In 1897, suffering from work anxiety and exhaustion, and advised by doctors that he had just six months to live, writer E J Banfield moved to Dunk Island with his wife Bertha - so becoming the island’s first white settlers. Previously a Journalist and Senior Editor with the Townsville Daily Bulletin for fifteen years, Banfield let the tranquillity of this unspoilt tropical paradise weave its magic and he lived on Dunk Island for the remaining 26 years of his life.
A small hut built with the assistance of an Aborigine called Tom was the Banfield’s first home. Over a period of time they cleared four acres of land for a plantation of fruit and vegetables. Combined with their chickens, cows and goats as well as the abundance of seafood and mangrove vegetation, they lived very self-sufficiently. Fascinated by Dunk Island’s flora and fauna Banfield meticulously recorded his observations and went on to write a series of articles about island life under the pseudonym Rob Krusoe. He was further inspired to write a full-length book entitled ‘Confessions of a Beachcomber’ which was published in 1908. The book became a celebrated text for romantics and escapists and established Dunk Island’s reputation as an exotic island paradise. In the ensuing years, Banfield wrote several other books about Dunk including ‘My Tropical Isle’ in 1911 and ‘Tropic Days’ in 1918. In these he shared the secrets of nature that he had uncovered and described the customs and legends of the Aboriginal people on the island. E J Banfield passed away on 2 June 1923 and his final book ‘Last Leaves from Dunk’ was published posthumously in 1925. His widow remained on the island for another year before moving to Brisbane where she died, ten years after her husband. Today both are buried on the trail to Mt Kootaloo.
Since Banfield’s time the island has passed through several hands beginning with Captain Robert Brassey, grandson of Lord Brassey, a former Governor of Victoria, who bought the island for 10,000 pounds in 1934. At the time, the Banfield bungalow provided the basis for the beginning of a resort. His son Hugo Brassey then capitalised on family connections with the rich and famous and ran a successful tourist resort until World War II when the island was annexed by the Royal Australian Air Force because of its small but valuable airfield. Secret radar equipment was installed near the island’s highest point, Mt Kootaloo, from where the Battle of the Coral Sea was waged.
At the end of the war, the Brassey family returned to run the resort for a period. The island then went through a succession of owners. In 1956, Gordon & Kathleen Stynes purchased the island and relocated their family from Victoria to Dunk Island. The Stynes Family then set about to redevelop and upgrade the resort’s facilities to establish the island as a tourist destination. As a result, Dunk Island became a popular destination for celebrities including Sean Connery, Henry Ford II and former Australian Prime Ministers Harold Holt and Gough Whitlam. The Stynes Family owned and operated the island and resort until 1964 when it was sold to Eric McIlree, founder of Avis Rent-A-Car. In 1969, the movie ‘The Age of Consent’ starring James Mason and Helen Mirren was shot on location on Dunk and neighbouring Bedarra Island, adding to its international appeal.
In 1977, P&O Australia purchased Dunk Island Resort along with TAA (which later became Australian Airlines). The resort at that time was small and had a mere 36 rooms. But P&O and TAA had a vision for the future of Dunk, developing the resort and re-launching it in July 1978 with a series of festivals, including the Bill Fish Tournament and a concert performed by the Supremes, led by Mary Wilson.
In 1980 P&O sold their share of Dunk Island to TAA, and in 1992 ownership was passed to Qantas Airways following its merger with Australian Airlines. In December 1997 P&O once again purchased the resort and, taking up where they left off, completely refurbished the guest and staff accommodation, Kids Club, airport, reception and resort facilities. The Plantation Lounge and Beachcomber Restaurant also underwent a major transformation, whilst the General Manager’s residence emerged from the refurbishment as the breathtaking ‘Spa of Peace & Plenty’.
In 2003, refurbishment of guest accommodation continued and Dunk’s dream of having a 9 hole golf course (offering spectacular views of the local region) came to fruition. The Spa of Peace & Plenty was also extended, to better meet the needs of resort guests seeking to nurture their mind, body, and spirits. In 2004 there were significant changes, including the addition of Bayview Suites at the far eastern end of Brammo Bay, and the re-invention of the Cascade Pool and ‘The Terrace Restaurant’. In July 2004, Voyages Hotels & Resorts took over Dunk Island and centralized the island management in Sydney along with a range of other tourism properties in their portfolio.
On 21st September 2009, an affiliate of the McCall MacBain Foundation became the proud new owners of Dunk Island and the exclusive 5 star neighboring resort of Bedarra. Plans are to continue revitalizing both island resorts bringing them up to their quintessential best, so that the magic of Dunk is never lost.