Australian town overwhelmed by response to free land offer

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) – The Australian Outback town of Quilpie hoped its offer of free residential land to anyone who would make it their home might attract five new families to the remote community of 800. But authorities have been overwhelmed by more than 250 inquires in less than two weeks from around Australia and internationally.

The Quilpie Shire Council came up with the novel idea to overcome a housing shortage, an obstacle to filling jobs in the cattle and sheep ranching region of western Queensland state.

People who buy a block of land, build a house on it for less than AUD750,000 (USD560,000), and live in it for six months are eligible for a AUD12,500 (USD9,400) grant. With fully serviced, 1,000-square metre blocks selling for the same amount as the grant, the council is effectively giving the land away.

The grant was the idea of the council’s Chief Executive Justin Hancock. The 30-year-old spent six months in a retirement village cottage when he first arrived in Quilpie this year because of the shire’s housing shortage.

Enquiries came from as far away as Britain, India, Hong Kong and New Zealand, the council said. But home buyers need to be Australian citizens or permanent residents to qualify for the grant.

Tom Hennessy and his fiancee Tessa McDougall stand on their land in Quilpie. PHOTO: AP

Most of the interest in coronavirus-free Quilpie has come from the state capital, Brisbane, a city of 2.4 million on the Pacific Ocean 1,000 kilometres to the east. But there is also interest from Melbourne – which local media report has been locked down longer than any other city in the world – the city of Newcastle, and Western Australia state.

Both young families and retirees are considering the Quilpie move. Their reasons vary.

“People who are coming out of lockdown are saying ‘I want wide open spaces’, and we have plenty of that,” Hancock said. The shire covers 68,000 square kilometres. Two grants will also be cashed by Quilpie locals, one by council employee Tom Hennessy, 23, and his 24-year-old school teacher fiancée, Tessa McDougall. The couple bought a block in August.

“I love Quilpie. It’s a great place. Everyone’s friendly,” Hennessy said.

Hennessy was born in Quilpie and his fiancée came a year ago from Brisbane where relatives struggle to buy houses and make mortgage repayments.

“They’re a little bit jealous of us,” Hennessy said.