A developer from Sydney who spent a fortune buying up a quaint Tasmanian town to transform it into a boutique seaside resort is packing up after a campaign featuring death threats and homophobic attacks.
Stephen Roche and his partner arrived in Penguin — population: 3,000 — four years ago with a dream of recasting its picturesque, though ramshackle, beachfront.
They spent tens of millions of dollars acquiring 80 per cent of the main business district and planned to pour in vast sums to fashion a strip of apartment blocks, cafés, a hotel and restaurant. They bought and revived the village market, turning it into one of the region’s biggest attractions.
Their ambitions split the northern coast community, where a 3m figure of a penguin takes pride of place. First there were battles with the local council and planning bodies as opponents sought to have the entire main street listed on Tasmania’s heritage register.
Despite the hostility some projects were approved but the developers’ enthusiasm waned amid death threats and a hate-mail campaign that urged residents to oppose an “influx of gay Sydney men” and to “think of their children”. A dead wallaby was nailed to one of Mr Roche’s properties.
He is selling his properties and returning to Sydney, saying that he has lost the passion for projects including a A$13million (£6.1million) development that was to begin this month and a A$40million complex centred on a 33-room luxury hotel.
His departure leaves the town as divided as ever, with some celebrating unashamedly and others, including the mayor, sorely disappointed.
Tasmania was the last Australian state to decriminalise homosexuality, in May 1997, and the episode has angered the gay community.