Lady Elliot Island is a destination that epitomises eco-centric tourism. It is a true reflection of the dedication, hard work, focus and drive afforded to her by so many people over the years, past and present, and none more so than the island’s current custodian, Peter Gash.
I am elated to host Peter on the show and discuss not only his success in realising his dreams so far but also the island’s successes. Peter has dedicated a lifetime to the islands in this region and first visited Lady Elliot as a child, and was instantly struck by its beauty and mysticism.
Lady Elliot is approximately 80 kilometres northeast of Bundaberg and is nestled between Fraser Island and Lady Musgrave Island. The island is also the closest Great Barrier Reef island to Brisbane, Queensland’s southern capital. lady Elliot Island lies within a Marine National Park ‘Green Zone’ and forms part of Australia’s World Heritage Listed Area on the Great Barrier Reef.
We mention this sliding photo during the episode. Click on the image to visit the Lady Elliot website and use the slider for yourself to see the differences between 1973 and 2017.
Though I’m yet to visit Lady Elliot Island, I can tell there is something very special about this location. Obviously, it is stunning; a spectacular tropical destination that’s apart from the bustle of everyday life, not to mention a scuba diver’s dream; but it’s much more than that. Through minimal digital connectivity, it forces visitors to put down their smartphones and realise the beauty of a moment, our earth, our ocean and our home – but not viewed through a screen enhanced by Photoshop and alike. Much more importantly, Lady Elliot is not an example, but THE example of what we can do for our earth and its inhabitants when we focus, dedicate and commit to doing the right thing.
As for the man making this happen, you won’t find him on social media at all, he’s far too busy working on the next major project and looking after this island paradise. You can, however, read more about him on their webpage, better still, go and pay him a visit!!
Scuba GOAT is an independent production and can be found across all social media platforms. Are you a dive pro or operator? Do you know your location? Do you want to increase your customer base? If the answer is yes, get in touch as we would love to host you on the show and help raise awareness of your operations and/ or passions. Simply fill out the form found on our LinkTree.
Matt Waters, Peter Gash
Matt Waters 00:00
Hey there dive buddies and welcome to the show. As Scuba divers we all know that it is inherently important that we look after the environment in which we live and venture to explore whether that be on land or at sea and indeed beneath its surface. I would further suggest that tourism is possibly the world leading industry when it comes to recognising that importance, and is a front runner for reducing any impact we have as humans, even more so in bio sensitive locations. Today, I’m elated to be talking with a man who is not only in the tourism industry, he is the custodian of one of the most beautiful locations on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Lady Elliot Island is a 100 acre coral Kate at the southernmost point of the GBR and 120 kilometres offshore from Harvey Bay. Needless to say, it’s pretty special. Peter gash has devoted over 30 years of his life to servicing and protecting the island. He has received many awards for his commitment to eco tourism, and his objectives are to preserve the GBS beauty, whilst making it accessible to as many people as possible and an eco savvy way. So, Peter, Lady Elliot Island, I think, in our previous discussions, and I’ve mentioned it a few times now on the podcast to regular listeners will remember that when I first came to Australia, albeit I knew there was a lot of diving over here wasn’t really too sure, on the variety of various locations where you can dive effectively, you can dive absolutely anywhere over here. But there are so many special locations that it’s it’s hard to understand and grab a real concept of what you can really do in Australia. And I think your little spot is right up there, isn’t it?
Peter Gash 01:56
Yeah, mate, we very, very fortunate lady lead because it’s really its geographic location, stands it out. And the Great Barrier Reef is a big lagoon. It’s a big platform, you know that if you go and look at it, David Attenborough did a fantastic three part series on it. And it’s got a really good computer generated image showing you how the the the platform was exposed. And about 10,000 years ago, the sea level rose came up over the top of the lagoon over the edge of the continental shelf and then flooded it. So this massive area of 340,000 Odd square kilometres is about 30 metres deep. What’s that about, you know, 3035 yards deep, I guess in in the other language. And so it lends itself tremendously to snorkelling and diving, but ladylucks specifically, so because it’s so far south, that’s right out on the outer edge of that platform, so it’s not far from the drop off where it drops to over 1000 metres. So therefore, we get these magnificent ocean currents coming up off the bottom of Pacific Ocean. And then they’ve wrapping around Lady alette. And they’re bringing all these nutrients and all the upwellings bringing all this this food up, I guess you’d call it and that it attracts such a biodiversity so much from tiny little fish run up to magnificent whales, mentors, you know, from one side of the scale to the other. And you know, as that upwelling compresses around the island, it compresses those plankton into tight lines. And so, you know, whether you just want to walk off the beach with a snorkel when you’re 70 or 80 years of age, and we’ve got a bloke who just sent me a message the other day, he’s 95 and he’s promising me this is his last trip. And he wants me to come and see him and he walks off the beach and snorkels that boat is amazing. Or whether you’re three years old, and you want to do the same thing. You can just walk off the beach and a metre of water. You know, it lends itself to that. And an any boat ride anywhere where you go out with by boat to snow to snorkel or dive is never more than five minutes. It’s all very handy. It’s all very close. So it’s it’s extraordinary. The place is extraordinary and needs to be protected and preserved. And that’s that’s our whole purpose
Matt Waters 03:58
right and you had the place since was it 2005?
Peter Gash 04:01
Yeah, we took the lease on in 2005, my family and a couple of good friends. But prior to that we serviced it with our aircraft fleet, initially from the Gold Coast, which is about 250 miles 400 kilometres away. But also from Harvey Bay and Bundy. We serviced it for about 10 years prior to that. So we’ve been looking after Lady Elliot in in one shape or form since around about 1995. So yeah, you know, in excess of that 30 odd years. And prior to that, for 10 years from the mid 1980s. We service lady Musgrave Island, which is our nearest neighbour just 20 miles away, but we did it with aeroplanes that had floats, always aeroplanes, because lady Musgrave and Lady Elliot Island are so far out at sea that Geographic special location makes them a bit far to go by boat. They’re a long way in a boat ride. You fly out there and here you are just the most amazing don’t
Matt Waters 04:55
imagine what the flight out and the flight back is like as well. Because what well crafted using it like Cessna sighs
Peter Gash 05:03
Yeah, we use Cessna caravans, the latest, the new Cessna Caravan. So they’re 14 cedars, and they’re very fast. They do about 180 knots, roughly 200 Odd miles per hour, but we also still have a couple of the Havilland twin otters which are 20 cedars. Because the island is small and short. The runway is short 650 metres. So you’ve got to have a special aeroplane that can land on short runway, and it’s a coral runway because it’s the island is a coral, okay, it’s all organic. It’s not a Rock Island. A lot of people imagine, you know, a barrier reef island you know, with palm trees swaying over the beach. That’s Hamilton Island or Hayman Island or Daydream Island, this spectacularly beautiful islands even great Keppel island there’s plenty of them that people would have heard of Lizard Island dunk Island, these beautiful places, and they’re all specifically magnificent gems, but they’re continental arms, meaning they’re Rock Islands. And they’re they’re attached they’re a part of the continental shelf with what Australia is and sits upon. Whereas Lady Elliot Island is a coral Kay it’s a dynamic organism it’s it’s it’s it’s been created by living organisms, coral polyps, Zoes intelli LB and birds and the bird port Believe it or not, to be blunt about it. It’s the coral, the coral Polit it excreta its waste. It’s put whatever word you want to choose creates an exoskeleton that lives in a symbiotic relationship with an lb causes those intelli they create the Great Barrier. They are the building block of that 2000 kilometre long living thing that can be seen from space, the only living thing on the planet seen from space, they create that, but but like all living things, they live and they die. And that’s a natural process, and big wave action. And that’s what we get right out on the outer edge, which wherever it is big wave action smashes the living coral, and it breaks regularly as it gets too long. After so many years, it leaks it’ll break and then it’ll wash up on top of its other living coral. And then it washes up and sits up out of the water at low tide. So then the birds go, wow, there’s a parking spot. So they parked there. And they fish from there. And of course, as if they’re sitting there, you know what else they’re doing. They’re popping there. They’re bringing seeds. And so they start the cycle. And the bird port, which is basically nitrogen and phosphorus mixes with the calcium carbonate of the of the coral polyp, the other three elements of cement, you get a bit of rain, you give it a wave action, you’ve made a big hard concrete bass. And basically that’s how Lady Elliot and all these other amazing coral K’s have formed. So if you get to fly there, you get to see it from the air, you get to smell it because it’s covered in birds. And it’s just extraordinary. And and to see the reef from the air. I mean, all the photos you see, I predominantly refer to as sorry, aerial photos because it is so beautiful. The colours this the texture that
Matt Waters 07:48
yeah, noticed on the website there, you’ve got cracking image from 1975. And then the more recent image I can’t remember the year now was in the last 510 years, something like that.
