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The Ultimate Lifestyle:  Early Days of Sanctuary Cove

The Ultimate Lifestyle: Early Days of Sanctuary Cove

Sanctuary Cove was an adventurous vision to develop a community focused on the boating lifestyle, surrounded by nature and leisure facilities. An exclusive interview with Margaret Toose, who has close relations with the people who made the Sanctuary Cove dream possible, gives us some behind-the-scenes look at world class integrated resort from her vantage point.

The story of a legislated sanctuary

An exclusive paradise enveloped by nature’s beauty, Sanctuary Cove is a leading resort-style master planned community and considered as Gold Coast’s icon. Having been founded through the Sanctuary Cove Resort Act of 1985, a landmark piece of legislation enacted by the Queensland Parliament, Sanctuary Cove’s development has historical, economic and global significance as a premiere waterfront resort destination in the suburb of Hope Island.

In the search for property for the expansion of their boat building business in 1981, Michael (Mike) and Jenny Gore found an old dairy farm in Hope Island. The husband and wife team then developed a vision to build a world-class resort based on a master plan. The residential and commercial development was strictly controlled and regulated and the architecture a traditional Australian theme. The development included a range of activities to be available for residents and visitors, such as boating, golf, tennis, bowls, and swimming. The Gores’ partnership with a Chinese family from Hong Kong, the Lo family, formed the Discovery Bay Developments (DBD), the company that would develop what is now Sanctuary Cove.

Ownership of DBD changed in the late 1986, first with the Ariadne Group providing additional financial support to the project, and eventually the interests came to the hands of a Japanese company, EIE, for $341 million—said to be a record for a single property transaction in Australia. EIE committed to completing the Gores’ original plan. However, EIE encountered major financial problems in the early 1990s and DBD remained in voluntary receivership for 10 years, until Mulpha Australia Limited, the current developer, purchased DBD’s assets in Sanctuary Cove.

As the development of Sanctuary Cove comprised a waterfront integrated resort involving reclamation and the creation of harbours and buildings over waterways, it required a Special Act of Parliament. In 1985, the Sanctuary Cove Act was passed. It was the first of such developments in Australia, making it an iconic heritage on the Gold Coast. It made a significant impact in planning legislation within Queensland because the legislative parliament had to make substantive changes to allow the Act to proceed. In 1987, the Queensland Government through the sitting Parliament passed two pieces of legislation which had wide-ranging ramifications for tourist resorts and other subdivisions throughout the state of Queensland. The legislation was aimed to attract financial investors who were more likely to support development projects such as Sanctuary Cove based on freehold.

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Building a dream

Beyond the legal and political background that shape the stories of Sanctuary Cove’s history, the personalities behind the project will always have a special place in Margaret Toose’s heart.

Margaret Toose, one of the original residents at Sanctuary Cove, shares the story of how they met the Gores, and how that meeting would be instrumental to fulfilling the vision of the resort to be known as Sanctuary Cove, where she still lives for more than 27 years. When retired New South Wales Supreme Court Justice Paul B. Toose, Margaret’s husband, met Mike Gore, a friendship began and the Gores shared their dream with the Toose’s.

Margaret recalls how they first met Michael and Jenny Gore. “We bought a boat from Mike and Jenny Gore who had a Cheoy Lee dealership together with the Lo family from Hong Kong. These boats were like trawler boats. They were lovely boats—a lot of teak. Mike and Jenny brought the boats to Australia, and we bought one in 1983.”

She describes how Mike shared with them his vision of what is now Sanctuary Cove: “When Mike came down to spend the weekend to do the deal, he told us he had this dream. Apparently, at the time the Lo family were very worried about what would happen when China took over Hong Kong. They were talking about building in America. But they thought they would come here to Australia. Jenny found this land, but it was more than they needed to build boats. So, Mike had this idea of having private roads and private harbours. He was telling Paul about this. And Paul said, ‘The laws do not permit that in Australia, because if you have some land, and you have a road, you can’t stop anyone from going in.’ So, Mike asked, ‘What can I do about it?’

