.

Tent bookings are prohibited at Home Beach, Adder Rock or Amity Point, with caravan sites, cabins or eco tents available at certain sites, and the number of campers per site has been limited to four adults or two adults and three children under 16 at all camping grounds on North Stradbroke Island for the Easter weekend.

Adams Beach, which was closed over radioactive sand concerns, and Bradbury’s Beach, which closed last year amid COVID-19 and for infrastructure development, remain closed.

Minjerribah Camping said the decision for no tent bookings at Amity Point, Adder Rock or Home Beach was due to COVID safe plans to protect campers and the local indigenous community on its website.

In a statement on its website, Minjerribah Camping said tent camping had not been permanently banned from Minjerribah Camping and had not cancelled any bookings for Easter.

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Former MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan sells Malvern East home


The Malvern East home of former MasterChef  judge Gary Mehigan has been sold, more than three months after it was first listed with a price guide of $5.9 million to $6.49 million.

The stylish home at 66 Central Park Road was first listed in late November and was due to go under the hammer on December 12.

However, it was withdrawn just hours before the scheduled auction, with listing agent Joanna Nairn from Marshall White Stonnington confirming they were in “private negotiations with two parties”.

This week, a caveat was slapped on the property, public records show. However, the records will not show how much the new owners paid for the celebrity chef’s home until the property has settled.

66 Central Park Road Malvern East
66 Central Park Road Malvern East Photo: Marshall White Stonnington

Mehigan and his wife Mandy bought the four-bedroom, three-bathroom home in her name for $3,301,000 in 2012, public records show.

Sitting on 1070 square metres, opposite Central Park in a tightly held and much-sought-after pocket of Malvern East known as the Gascoigne Estate, the updated period home also features three parking spaces, a study and a solar-heated pool.

The kitchen has two ovens and a wine fridge and extends to an al fresco dining area with a barbecue.

Gary Mehigan FIRST PERSON
Gary Mehigan Photo: Julian Kingma

Ms Nairn described the home, built in about 1886, as an entertainer’s home.

“It is an amazing home on great land literally directly opposite Central Park,” she said. “It is a great entertaining home and, for the gardening enthusiast, there is a fabulous herb patch.”

Mehigan is planning to spend more time at his country property, joining a growing number of city-dwellers seeking a post-COVID tree-change.

66 Central Park Road Malvern East
66 Central Park Road Malvern East Photo: Marshall White Stonnington

Mehigan shot to fame as one of the judges on the long-running reality cooking show MasterChef Australia, appearing from 2009 to 2019.

Last year, he co-hosted the new cooking game show Plate of Origin alongside fellow former MasterChef Australia judge and food critic Matt Preston and celebrity chef Manu Feildel.

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Queensland Ballet dancers return to the stage for 60-year gala after pandemic hiatus


Queensland Ballet was just days from raising the curtain on its 60th anniversary gala last March when coronavirus sent the company and its dancers into lockdown.

“Everybody was so looking forward to celebrating this great milestone moment, and suddenly COVID hit,” said artistic director Li Cunxin.

“Psychologically, physically, [the dancers] were so ready to go, and suddenly they said, ‘You can’t do it, and we don’t know when you can return.’

“It was devastating”.

The pandemic forced the company to delay its entire 2020 schedule.

The dancers returned to the stage in August, to perform in front of smaller crowds.

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Driver dies in three-car and truck crash on major Brisbane road


An elderly driver is dead after his car and a prime mover crashed in Brisbane’s east on Wednesday morning, the force of the collision pushing his car into two other cars.

The 80-year-old man from The Gap, the sole occupant of a Hyundai Accent, was pronounced dead at the accident scene in Murarrie.

Paramedics treated several people after the crash, about 10.50am at the Lytton Road exit on Creek Road.

Multiple crews including critical care and high-acuity response paramedics treated four people, with a man in his 50s, driving a Toyota Yaris, taken to the Princess Alexandra Hospital with a serious head injury and chest pain, while the 44-year-old female driver of a Hyundai i30 was not injured.

The 21-year-old male truck driver was also not hurt.

The Forensic Crash Unit was investigating the circumstances of the crash, with police asking for anyone who witnessed the accident or who might have dashcam footage to make contact.

Lanes were reduced on Wednesday afternoon with traffic control still at the scene.

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Concerns Burpengary housing and marina development north of Brisbane will harm endangered wildlife


The Queensland government has been urged to back away from its pre-election commitment to give Priority Development Area (PDA) status to the 570-hectare North Harbour site at Burpengary.

A PDA declaration would fast-track the approvals process for the project, which proponents said would house 10,000 residents and deliver thousands of construction and marine industry jobs.

But conservationists warned the project was a threat to Moreton Bay’s fragile ecosystem.

Lower reaches of the Caboolture River form part of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and most of the tidal reach of the river falls within the Deception Bay Fish Habitat Area which is home to a diverse range of fish species.

Environmental scientist and water expert Ian Bell has been arguing against the marina for well over a decade.

He said his major concern was the disturbance of acid sulphate soils stirred up by the plan to dredge 5 kilometres of the lower reaches of the Caboolture River, which enters Moreton Bay.

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