Peter has his own island of treasures
THE first time Peter Gash saw Lady Elliot Island he knew he was looking into his future. The pristine waters and myriad marine life of the Great Barrier Reef paradise captivated the then professional motocross rider and his brain 'started ticking over'. What Peter didn't know on that day in 1980 was that in 25 years he would not only be working on the island but leasing the entire place, and that the 16-year-old girl beside him would become his wife.
Today Peter is the managing director of Coolangatta-based Seair Pacific and the 46-year-old runs day trips to Lady Elliot Island from the Gold Coast.
Now a commercial pilot, skipper and scuba diver, Peter loved aeroplanes from an early age.
"I was a kid who couldn't make up his mind if he wanted to fly aeroplanes or get involved in boats," he said.
"When I was in my teens I saw these float planes and I knew straight away what my goal was in life because it was a boat and a plane.
"I was determined to learn how to fly them but I had to wait because I was a professional motocross rider."
Peter rode for Team Yamaha from the age of I 7 to 24 and when he retired be 'put his money together and learned to fly'. "Coincidently I'd been to Lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot in 1980 in a break from the race season when a friend took me there by boat," he said.
"There were no boat tours to either place in those days. I looked at the reef and thought 'wow, how can I do something?' and it sort of stored in the back of my mind.
"I didn't really know clearly how, but I knew I was determined to make it happen and it became my goal."
A 16-year-old scuba diver called Julie was also on the trip and Peter said she 'talked me into learning to dive' before they married in 1984.
In 1985 Peter became a pilot at Seair Pacific, which began as Southport floatplanes in 1971, and he and his wife bought the company about four years later and began running day tours to Lady Musgrave Island, and in time, the larger Lady Elliot Island. Along the way Peter had to trade his beloved Floatplanes for land-based aircraft to facilitate the growth of the business.
He acquired the seven aeroplanes Seair uses today, which can make the 400km trip to Lady Elliot from Coolangatta in one and-a-half hour.
By 1999 Seair was taking about 1000 people a month on day trips from the Gold Coast to Lady Elliot, the southernmost island of the Great Barrier Reef.
"One of the reasons we focused on Lady Elliot is we knew the island's lease came up for renewal in 2005," said Peter.
"So we put all our energy in there and eventually we were providing all the services to the island... purely on the understanding that we were going to buy the place. It did become available and we lodged an expression of interest late last year and were successful.
Peter, with business partners Gold Coast lawyer Michael Kyle and Australian sporting legend and pilot Grant Kenny, officially took the lease for Lady Elliot Island in early August.
Peter sees himself as a steward and wants to protect the island's 1500 fish species, 350 coral species and array of birdlife while educating visitors.
"I'm pretty passionate about the beautiful place we've got on the Gold Coast but we've also got a beautiful place on the reef and we've tied them together," he said. "We're at Lady Elliot to try to make it work and make it pay but we're also there to look after the beauty and the nature of the place.
"Sometimes I wake up and I've got to pinch myself and say 'fair dinkum, am I really doing this!
The job definitely isn't easy.
Peter has been doing no less than 13-hour days for the past 20 years and in that time 31 people have tried to copy the venture in some way and failed.
"The island represents lots of challenges because it's 80km out to sea," he said. "There is a I50-bed resort with 30-odd staff out there at any time. We generate our own power, desalinate our own water, treat our own sewerage and have recycling of our rubbish.
"About 40 tonnes a month goes out there in the aeroplanes food, drink, laundry, "Once every three months we bring a barge out there with all the fuel. . , and the dangerous goods which we can't take by aeroplane.
"It's a logistical challenge."
It's a challenge Peter may pass on one day to his two daughters, 13-year-old Amy and eight-year old Chloe.
The family live in a house built on top of a seaplane hangar on the beach at Runaway Bay. "The girls have spent thousands of hours on the island and they just love the place," said Peter.
"Amy has made a plan to become a marine biologist but Chloe sat in my chair one day and said 'I'm going to run the business and I'm going to employ all girls.'
"All I could do is laugh because she probably bloody will. "She loves the island like I do. "I believe there's nowhere else like it in the world."