It was Paul who undertook to understand the legal issues involved in developing the Gores’ concept of a resort with a master plan, and found that the existing laws of Queensland at that time would not allow such a development. From Margaret’s recollection, “Paul said to Mike, ‘You have to have a Special Act of Parliament. I think this government might be very interested. Paul introduced Mike to the Queensland Premier, and he was interested. And that was how Sanctuary Cove started.”

Paul came up with a draft of the Special Act, and it was presented in Parliament, and was later on approved by Parliament and signed by the then Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.

Margaret is proud to share her thoughts on Sanctuary Cove. “It would have been just another suburb, but the actual concept was very, very good, because at that time, it made foreign residential ownership more accessible and the construction would generate much needed jobs. Sanctuary Cove offered something new that people were allowed and could afford to buy.“

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The first settlers

“In those early years we spent a lot of time boating. We used to go up north to various places. We spent time in Tangalooma and Jumpinpin. Actually, it is wonderful here because of the easy access to the Broadwater Water and southern Moreton Bay areas via the north arm of the Coomera River. We also used to socialise a lot in the beginning. Everybody who moved in…they would have sandwiches and drinks, and would invite everyone. I came to think of what it was like when the first settlers came to Sydney—all joined in together, like one nice little family. Many of the people who came here initially were in their 40s and 50s and many of us had boats.”

Margaret and Paul Toose attended the Ultimate Event in January 1988 on their Cheoy Lee boat. In her own writing way back in August 1989, Margaret describes the Ultimate Event: “Aptly named ‘The Ultimate Event,’ it was a gala week of birthing such as the residents of Hope Island had never imagined. The water of the beautiful Coomera River was crowded with boats of all sizes. Cars packed the roadways for kilometres, and light aircraft filled the sky. In the streets and shops were the people who had come to see for themselves exactly what was happening to quiet Hope Island! The village welcomed them. Thousands upon thousands of people braved overcast skies and long traffic queues to see and hear a variety of leading artists. Headed by Whitney Houston and Frank Sinatra—the man who had vowed never to return to Australia—their support greatly aided the official birth of Sanctuary Cove.”

She briefly describes Frank Sinatra’s stint at the Ultimate Event. “Mike paid him a million dollars to come here. He flew in, and the moment he finished, he flew out.”

In Margaret’s own words in a document dated August 1999, she writes: “Much has happened since that week [of the Ultimate Event]. Sadly, for many, the Gore family sold their interest to Ariadne Ltd, a public company, and left their life’s dream to others. Inevitably, the image of the ‘Cove’ changed, especially for the people so heavily involved from the beginning of the dream. Gone were the parental figures so familiar to all on site.”

For Margaret, Mike was the ideas man, and Jenny was the nuts-and-bolts person. She believes that, “They were a great team and he had a group of very good people working with them. There were a lot of people who came on with this because they thought it was good. And with all their help it became a reality.”

It was a gloomy outcome for the Gores. Margaret relates, “I have always been very, very sad that Mike and Jenny both worked hard for all this, and we are living here enjoying the lifestyle they dreamed of.” The two people who dreamed up the first world-class integrated resort in Australia were unable to enjoy the lifestyle they created that the residents now appreciate.

The Sanctuary Cove was the first of its kind in Australia. New South Wales and later on, Western Australia, followed with new laws of their own. Mike Gore was a visionary, among other things. In his own words, published in the newsletter, The Spirit of Sanctuary Cove, “What we now have is a resort that is proudly Australian, one that celebrates our way of life, and one that has set standards around the world that others can only follow.”

Margaret only has praises about living in Sanctuary Cove. As one of the original residents she has seen the glory days of Sanctuary Cove and watch the residential community change and evolve. Remaining faithful to the vision of Mike and Jenny Gore, Margaret is still clear about what Sanctuary Cove was meant to be. In her own words in 1989, “The brave and daring concept of Sanctuary Cove, has attracted a wide variety of people from many parts of Australia and overseas. They share with the original developer the dream of the ‘Ultimate’ place to live.”


Compiled and written by Roselle Tenefrancia, Noemi Acub and Andrew Kancachian.

Photos courtesy of Margaret Toose

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