Peter Gash 08:01
Yeah, then in the last five or six years, I think so.
Matt Waters 08:03
So it’s got that slide in real interest to explain to people who are listening, there’s got that thing, you can click on and slide left and right. And it shows you the difference between that the 1970s. And now and you can see how much amazing growth has occurred. It just looks absolutely marvellous.
Peter Gash 08:23
So to fill in why that has happened that way. Pre European settlement for the for the because remember what we said that that 10,000 years ago, the island didn’t exist because the water was down over the edge of the shelf. We’ve had a couple of glacial periods or interglacial periods where there’s been certain ice ages temp changes melting. The sea level has risen not in linear fashion but it’s live risen and then stabilised and risen and stabilised. So during those periods, as it’s risen, because of the living coral crashing and dying, the birds and so on, it’s created an island and it’s gone up with sea level rise. And it can only happen with that that what comes from the animals what comes from the organisms, that organic substance but also from the vegetation that grows the plants. So it grows and grows and climbs and the island has climbed and over that 10,000 odd years it’s risen on average three millimetres a year, then the corals have grown around it and the vegetation is grown and then it stabilised about 3000 years ago, roughly three or three and a half 1000 years ago. It’s stabilised and developed a beautiful forest persona, do Zia Pendennis all the natural vegetation that’s developed out on that southern end way out at sea, where we’re about 80 kilometres better what’s at about 50 miles from the mainland. So it’s right on that drop off edge and had this beautiful forest untouched forest and it was untouched in many ways, including by our First Nations native people because it was so far away. It was unaccessible so known and have gone there, but in the in the 1880s In 1018 20, was first discovered, seen by Europeans as they sailed past and as Wow, look at that place. Then then the first industry started to form not long after that there was a bitch to meal or the sea cucumber sea slug. People came from Asia and they took them away. And that was unsustainable, lasted a matter of weeks and they picked them up. But then as agriculture happened in Australia, and the Australian continent didn’t lend itself to agriculture the way Europe has. And so our farming techniques very quickly struggled and needed to have fertiliser. So they went looking for forms of fertiliser, and they found it on Lady Elliot. And so for 10 years from the 1860s, I didn’t 62 through until 1930 to 1870 they had teams of people out there with wheelbarrows, shovels and bags and they cut the trees down and they shovelled all the guano and there was up to two metres two yards roughly, of this beautiful rich soil that was made out of bird poop and tree mulch, and they shovelled it all away over 10 years strip that dropped the island, the island shrunk by about 15 metres in height, and all the trees were gone and all the guano was gone. And then just before they left, they thought we’ll we better think about the ship like sailors of the future. Let’s leave some guns here for you just shake your head when you’re thinking about some things that have been done in the past. But look, it’s easy for us to laugh and be wise now but at the time, that’s what they thought was smart. So they put the goats there. And of course the poor our goats had to eat something, didn’t they? So anytime anything green popped up, the goats ate it. So lady elite stayed a windswept barren rock for almost 100 years. And so, route 1969 1970 A young man came out there had an aeroplane, a lot of passion and a lot of enthusiasm. His name was Don Adams, and he wanted to create a tourist resort there of sorts. And he could see that it needed trees to be planted because it had been blowing away. The goats had just been shot out in the last five to 10 years there was a lighthouse there and lighthouse keepers. They’ve gotten rid of the goats, but there was very little vegetation. So Don started a revegetation programme. And God bless him he picked the right trees he picked casuarinas. And and they were the only thing that would grow because it was was almost like growing in concrete. There was very little loose soil. And of course that attracted the birds back. And so that process has gone on from Don, there was John French and his family then there was Bevan Whitaker. And then there was ourselves. So since 1970, with that slide picture you’re talking about to now there’s been these tourist operators and this is where tourism has been such an amazing help for a place like Lady Elliot. We couldn’t none of us could have done it without the tourists coming out there spending their money as taking them snorkelling and diving and showing them the island. And then having some money left hopefully, and some time and energy to start planting trees and revegetating it and just basically taking a windswept barren rock, a degraded and denuded Mindsight and putting it back to what’s now considered one of the jewels in the crown of the Great Barrier Reef. And it’s our mission, it’s our life’s mission to leave it better than we found it. And we’ve certainly done that, we’ve got a long way to go, because we want to make it as as close to what nature intended it to be 200 years ago as we can
Matt Waters 13:17
it’s a it’s a marvellous story, and you’re right in the middle of it. And as soon as you’re right in the middle of it, we’ve got to bear in mind that, you know, you’ve not always been in this industry, you just mentioned that you were servicing the island with aircraft. What’s that? What’s that background? Yes. Is your ex military or something
Peter Gash 13:33
like that? No, that’s a great question. And no, look, I had my first flight in an aeroplane when I was only seven years old, my dad had a flying lesson and, and I got out of aeroplane and I knew at seven that I was gonna be a pilot one day, I had no idea and no opportunity for the resource to do it. So never learned to fly for a long time. And I was involved in a lot of different things, including agriculture and farming. And I tried all different methods of farming worked for different people, including machinery, driving, tractors, trucks, horses, all sorts of stuff did a lot of different things. And what I saw, as I travelled around Australia and worked in different places was, I was starting to get fearful for what was happening to our environment, believe it or not, and we’re talking because I’m in my 60s now. And we’re talking in my early teens and my late teens, I could see that things were happening that shouldn’t be happening. Climate change wasn’t even a word that I heard of maybe others did. And I had the good fortune of talking to Prince Charles recently prior to him becoming now king. And he and I both had a similar realisation that there was something wrong. His his honesty to me and it was amazing. He said, Pete, the advantage I had was, I was able to talk to all of these people that you wouldn’t have had the chance to, and he saw and he put that in his amazing book called Harmony and if any of your listeners ever get a chance, it’s a book well worth reading. amazing individual. He’s teased out King Charles. Anyhow, I saw that things were wrong that think well, things went terribly wrong, but things weren’t going the right way we were we were heading on a trajectory that was was gonna get us into trouble. And we’re intelligent as human beings as a species. There’s no doubt about that. So I thought, well, we’ve all been gifted with with, with the ability to think things out and I’m going to go and find a way to do better. And so anyway, as I went through that process, I, I surprisingly, found myself on a motorcycle a motocross bike, a dirt bike, and I was able to do it and long story short, I ended up being fully sponsored by Team Yamaha and I raced motocross for several years, can you believe before I before I even had a ticket to fly an aeroplane? I was doing that. And again, it to me this is, this is why every one of us should, should, should, I guess, celebrate our history, because it was those things that kept teaching me lessons. And there’s some things I learnt there about efficiency, time and motion study, like if you can’t get to the next corner fast and the guy beside ya, you’re not going to stay sponsored long. So I had to be efficient, had to be you know, had to work out how to do things well and quickly with minimum waste. And so I learned a lot of stuff in that six years. But the best thing I learned was, my sponsor took me on a trip in a boat. I ended up at Lady Elliot Island, and I ended up at lady Moscato and I went snorkelling there and it’s like, wow, how lucky is this? How beautiful is this place. But what’s happened to it? It’s been stripped, it’s been mined. And and it took my breath away. And I just knew, and I just knew that I had a calling. I had something I had to do there. And it wasn’t far from finishing. In my mind. I knew I wasn’t going to race forever. And I had a young lady with me at the time. Well, she wasn’t actually with me. She was on another boat. But we were hanging out a bit and saying G’day, we were friends. And she had a diet. She was a Scuba diver at the age of 15. Whereas I was at that time 20 And wasn’t a Scuba diver, but I’d snuck out of it. And she we went down, diving and snug but she went down diving and I went snorkelling at Lady Elliot and I saw her on the bottom and I went down and she flashed the thing in we’re talking 1980 Things were different then you didn’t have Aki rigs and stuff, put the rig in my mouth and had a little bit of a blow at it and thought, wow, this is amazing. I got to do this. But it also enabled me to learn about the place and give me a different perspective. Anyway, that young lady and I have been married for 39 years.
