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Forty years after Yeppoon bombing that stunned the nation, Capricorn Resort’s future still shaky

POSTED ON November 30, 2020 @ 7:10 pm

On November 29, 1980 — state election day — Queenslanders awoke to news of a bombing at the construction site of the Iwasaki Sangyo resort, north of Yeppoon.

Tensions were high in the central Queensland community, with some strongly opposing Japanese ownership and development of the 9,000-hectare property.

But Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen had dismissed opposing views and supported wealthy businessman Yohachiro Iwasaki’s vision to develop a major tourism destination.

Forty years later, state and local governments have come and gone, but the resort is still ruffling feathers as uncertainty remains about the future of the site.

Newspaper clipping, headline reads BOMB HORROR: Iwasaki to press on with complex.
A newspaper clipping from Rockhampton paper, The Morning Bulletin printed on December 1, 1980.(The Morning Bulletin)

Geoff Murphy was the owner and managing director of building company JM Kelly, the team that played a major role in the resort’s construction in the 1970s and ’80s.

“We were advised that there’d been a bomb that had gone off at the place, that somebody had set a bomb up and they’d dug down underneath some of the foundations and placed the bomb,” Mr Murphy said.

Mr Murphy, who worked on and off at the resort for 20 years, said he initially assumed it was not deliberate.

“Once the police got involved, it became apparent that that’s exactly what took place,” he said.

Blurry TV still, building exterior falling to pieces, concrete and steel hanging in the air, blue sky behind.
A bomb exploded at the construction site of the Iwasaki resort on November 29, 1980.(ABC NEWS)

Community angst

No-one was injured in the pre-dawn explosion, although community angst over the development was high during a time of heightened suspicion of foreign investment.

“I would say the minority were objecting to the fact that we had the Japanese building the resort in our backyard,” Mr Murphy said.

Two men, John Geissman and his nephew Kerry, were charged over what Sir Joh labelled a terrorist attack.

Former Rockhampton solicitor Paul Braddy acted on their behalf.

“People generally in and around Rockhampton and Yeppoon didn’t want this very valuable land being virtually given away by the Queensland government of the day,” Mr Braddy said.

“It was aggravated to some extent, with some people, by returned soldiers who particularly still remembered that the Japanese had been our enemies in the Second World War.

“One of whom was John Geissman of course. He was a returned digger.”

Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen TV still 1980, mid-sentence serious expression, pin shirt, grainy image.
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen served as Queensland premier for 19 years from August 1968 to December 1987.(ABC News)

A ‘fabricated confession’

The Geissman pair stood trial in the Rockhampton District Court in 1981, during which the Crown produced an apparent confession in writing obtained by police.

“Geissman denied to me that he had given the confession. He said it was fabricated,” Mr Braddy said.

“The fact that it was unsigned, and at a time when the police in Queensland hadn’t gone through the Fitzgerald reforms, fabricated confessions were not unknown in those days in the Queensland courts, unfortunately.”

Mr Braddy, now 81, recalled a distinctive moment in the trial.

“I heard one of the jury men in the front row turn to his neighbour in the jury and said in a very audible voice: ‘This is a disgrace. These men shouldn’t be on trial. Joh Bjelke-Petersen should be in the dock’,” Mr Braddy said.

“I thought if that’s the feeling of one juror, how many more might think the same way?”

Paul Braddy, brown hair, grainy shot.
Paul Braddy, a solicitor for the Geissmans, who were acquitted of planting the bomb.(ABC)

Short jury deliberation

Mr Braddy said the jury deliberated for about 15 minutes before finding the pair not guilty.

“I think it was an indication of a feeling that was around at the time in relation to the incident … it was legitimate public unrest.”

Mr Braddy left the legal profession in 1985 when he became the member for Rockhampton, then transferred to the Brisbane seat of Kedron in 1995 before retiring.

After the blast

Six years after the explosion, in 1986 , the resort opened and put Yeppoon on the map for domestic and international tourists.

Livingstone Shire Mayor Andy Ireland said there was a buzz about town.

“Lots of people wanted to go out to experience the resort,” Cr Ireland said.

“The main pool area at that stage, if memory serves me correctly, was one of the largest pools in the southern hemisphere.”

Andy Ireland smiles at the camera, light blue, long sleeve button up shirt, stripy tie, beach in the background.
Livingstone Mayor Andy Ireland recalls mixed community feelings about the resort at the time of the explosion.(ABC Capricornia: Erin Semmler)

For three decades, it offered accommodation, two golf courses, bars, dining, activities, retail and pools with direct beach access and it employed about 300 staff.

Rydges managed the resort until 2011 and Accor until 2015, when it was returned to Iwasaki management.

The current director of the company, Mr Iwasaki’s grandson, closed most of the facilities in 2016.

The Japanese restaurant, one golf course and a wagyu cattle farm remain open, while the rest of the resort has been left overgrown and derelict.

Multi-million dollar redevelopment

In November 2013, the company submitted an initial advice statement to the Coordinator-General for the proposed $600 million redevelopment of the Iwasaki Capricorn Integrated Resort.

The project overview outlines a 300-room, five-star resort, golf course, caravan park, wagyu cattle farm, residential community of 8,000 dwellings, conservation precinct and airstrip.

It said the 1,500-hectare development would create 8,500 jobs over 20 years of construction and 2,160 jobs when operational.

Birds eye view of the empty resort, empty pools, overgrown facilities, empty buildings.
The Capricorn Iwasaki Resort, north of Yeppoon, early this year.(ABC News: Russel Talbot)

In December 2013 it was declared a coordinated project and an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was requested.

The Coordinator-General has extended the EIS deadline six times — it is currently due on June 1, 2021.

The ABC approached the company for comment but received no response.

Mayor Ireland said he looked forward to the day the resort reopened, if it happened.

“Having the resort up and running again would do wondrous things for our local economy, not only in terms of attracting business but also the jobs that come with that,” Cr Ireland said.

“It’ll be the catalyst, I think, for lots of significant things that may well come to the coast.

“It would be nice to see or have a decision either way as to what’s going to happen.”

Source: abc.net.au

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