Matt Waters 17:15
I was gonna say this is lead into the story of fallen in love with your dive instructor, isn’t it?
Peter Gash 17:20
Well, I fell in love with the place and the lady. And yeah, my dive instructing ladies, my beautiful wife, the mother of Amy and Chloe, who you’ve never met both of and they’re both qualified Divers also. So we be you know, driven. I became dive dive TRAGICS passionate about our diving but also Scuba diving, because I sorry, snorkelling should I say because Lady Elliot doesn’t you don’t need a tank on your back to go and enjoy it, you can just enjoy it, as I said, at the age of 95, and two metres of water, or even a litre of water. So anyway, Julia and I, we fell in love with it. And each other, I’m proud to say, and but we went away, and I was still fully contracted with Yamaha at the time. But a year went passed. And we decided two things. One is we’re gonna get married. And two is I was going to quit racing. And I was going to work out where we were going to go. And so we were looking at aeroplanes and the environment and the island. But I mean, who could have thought at such a tender young age that we would never have got to where we got and certainly we didn’t expect it. We certainly never thought we’d ever been leaseholders, or anywhere in where we were making major decisions. What we thought was, we’ll just work hard. And we’ll throw ourselves at this and we’ll do the best we can for ourselves, for our future, and for the location because the location needed help. And we could see that, so I went, I learned how to fly. And I flew around the country in different places, mostly in sea planes, because at the time, Lady Elliot had a previous lease holder. He had a resort. He had his own aeroplanes and an airstrip. So I wasn’t at that point in time, we’re going to be likely to be welcomed. So we went to Lady Musgrave Island, I did my first 10 year apprenticeship, I call it flying seaplanes into there and learning about in those days, snorkelling only because you couldn’t dive and then fly easily. We did it and we had approval, but it had to be specific. So it was mostly we take guests internationals, we take them up there and show them lady Musgrave. And I kept flying over Elliott and looking out the window and thinking I got a I got to do something with that place because the guy that had it lovely bloke, real hard working amazing individual, but again, from that old school, that you can’t change things, son, we run generators. We do this way. We do it that way. And I’m thinking we got to do it another way. And I’m seeing this island, as a platform as a place that we can use to educate ourselves and educate others in how we humans can minimise our footprint, still live in harmony with nature, and leave it better than we found it so I persisted with that man and by 9596 He finally relented and allowed me to bring my aeroplanes there. We literally shook hands on an agreement that in 2005 He would be 80. And I would be 45. And we would buy the lease off him. And basically, in a short circle, that’s what happened. We did our second tenure apprenticeship with Lady Elliot. And then we, my wife and I and our family and friends took on the lease of Lady Elliot Island. So it was a long, long road. And a lot of long sleepless nights, a lot of debt, a lot of fear, which is what you get when you start playing with a capital intensive equipment like aeroplanes, you’ve got to be bold, you’ve got to walk into the bank, and you got to be prepared to have it, you know, put your put your self on the line, you know, and so we did that. But you’ve also got to be prepared to work. And now in my mid 60s, people say, Pete, when are you gonna stop doing 90 hour weeks? And I say, Well, maybe one day, but I still got too much to do. And I still got the energy. So while it’s there, and the fires burning, I’m gonna keep throwing a
Matt Waters 20:51
remarkable story. And like you say, you’re just not popular
Peter Gash 20:56
right now and absolutely. And why would ya, you know, when you’re as blessed as we are as lucky as we are to have such a beautiful place. And you can see the fruits of your labour, you can see we’ve planted a whole bunch of trees, even when Christmas time when when Donnie Adams built the airstrip he built to build a like main runway, and he built a cross runway. And when everyone started to plant the trees, and we’ve continued with this process, we didn’t plan obviously on the main running runway. But neither do we planned on the cross runway. But when the new lighthouse got built, and there’s a nice new solar powered one there now it it’s sort of precluded easy use of the short cross grandmas, so we’ll stop using it, but it was still kept as a mowed grass area. So just before Christmas, Amy and I, my eldest daughter, we were just walking along and she said, and this is what I love about you young people, they just keep prodding you in prison, and she said, Dad, what were planted 10,000 trees here. Why haven’t we planted them on the old grammar? We don’t use it as rubble anymore. And I looked and I thought God was pretty simple one that I don’t know why we haven’t. I don’t know why we haven’t. Let’s do it. So I went and I saw Jim, who’s out. He who runs a revegetation programme. And Chelsea, who’s our environmental manager. And I said, Amy has got this idea. Why don’t we plant the old runway out? What a great idea. Okay, what do we need for it, we just need access for the vehicles to come through. Let’s plan it. So we did. And then we had to advise the authority, you know, the reef authority who we work with, because we have a revenge programme. And this was a new idea. And all I could say was really Europe, commercial, private enterprise tourists, often you want to plant out grass and put trees in. I said, Well, that’s what we do. That’s what we’re here for is to make it better. And they said, We love it. We love it so much. We’re going to help you to fund really, so. Yeah, so the more you give, this is one of our sayings. The more you give, particularly to the environment, when you’re doing the right thing no you give, the more you receive more comes back. And so yeah, I’m really proud of Amy, she saw it, I just couldn’t believe it all these years, I hadn’t thought of planning it out. And so it’s now we put those trees in just before Christmas, and we’ve had great rains. So they’re going really good. And it’s so rewarding that to walk along and see what was just an idea to being you know, because we’ve got lots of patchwork of new trees getting planted all around the island as we revegetate this old recovering mine site and to see him at their various levels of development and growth. And after four or five months, you no longer have to irrigate them. They just go and and it’s almost like nature’s racing to try and reward us to say, hey, look, look at what you guys are creating. We you love what you’ve done here. And I want to say thanks, and it’s just awesome. And people come just to see that progress.
Matt Waters 23:28
It’s a mile another marvellous story. What’s it what’s it like for? You know, we’re talking about the vegetation and the growth and reintroduction, Arkansas was what’s the the environment like as in? Is it 12 months a year you’re getting sunshine? Or do you have, you know, big storms come through that can be a bit of an issue
Peter Gash 23:54
from the Queensland coastline, latitude 24, which is basically the Tropic of Capricorn. So it’s, it’s a tropical environment. It’s a long way out at sea. And it’s on the east coast of Australia right out there poking out into the Coral Sea or which is a part of the Pacific Ocean. So we get a lot of wind and a lot of big swells. And think about it. We said earlier that corals get crushed by waves and wind and they get thrown up on top of the living corals and that creates an island. So without wind and waves, you don’t get a coral KR Island. That’s what’s unique about these, you need the big energy to do it. So we do get a lot of big wind a lot of big swells. But we got sunshine 300 plus days of the year and hence we run on solar power, which is one of our first major steps. We have, you know average our average temperature would be between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius all year round. In the middle of winter, it will cool down to maybe 10 or 12 at night, but it’ll still get up close to 18 or 20 in the daytime but in summer we can get it up around 3435 Occasionally a little bit more 36 degrees during the day. We do get funded storms Yeah, that’s typical Queensland tropical weather, we see thunderstorms and generally, the summer season, you know, from sort of December, January through until March, April is our wet season. Our big advantages were at the southern end of the reef, so we have a lot less Cyclone Impact. We have had cyclones over the years, but Touchwood, we’ve never had any major cyclone damage of note. And they’ve been keeping wind records for over 80 years. And the strongest wind speed so far recorded has been 72 knots. So we’re hopeful that that’s we’ll never see more than that. But we still get impacts from cyclones, big swells will get six or eight metre swells out there, and they just smash up the beach, and they can sometimes do waterfront damage to the vegetation. But when the island had been stripped, nothing stopped the wave. So the waves actually came up and over onto the island. But now nature is back in balance. And so the waves generally lose any energy and so they do no harm to the island if we ever have that. So and we have quick access with aeroplanes, we can get in and out. If we’re uncomfortable about the weather that really makes a difference. You don’t have to deal with a swell because you will have obviously get to swell a long time before a long time after a cyclone. So the aeroplanes only have to deal with the wind. So yeah, really, from a weather perspective, we’re very blessed. We’re on the southern end and way out at sea water temperatures board, we have no impact from what we call marine stingers. Marine stingers or you know the era Kainji or the box jellyfish that people have heard about, that predominantly a creature that breeds up in the freshwater creeks on the mainland, and then they flush out with the rain so they’re closer to the coastline. So you know, generally anything up to about 10 or 12, maybe 15 miles offshore, you rarely see them beyond that we’re 50 miles offshore. So we’re very blessed. We don’t see them at all out there. And because we’re south, we haven’t had any major impact from water warming. We’ve had some bleaching but I think bleaching has always been a natural part of the cycle. Just I think in recent years that bleaching has has worsened for various reasons. So lady Elliot’s just been a very, very blessed geographical location and position. That’s rewarding us for the efforts we’re putting.
Matt Waters 27:15
Referring back to that aerial photo. It looks like there’s a good bit of protection from that coral reef structure that’s around you go there’s quite a extends quite a way off the beach, doesn’t it for the full. Yeah,
Peter Gash 27:26
that’s right. And it tapers down. So from a diverse perspective, it’s really easy. When you dive you can tell how far off the shore you are by the depth you’re at. If you’re going down, then you’re going away from the island. If you’re getting into shallow What are you coming back up? It’s very easy to orient yourself from that perspective. And yeah, so it’s just a diverse Mecca, diverse paradise. And the other thing that the diver is good at lady LEDs. We talked about a couple of sea level change movements, right. So Lady Elliot started to form about 10,000 years ago and about 6000 years ago it stabilised sea level stabilised so the island created itself and formed and so it had trees and it had this hard concrete base and then these big waves and eventually they created a big blowhole a big cave and a series of shelfs along the edge and so the waves would have got boof up through the blowhole and down and then up came the sea level. So up went the island again. So the blowhole went underwater. So the blowhole is now a mindlessly beautiful diving cave that starts at the top at about 50 metres because sea level rose again in the last 3000 odd years and finished about 3000 years ago and stabilised so the islands now sitting there, and the blowhole which is out on the eastern side, which is obviously where our biggest weather comes from. And that’s what gave it the energy to create the Bible is you’re just diving along with sudden here’s this hole it’s about as maybe about eight metres round. It goes from 15 metres deep down to 25 then it makes a 90 degree turn and it goes straight out and it exits you on this face in about 28 metres of water. And there’s always big sharks and things just plough and up and down that face. And it’s just awesome to come out through that blowhole. It’s one of our prime dogs.
Matt Waters 29:06
So it’s vertical now that it looks like a chimney.
Peter Gash 29:09
Like a chimney, it goes straight down and then it turns 90 degrees and then it comes horizontally out on a face. And of course as you know, freediving is really becoming a popular thing these days and so now we’re seeing free divers go out there and they’ll put a line into the blowhole now go down the good ones can go down and out of it blows me away how they do it like I don’t mind
Matt Waters 29:31
you me both buddy. I think he’s barking mad but
Peter Gash 29:36
I think it is two and 1012 metres I’m happy but going down to 25 and then go on 20 odd metres along and then coming back up I do have a bloke in there or a person it obviously word is a bloke. I guess you know that you’re living in Australia but they do have a person. And for those listeners, you know what I’m talking about it in Ozzy we call a person or male a bloke. They have a bloke they And then we’re a person down there with a with a tank and a spare rig. So someone’s doing that as a free diver and gets into trouble, they can jump on a Railgun. And so they they do they do a lot of risk management when they do that. But yeah, that’s, it’s an amazing, amazing dice. I love it, I go down there. And actually, it’s given away my secret. In the in the roof of the cave, there’s a couple little places that are sort of indented, so you can go up in there and you can take your rag out a mountain, and you can fill it with air, you can just get just your head in there. With your mask off. You just got your head in there and up and down at 20 Odd metres and you’ve got your mask off and you’re facing this little cave which is big enough the head. I’m not too sure if Mr. pattied be happy seeing me do a
Matt Waters 30:43
bloody big end and oh for someone with a noggin my size.
Peter Gash 30:48
Just be careful you don’t want to scratch the top of it though when you go in and so.
Matt Waters 30:54
So would that be your favourite little dive spot by any chance?
Peter Gash 30:59
Look, you know what lady lady’s got so many beautiful places people ask me this all the time. Where’s your favourite dive site. And yeah, I love the boy hole and the tubes and heroes cave because it runs along this cliff face all along, they’re special. But you know, when we’ve got big weather, you can’t get near it. So we might not dive the blowhole for a month. And no one’s disappointed because whether you dive out at the lighthouse balmy, which is a Manta cleaning station. So almost always there’s mentors down there, you know, you know, what I’m after is three or four metres across and just swimming around and getting cleaned or coming over and, and they’re so intelligent, so inquisitive, that we’re diving there on the lighthouse bombing. And that’s our, probably our most popular dive site. Because it’s open all the time. It’s rare that you can’t dive it or up on the severance wreck, we had a Ferro cement concrete sailing sloop sink out there in the early 1990s. We don’t quite know what the guys had on board the sloop but they were pretty keen not to abandon until they got out of it what was in there anyway, that’s another story. But it’s, it’s out on the western side as well. And it’s a beautiful dive. And it’s home for a massive big moray eel, and a massive big groper you got to be careful poking your head into holes, because you never know what’s going to come out looking at you. But even just a snorkel, I get a real buzz out of just putting a snorkel on my back early in the morning. And going out into lagoon returning a metre and a half deep or less, depending on the tide. And swimming with little little turtles that are you know, six or 700 mil round, or finding octopus in there, or tiny little fish, just off the beach, come back, have a hot shower and go and have breakfast. Made it you just can’t make
Matt Waters 32:34
the pie. So yeah, as and when we do visit the missus, you’ll see me but he won’t see the message. She’s just gonna be out there snorkelling all the time. And then and then back to
Peter Gash 32:44
me, I’ll take her and share all the good spots, there’s plenty of them, you just never get sick of it, you know that you never get sick of it. And, and you just never see the same thing twice. Because it’s little lady LEDs a bit. I use this example. It’s a bit like a small example of the reef. And it’s like a small example of the planet. It’s, it’s all different, you know, it’s this place is different to that place, but all has its own beauty. And if you’ve got your eyes open, and you see it, you know, it’s remarkable in its biodiversity. That’s remarkable in its differences. So you’re swimming here, and you’re seeing this and think, wow, gorgeous, and then you go 100 metres up the track, or, you know, and you’re seeing something totally differently. Wow, is this the same place? And might have none of the things you saw back there, but it’s got a whole bunch of other stuff that you didn’t expect to see. So that’s why we’ve got people that people won’t come to me all the time. They know who we are, and we’re all just we’re all friends out there. We see it as a big family and they’ll compensate Pete This is my 25th Did you know that to have I got the record and I said well actually made this another bloke reckons he’s getting close to 30 visits, they just come and come and come and they see it like their beach home you know we feed them we give them hot water a good warm bed you know, hot shower and, and a diver a snorkel and, and they just love it and it’s just so popular. Our repeat visitation is awesome. It’s up in in well about 30% of our visitors are repeaters as we call them people who just come back
Matt Waters 34:07
and bail. I’ve had so many people talk about Lady earlier. I mean, there’s there’s been a few on the show and Jane Jenkins she was blabbering on about it for for quite some time. Don’s been there. Lisa? Lisa reback she has been up there a few times. And as she said it’s her number one location on Earth and she’s been a fair few places now diving she loves it.
Peter Gash 34:29
Wow. Yeah, normally we are very blessed and very lucky that we have such a beautiful place. And we’d love to show it off. But you know, a big part of it is I guess sharing it and being open and sharing because there’s nothing like sharing and seeing the smiles on people’s faces. I’m I love it. And one of the other things we see a lot of it lady let because because we’re so far away. There’s very little internet out there. We’ve we’ve got a satellite system, and we’ve controlled it because our young staff and our young crew really need internet they live in out there In this day and age, you’re just not going to keep them if they haven’t got that link. So we have minimal managed internet. So a business person can say, Okay, I just need to check my emails once a day. Yep, no problem. This is how I can do it. So. So the point I’m getting to is, basically, when you’re sitting in the dining room or in your room, there’s no internet. So it’s a digital detox. So we see enormous support from three generations get grandma and grandpa bringing out their children and bringing out the grandkids that three generations will come out. And they just love it because the grandkids instead of sitting there playing with their devices at dinnertime, they’re talking Gran and Gramps, they’re telling stories and the kids are actually going well. This is pretty good fun. Actually. I wasn’t even and only minimally device for a week and I’ve been fun. I’ve been chasing around after turtles and snails and mentors and sharks and fish that run around and just being kids having fun running around on the island seeing all the birds in the nest because where do you live it’s as I said, it’s a bird rookery, in the SR, a couple of 100,000 birds and they just live on the ground. Totally fearless of people, because people don’t hurt them. People that come they’re not there to hurt wildlife. So the wildlife is completely fearless. So the kids are walking up to birds in their nests, and seeing little babies like inches from their eyes and blows them away. And it does exactly what we want. And it turns them into wildlife warriors. It turns them into passionate environmentalist conservationists and they go home with an ability and a renewed energy and an ability to make a difference. And we tell them every one of us can make a difference. Every single one of us whether our circle of influence, it’s just me and the kid next to me, or someone who’s fortunate, like myself with an island to influence a lot of people or some unfortunate like you who has a podcast of, of passionate listeners, we try to influence as many people as we can to look after this planet. Because if we don’t worry our kids and our grandkids and our future generations gonna have we got to get smarter. We are smarter. I know we can do it. I know there’s tonnes and tonnes of reasons for hope. We just got to keep reminding ourselves. Yeah.
Matt Waters 36:55
And the beauty of that analogy there with the grandkids running around on the beach. You’ve only said like 20 minutes ago, at one point when you were seven years old. You got your eyes on Lady Elliot, I bet there’s a number of those grandkids that have been running around on Lady Elliot have done exactly the same thing and striving for that right now.
Peter Gash 37:14
You’re exactly right, that Absolutely. That’s what happened. And I love it. When people come and say that to me, they’ll come and say to me, I came here when I was a kid. And now I’m bringing my kids back. And I’m so proud that we can do it. And thanks for what you’re doing with the place. And that inspires me. That’s what inspires me to keep going. When I hear people, they thank you for your efforts. And so because it’s not about money, you know, one of our sayings is, this is not about making a fortune, this is about making a difference. Now we have to leave the place better than we found it and we’re working your hardest to do that. When you see the looks on people’s faces. No amount of money can buy that mean, obviously we have to be financially sustainable. Because if we’re not financially sustainable, we won’t have a business for long, we won’t be business sustainable, and we won’t look after the environment. Now that’s pretty obvious. You know, we’d love it to be idealistic, but the world’s a realistic place. And you’ve got to live that way. But we run it as a business that pays its way. And we’re really proud of seeing that, you know, we were there accommodation, we’ve only got 44 rooms. 150 beds are allowed over 150 guests in the house at night. We never go near that number, we usually sit around 90 or 100. Because that’s a good number. We’re comfortable at that. And we’re highly in demand. We just say no a lot. And I hate saying no. But I can only cope with so many people. And I can only make sure that so many people have a good time. It’s no good having too many people and people going home unhappy. So we often get sent to us by other business people, why don’t you put your prices up? Because you could charge a lot more because the demand is there. And oh yeah, we probably could. However, I think back to this little kid that was seven years old, that fell in love with the things that have now inspired me to be where I am and think if if I couldn’t have afforded to get to do these things, if I make it too expensive that the average mom and dad can’t bring their kids out there and enjoy it and fall in love with it. That’s been unfair, I’m then being too specific and allowing the wealthy people to come there. This to me is not the right thing to do. So we work really hard at trying to keep a price point that mum and dad from wherever they might be can come can bring the kids at least once a year and inspire them. But also for those who want to spend a bit more money then we’ve also got a little bit a little bit upmarket, not flashy, it’s definitely not the Sheraton never going to be no got a couple of rooms with an air conditioner, for example, just little bits and pieces to make a little bit more comfortable. And if you’re prepared to pay a bit more than Yeah, we’re happy but we’re never going to go away from remaining accessible to what I call the ordinary bloke, the ordinary family mum and dad and the kids need to be able to come out there and of course, the school groups, the college groups, uni groups, we see so many of them come out. And so I try my best to get up there when I can and talk to them and inspire them on a team does it inspire them into making a difference in
Matt Waters 39:58
them? And I think that As soon as we’re talking about money’s there, I think the cost is important. Because what you’re doing there has to, like you say, Be self sustainable. And the key part of that being self sustainable is having your visitors there, which, which funds what you want to do. And those people that are coming, you know, they, they’re there to see the beauty that that is the island itself. So there is a cost, there’s no way around that.
Peter Gash 40:28
But you come and buy it.
Matt Waters 40:30
Yeah. And I’ve worked on it. I’ve worked in remote locations before that, you know, the price point goes up because of that, you know, having a fly and all that kind of stuff. However, when you do get to that point of being too expensive, it becomes counterproductive. You end up, you know, you’re aiming at the rich people. But if the rich people don’t want to come, then, you know, you start to struggle. So I think what you’re doing and, and what you’ve just said is bang on the money.
Peter Gash 41:00
Thank you. Yeah, well, we were certainly being rewarded for our efforts by our guests coming in and said, we’re not getting rich out of it. But we’re paying our bills, we got 120 crew, they all get paid every Friday, they’re all well paid. We look after our team, we pay all our bills on time. I’m not going to retire wealthy, but I don’t care what my wealth is in the legacy that I’m leaving today, the things I’m doing, hopefully, showing other people how you can do it differently. And of course, what I hope to leave behind which is a place that’s that’s somewhat improved from what we found, you know, and showing people mentoring other young people we employ a lot of young people mentoring them into, Hey, get out and have a go do do something different. Make a difference. Don’t follow the beaten path. Have a goal of making a difference, because you can make it’s
Matt Waters 41:44
worth it. I mean, we are talking because of one of your ex employees. What’s his ash? Smith? Yeah, yeah, he messaged me out of nowhere. Yeah, you need to speak to Peter. You need him on your podcast, you know, and wow. And ashes. Ash, good call brother.
Peter Gash 42:04
Got on. Yes, thanks, mate. When you come back, we need you to drive the boat. He’s a diver driver. And he’s a diet guy with a whole bunch of energy too. And he’s just a real Dynamo. And that’s what guys like Ash, exactly what attracts are attracted to Lady, excuse me. Amazing people, passionate people, people that care about beautiful places. And that’s an example Ash is rewarding us that Lady Elliot, because of what he’s seen us do. If he didn’t believe in what we’re doing, he wouldn’t have told you about us, he wouldn’t have recommended us, you know,
Matt Waters 42:35
this marvellous 120 staff, I’ve just got to pick up on that. That’s that’s a lot of people to look after him feed Mike.
Peter Gash 42:44
It is made it is. And when the pandemic broke, at the time that the pandemic broke, we had 110. And so you didn’t have quick math. So to that our payroll every Friday was pretty big. And we don’t have a rich mom and dad. So it has to come in each week and get back out again on Friday. So when it stopped coming in, it was oh, this is not going to last very long. And we’re going to do this and you start selling your house or whatever else that even that’s not going to last too long with those sort of numbers. So we sat down with the team pretty quickly. And we said okay, how are we going to work this. And they will pull their you know, they pulled their belts in, as we all did and did our best looked at ways and then of course, thankfully, the government came up with job keeper, we worked hard at that. We then realised we didn’t need as many aeroplanes as we had at the time. So we’re fortunate, we managed to move a couple of those out, which are big expenses, which then freed up some capital, which we boldly poured straight back into keeping them all busy doing seven on seven off doing work on the place, trusting praying that within a couple of months, we’re going to be back open. So we do all the jobs we needed to do while it was closed that we could normally not do reroof the dining room modifies the kitchen, and the crew were just all pleased. And so when we restarted again in June, July, we still had our 100 million people, then we’re sitting at around 120 at the moment. So we’ve had an amazing support by our team. And now it’s people are not all on the island. Matt, you know, you’ve got to see it’s a complex operation. That’s why we’ve got to have got to be read maybe. Anyhow, so they become me. You’ve got pilots, you’ve got aircraft engineers, you’ve got reservations, people, ladies and gentlemen on the phones making bookings. You’ve got sales and marketing people. You’ve got the team on the island here, whether you’ve got boat drivers, dive instructors, you’ve got maintenance crew keeping the solar power, the desalination, the wastewater working in the kitchen, you got chef’s kitchen, hands, you’ve got housekeepers, bar attendants, administration, you’ve got the revegetation team, you know, it’s a massively complex operation. And it just ticks along because every single one of them is committed and passionate like Ash, that sort of person that care. And they’re proud to be a part of it and proud to be playing in their path, whether they’re with us for three months or three years, or in some cases, 20 years, we’ve got a lot of people that have been with us for over 10, sometimes 15 or 20 years, and print, just proud to be a part of it. Because as we say, they don’t work for us. They work with us. We all work together on this.
Matt Waters 45:15
I can’t imagine why anybody would want to work for 1015 20 years on a beautiful location like that.
Peter Gash 45:24
I must be crazy. In some of them, I can think of Claude, one of our chefs, he’s French, and he’s most amazing patriots. Pastry Chef. Anyway, Claude will tell me every day I’ll go up and say G’day, Claude, whatever you cooked us today, oh, pizza, I had the most amazing snorkel this morning, I saw this and this and this or I had it. I was on Morning shifts. I’m having a snorkel this afternoon. And that’s the sort of people they want to go snorkelling every day. They want to see what they’re going to see. And they just think themselves lucky to be living and working in such a spectacular location night and I think we’re all very apt to do
Matt Waters 45:56
- For sure. Hey, thinking back to way back when you when you took over? What kind of I’m trying to get a picture in my head of what it was kind of like that. I mean, the infrastructure and did he did he go hammer and Tonga building new outbuildings? Or was it a slow process? Did you do take the bull by the horns and start legging it?
Peter Gash 46:21
Well, the infrastructure had evolved very slowly from that 6970 When Don Adams built the first resort, he built an iframe. And he lived in the iframe. And he cooked in the iframe. And if you came to visit and you stayed in a tent, and slowly he put a few tents up, then he put up a dive shop. And it was all very rustic, rough, pretty, pretty poor quality, but did the job he had a generator, he had this and then they got a better generator, then I’m slightly better this and a slightly better that and then Don sold on. And the French family came along. And they did a really good job of putting together quite a decent resort. They put a bunch of accommodation in there. They went I think they put in, they put they had 12 tents and 27 units that were an old secondhand mine site that they got off a coal mine out in, in Blackwater. And they brought it out and they assembled it. So that gave them decent accommodation. Then they put together, they’d had a kitchen, they made the kitchen bigger, they build an education centre, this all evolved, you can see it sort of evolved over time. And then when Devin Whitaker came along, he just kept it in good shape, improve some of the machinery he’s a machinery guy, he improved the generators, the diesel generators, that sort of stuff. But it was still a real basic place and very rustic for one of a word. And, and because the lease holder that was there before us had a lease that was terminating an O five and had no guarantee of a renewal they were limited with what they were prepared to and wisely weren’t going to spend any more than they needed to. So we took over it was in really really poor condition. And I had rooms that were rotted out because you imagine a metal roof covered in birds and in the summertime it’ll get up to three or four inches of bird poop on it and freshwater rain and salt and so the the place was in really poor condition. And we knew our first job was to make it safe and usable. So for the first 10 years, all we did was threw money at putting new roofs windows doors, fixing painting, repairing the you know, the timber stumps have a metal strap that goes up to hold the building to the stump cyclone, bolt rotted out gone, we had to drill them out, put new stump tiedowns in, there was massive the work. And it was just catching up with you know, with respect the previous day, we were fortunate in that we got in when things have changed, maybe it was because of what we did. But prior to us the resort wasn’t popular wasn’t well known, was a beautiful place. But they didn’t have the numbers when we took over they were you know, eight or 10 people a night in a place you know, as I said we sit at 90 now, so it’s changed a lot. So we spent a lot of money on it just initially bringing it up to what I considered safe putting safety switches on all electrical circuits because none of electrical circuits had electrical safety switches, all that type of stuff which is easy when you say it quickly but it takes a lot of time and money and effort way out there to do it and bring the carpenters in the tradesmen the electricians or plumbers. So 10 years was spent doing that but in that first 10 years our goal was to make a difference and to change from dirt generators, diesel burning generators to solar power because a the generators were burning 550 to 600 litres of diesel every day, which when you add that up was about $300,000 of fuel a year. And we had to bring it over on the barge from Gladstone which is 18 hours by then we had to store it in tanks and none of the tanks were abundant at that time when we took over. So we had some serious challenges and we knew that so we we started fixing the buildings at the same time we went hell for leather to find a way to get a solar power station we tried to get the two major power suppliers in Queensland to do it and sell us solar power. Because it was cost us about $1.20 a kilowatt hour to make our power with diesel generators. And so we were prepared to pay for solar power. And but no one wanted to they laughed at me and said, You can’t do that. So we did it. And at our expense, and very quickly, we got it down to 50 cents a kilowatt hour, which helped us enormously. And so now we’re down around 20 cents a kilowatt hour, because they’re making it out of solar. So with resources,
Matt Waters 50:30
I’m an engineer geekier as well. Have you done it? Have you done it? Because it because the solar solar batteries and gels are two main companies have said no, you can’t do it. But you’ve gone and done it.
Peter Gash 50:42
Yeah. And because they saw it that islands live on diesel generators, you’re talking 2005 2006. Nowadays, they wouldn’t say that to you. They’d say, yeah, no problem. We can put a solar system in there. But all those years ago, and it’s not that many years, really but but so much has changed in the Solar World. You look at and go, Oh, of course you do that. But back then it wasn’t Of course you do that no one had ever really done it quite like we did. But one of the things I learned when I became a pilot was I realised I had to become an engineer to keep my aircraft fleet going. So I’m also a craft engineer, just one of the things I studied late at night, for a lot of years, to entoma, 60 or 80, or 90 hours a week, whatever, I might have been doing that. So I understood engineering. And I looked and thought, of course we can do it. There’s plenty of sunlight out here. Well, how are we going to store it, so we’re using batteries to store it, and we store it up all day, and then we use it all night. And yeah, it’s been a process. And we’ve had a lot of two steps forward one step back stuff. But that’s the only way you go forward, you just got to keep hammering at it. So. So we built the solar power station in that first 10 years that we’re also renovating the resort and bringing it into what I consider was a semi safe, semi usable place, got rid of the diesel burners. So we saved 300,000 a year. And we saved about 200, because it was costing us about 100 a year then, for our powers that we slowly got it cheaper and cheaper. So we just reinvested that 200 that we weren’t gonna spend on fuel back into more solar panels. So we went from 96 panels to 1100 panels now. So now our fuel costs three or $4,000 a month we burned so little. And it’s a long way from what it was. And so the first 10 years was fix the whole place up, fix it, fix it, fix it, make it and obviously the key word is safety. People’s Safety is paramount because you cannot have a situation where people are feeling that they’re not safe, comfortable either in the building or in the water. So we had to work on the boats, the provision of the service, that sort of thing. That place was in a different time, what I call a different time zone, it was just still existing in the 1960s. And we were trying to bring it into the 21st century. So we did that for 10 years. And that was when we started to get noticed people said wow, look at what these people have done. So we after 10 years of doing that and planting trees all about our own expense. We spent nearly a million of our own funds, which came out of trading, we didn’t have a million sitting in the bank. It was whatever was spare in the bank we planted and we did a lot of voluntary stuff a lot of volunteers helped us by 2015 Suddenly, people were saying look at what these people are doing. We got to help them. So a group called the Great Berrie Foundation came out there and saw us and said we were going to raise some funds we’re gonna help you What do you need? And how are you what you’re doing with this vegetation is remarkable. What you do with this whole place is remarkably want to support you lady called Anna mazdan and her team, the great berry foundation, so John Schubert and and they just they backed us. And because we put our money where our mouth was we’d done it first we didn’t ask for help. We just did it. And then slowly we got help offered to us, which is what led to our visit in 2018 of Prince Charles the king he came in in April 2018 when he was out here in Australia for the opening of the Commonwealth Games. And he came to Australia and his his brief was I want to go to the reef I want to see the place on the reef that takes the most care of and he’s looking after the environment and everyone he spoke to his words to me were everyone we spoke to my team spoke to said you blokes on Lady Elliot don’t go anywhere else. So he did he came and that really that was when people really went whoa, this is what he’s where this little place, you know, tiny little island with 35 staff on there at any given day and you maybe 80 or 90 guests and weigh at it, see what he mean. But he he saw our nursery we had over 10,000 plants in there. He saw the trees and the vegetation we’d already planted. He saw our commitment to the environment is our commitment to our people. And he he’s you know he gave us support by virtue of his his presence being there. And his presence. And of course it was more than us and what I wanted and what we saw happen was he supported the whole roof. We were already heading in the right direction we turn the corner and we were heading in the right direction with our revegetation with our attorney Round of the challenges that the resort was in good shape, the reef was recovering. The island was recovering and had this magnificent forest coming back. It was, I believe he had because it was only four days after he left Lady Elliot that the largest amount of government funding ever was given to the Great Barrier Reef. And that was in the form of a $440 million deposit into the great Barry foundations account to look after the reef. There was four or five days after Prince Charles left late eel it now I don’t know about you, but I believe in miracles I also believe timing, you know, I think let’s just say
Matt Waters 55:37
I think something an invite a comeback now that he’s stepped up a gear as well.
Peter Gash 55:43
Because he did he invite the the meeting, he had it laid out it wasn’t just him and I he brought 28 of Australia’s most influential CEOs of the largest companies, you name it, they were there, we had bhp stock, casinos, Microsoft, Virgin Chronos, we had all these senior people, we had the Federal Environment Minister, the state Environment Minister, the head of LendLease, the Fitzgerald family, all these people were really passionate, and they came out and he challenged me said, look at what this family are doing here. What are you people doing? What have you you guys control the biggest companies in this country? What have you done for the reef. And it was it was polite, but it was reality. And most of those people have already been doing amazing things. But it inspired them to want to do a bit more, you know, so we felt pretty dang chuffed about that, that we played a little part in this whole big thing about not just Lady Elliot, but the whole reef. And obviously, ultimately, the bloody planet, you know, that’s what we’re here for. Because without without an atmosphere without a planet, none of us are going to be guests.
Matt Waters 56:47
And you’ve just found a perfect example. Because I think in this day and age, we’ve got so many people that are totally focused on their income, not only for themselves, but for corporations and looking towards corporations that are bringing in all those billions and billions of dollars. They want to be put in, or they want to be seen to be doing the right thing for for the globe and for the environment. Well have a look at Lady Elliot have a look at what can be done in a 25 year period. Everyone keeps banging on about, we’re going to do this by 2050, we’re going to do that by 2050. We’ll stop talking about it and just fucking do it. Lady Elia is the perfect example of what happens when you do do it.
Peter Gash 57:31
You now that made and I get a bit frustrated. But I also accept that it was a lot easier for me than it is for a government or a big city because you’ve got varying competing interests, different things are we really, you’ve probably got plenty of politicians that want to do this. But then they’ve got others with various levels of influence that are trying to hold them back for whatever the reason is a lot of agendas. As you know, our agenda was really clear at Lady Elliot, this is the race we’re running. This is where we’re going. So I mean, I learned that from riding my bike, I know I’m going from here to there, and I’m getting there as quick as I can get there. And nothing’s gonna get in my way. And and that’s what we’ve done. And so you’re we’re proud of the fact that within 10 years, we went from burning 600 litres of diesel a day to burning zero. We’re 100% renewable. Yeah, sure we have our days when we got to burn a bit because it’s been overcast, we’re not, it’s hard to say it’s hard to say you’re totally renewable. But we will eventually be to the point where we don’t need the diesels. We’ll keep them until we’re 100% sure of that. But the point is what you said, Yeah, we did it in 10 or 11 years can be done. So if we can do it, even if the other guys take 20 or 30, they just you know, they’ve got their battles like we all do, but they got to keep fighting it and, and we got to keep supporting them to remember governments are only us, you know, people get the government they deserve. You got to back the GM and you got to support them. We’ve always worked closely with whatever government whatever colour shirt they’re wearing, and supporting them. And they’ve always supported us. And we have an amazingly good relationship with all government authorities, because we see it that we’re a partnership. I can’t do what I do without their support. And they want to be involved with us because they genuinely have not yet met a politician or a bureaucrat that doesn’t love what they see us doing. So they’re humans, they’re their mums and dads, they got kids and they got grandkids. So when they see that it lights up their eyes. So that’s another level of our influence is when we drive in politicians and say, Hey, come on, come on. Let’s all get on. This will give you a hand you give his hand when the UNESCO issue was on back in 16. And there was this talk of whether the Great Barrier Reef would be listed or not. The Australian Government had these delegates come out to Australia and every single one of them came with me for the day to Lady Elliot and I just gave it to him black and white. These are the good things that have happened on the reef. These are the not so good things that have happened on the reef. Have a look at yourself. You’re looking at a beautiful part of the world. But I flew them there from Brisbane so I showed them the positives and negatives of that and I showed them around the southern end of the reef. And they loved it and they loved the frankness it yeah the reef suffers from heat, it suffers from wave action, it suffers from crown of thorns starfish itself suffers from runoff. But it’s not one of those things. It’s a combination of all of those things that have caused it, I call it the death of a million cuts, millions of tiny actions have led the reef and the planet to where we are today, just going to take millions and tiny action to get us back. And we all just have to work together on it.
Matt Waters 1:00:22
Well said, Well, next time you get a load of politicians out there, just telling you to focus on getting the nets out as well. It’s getting right under my skin that I keep tagging the relevant politicians to come into the studio and talk about it. None of them do. I’ve been blocked by a couple of them just for tagging them and asking the cut asking the single question. That’s crazy. Yeah,
Peter Gash 1:00:46
question. Yeah, and probably most of those people that haven’t come probably believe, like you do. But again, they’re caught between the agenda of lots of different people with different thoughts and their responsibility to safety for the people. And, and also, let’s be honest, I’m a politician, and I’ve just made the call, and I’m going to pull that out. And then all sudden, little Freddie goes down the beach, and he gets eaten by a shark. So Mum and Dad, and now got a lawyer sitting in their pockets. And we’re gonna sue him because he made that. So our whole system,
Matt Waters 1:01:18
this is why I wanted to come in, let’s have an open and frank conversation here in, you know, somewhere that you’re not going to get barraged and victimised, and chest poked, and just just see both sides of the story. You know, I think that’s a very important role. In a discussion, we’ve got to have both sides of the story. And at the moment, we’ve only got one.
Peter Gash 1:01:41
Yeah, we see, we see the mess and we look at it from the air, we fly up there in the morning, we see the boats coming out clearing up those sharks up the East Coast. And it’s like, if you want to be sick, you know, what’s going on down there. And you see these magnificent animals that we swim with all the time. And we know that, you know, within reason, you know, unless something’s out of balance somewhere, they’re generally quite safe to swim with, and quite safe to be involved with. But now and again, something happens, but I don’t think the the response warrants what’s happening. That’s my opinion. But you know, I don’t know all of the facts, but certainly on with you. I’d like to see on those those net
Matt Waters 1:02:17
talks. Yeah, I mean, I could go on about it for hours, but we won’t will detract away from Lady Elliot. We, let’s, in fact, we can move from net to humpbacks, you get the humpbacks grand pasture.
Peter Gash 1:02:30
And the east. That’s, that’s, to me, that’s just a really great story of hope. You know, like 200 years ago, we didn’t have much oil and coal. So we as when I say we, the collective us, you know, society. We didn’t have that. So we use Whale oil and blah, blah, you know what we did? You know, whalebone, we used all that stuff. It was a great product, and we, so we hunted them. And we at the time, thought that was an endless supply. And we hunted him and hunted him and hunted him. And by the 1960s, they were pretty much gone. And here on the east coast of Australia, this is East Coast herd, it had gone from something like 40,000 animals down to potentially less than 1000 by close to tangling the station in 1965. And there was less than 1000. When I started flying in the mid 1980s. You rarely saw a Whale. But thankfully, nature was hanging on by the skin of its teeth, and they’ll growing at about 10% a year. So from 65 to 85. And that 20 years, they got up to two or 3000, maybe 4000 We started to see him from the air. So we started taking people to see him and we said you bring in your cannon to shoot the whales, but you’re not bringing a harpoon cannon, you’re bringing a Canon camera and you’re gonna start to change opinion. And we we did. This was long before I actually had Lady Elliot it was when we were still a tourist operator to Lady Musgrave and other things. And we’d fly people to Harvey Bay and let them go and take photos of whales. And take that back and say show your friends and family what you did, how much enjoyment you get out of seeing these whales. try and convince your politicians good news. A lot of Japanese people came and saw us at that time. And now as you know, I don’t have to tell you that the numbers now are up well in excess of 30,000 animals. So they come up to the Great Barrier Reef every winter. They come up, you’re around they’re either mating or they’re reproducing. Now they’re having a car for their mating. And so the males are doing that bit and the females are doing the other bit either reproducing. Mating or they’re having a calf. And so we seem they’re in great numbers but the whole reef is this the joy of it doesn’t matter whether your cell phone Lady Elliot are up in the Whitsundays right up there in Cannes, on the northern end of the reef, you get enormously exciting wild experiences. They love it. They come into those nice quiet lagoons because that’s what the reef is. It’s a big lagoon member we started talking about up to 20 or 30 metres deep. The whales love it. They feel protected up there. They feel sheltered they have their calves, they frolic they play, you get out on a boat. There’s it’s hard to put words to the to the emotional experience that people get when they get close to an Amazing holodeck while 40 tonnes 45 tonnes in weight and 40 Odd metres long.
Matt Waters 1:05:07
Even just the noise of them under the water. I mean, I experienced it in South Africa, you know on a dive and the South African visibility is crap. So I couldn’t see them. But just just hearing them in the distance and I kind of reminisced on that a couple of days ago as a mate of mine, John Kennedy’s he’s up on the, on the GBR as part of the crown of thorns team. And he’s, he’s doing it. Do you do it? I
Peter Gash 1:05:33
think I do. I’m pretty sure I’ve met him around with the crown and so on. Super, super
Matt Waters 1:05:37
nice guy. Yeah, lovely fella. But he was on the, you know, those boards that they’re using to pull divers through the water and get the coral checks. And the just the, the noise were just spectacular. Absolutely stunning.
Peter Gash 1:05:53
Well, you know, on that subject, you know, why do we say to people in the Whale season, which is sort of May June, through until October, on the southern end of the reef where we are, that’s about when you’ll see them either going north or playing around or heading back south. You’ll certainly hear them when you go snorkelling almost every time you go snorkelling or diving, you’re gonna hear whales singing, it’s crazy. And you’ll almost certainly see them from the beach. And if you’re on the boat, you’ll see them from the boat and now and again, and it’s more and more because the population is growing up in the water, snorkelling and a Whale will come over and do some people watching come over. And people when they’re in their diving have got whales gone right over their head or come up and then just go on our website or on our social media, our Facebook or Instagram. Have a look at some of the photos of the experiences are diverse in our snowballs have had there. And it’s just crazy. But we’re I’m getting to is the other day. I was in your house because we didn’t have the Lady Elliot has an old historic lighthouse that was put there. 100 years ago, 150 years ago now actually, the houses are 100 the building for White. So 150 I was in the house, which is about 50 metres from the beach. Really loud noise. I don’t know how that’s gonna go with your podcasts made anyway, it sound like a bloody elephant. I’d been in Africa and I love everything. Let’s hit him off. That’s a bloody elephant can’t be it’s got to be a Whale. So I bolted over to the beach. And if you know whales, you know what I mean? When I talk about heat run, it was a it was a pot of males on a heat run. And they were grunting and snorting. And when they’re really active, they’re up a lot because they’re trying to get oxygen because they’re being in our power. And they were grunting it was just crazy how loud it was. And all these people were standing the victim What is this? And they’re 50 metres from the shore and they have no heat. I mean, it just, I just thought I thought I’ve seen everything and now I’m watching on my Whale heat run. And I could hear it from my house. What’s going on?
Matt Waters 1:07:43
You’re not gonna get that in, in naremburn and Sydney.
Peter Gash 1:07:48
It’s just one of the rewards for all my years and long nights.
Matt Waters 1:07:52
Those days, those kind of things that just stick with you for life, though. You’re never gonna forget that. And neither of those people on the beat.
Peter Gash 1:07:59
I know Amanda and my wife came running over behind me Julie’s and she said, Wow, I’ve never heard that. We’ve heard it. We were in Tonga and we saw heat runs a lot and we’ve seen it from boats, but never thought I would see it from the beach and hear it from the house. It was like wow. And so just tells me the you know, the reasons for hope. And there’s another one wild populations up around 40,000 And they’re just living their normal life again, they’re just doing what whales do and we’re just interacting and seeing and observing and I get excited thinking about all the other species that if we give them a chance.
Matt Waters 1:08:32
Now you nice little lead in there. You do get mantas a lot and who mentioned the cleaning station earlier on. And forgive me I forgotten the name of it. But you’ve got to some some form of Manta project there as well.
Peter Gash 1:08:47
You just now that you got the name it’s called Project Manta at spearheaded by a beautiful lady called Patty Townsend. Dr. Cathy Townsend. She started when she was with the University of Queensland back in 2005. Just remarkable lady and remarkable team of people she surrounded herself with. And she like me now is now trying to train the younger people to look after it. So project Manta, to put it in simple terms is a project that started back in the mid 2000s, just after we took over calf came and asked me Would we support them because like most of these uni projects that didn’t have a whole lot of funding. So we thought, wow, we can’t really afford this. But I think the words I use was we can’t afford not to because the whales at that time weren’t protected. We knew very little about them. And me looking at them from a Scuba tank or snorkel was only going to give them really limited help, like limited help. But some scientists getting involved. We’re going to take a whole lot of difference. And we thought there was maybe 50 or 60 managers hung around Lady Elliot. So Kathy and her team set set forth on the project Manta and they started to document how many or the kids take a photo under their belly you see that what they call their fingerprint on their footprint, the shape the patents, The belly is different every animal and I know cats up over 1000 animals they filmed on lady plant now they’ve taken photos off, including inspected clue. So he’s the most rare Manta on the planet because he’s to the best of our knowledge. He’s the only one that’s on his belly. Yeah. melanistic pink I believe is the word she uses black on the top pink on the bottom most men is a black on the top, white on the bottom. Just another one of those rewards, I think for looking after men. And so what Kathy and her team have done is every year they’ve studied them, they’ve learned about them. They’ve been on the science door. They’ve been on the council’s door that the government’s door looking for funding, they created a film about it. And that won an award or some I think it might have just correct me here. But capital tell me I was wrong here. But it was I think it was the Cannes Film Festival there was a film festival of sorts. And cat had this amazing movie about what they’d been doing. And it got really great publicity, which publicity breeds more publicity breeds more success brings more support. So she’s had enormous support with that. And we’re looking like we’re just getting some more support to renew the project for another three years, which we’re excited about because now she’s trying to find out a really key thing is, where are these animals popping? Where are they having their little baby mantis? And to the best of our knowledge, no one’s ever filmed that.
Matt Waters 1:11:13
Yeah, the birth is not being filmed, but I did notice maybe two or three years ago now. For the first time ever it was a meeting was caught on on film. I think that might have been Indonesia, neutropenia, or something like that.
Peter Gash 1:11:30
So mentors are amazing, amazing, innately intelligent animals. And through the process of project Manta Patty dive put out a four or five best places in the world to swim and see mentors. And the first one they mentioned. So I assume that means we were number one was Lady Elliot. So we were pretty chuffed about that. And that came as a result of the project Manta highlighting the strength of what was there. If they had just asked me I said, I think that’s 50 Maybe 100 men are you getting the girl take yet for snorkel or dive, we’ll see if we can show you one. But when the science got involved and did it in a scientific manner, then we’re able to get facts and with facts, we can make a difference. And so you know, that’s the key thing that that I’ve learned off Kathy and her team is, you know, science may are hand in hand with, with an entrepreneur like me, a conservationist like me, I’m not a scientist, but I’m a driver, I want to make stuff happen. But also, we need cat skills. We all need each other’s different skills, to work collaboratively to make a difference. And we couldn’t have done what we’ve done without people like her and her team and so many other amazing teams, you know, our revenge team, Jim and John and Annie, those people that really make a difference with what’s going on.
Matt Waters 1:12:43
I love that word, use Collaborate collaboration in my book is number one in everything that we need to do.
Peter Gash 1:12:50
Couldn’t agree more, man, it’s such a key word. And look, I’ll be honest, like all young people, when I was a young bloke, I didn’t probably understand that and see it. And I’m still I still consider myself a young bloke, because I must be. So I’m still learning. And that’s the key thing I’m learning is that the more you collaborate, the more you work together, the more you will achieve. And you support each other and you see each other’s differences. And you recognise that we’re not always going to see eye to eye, I’m going to see it a bit differently. We can all be level headed and sit down and talk about it will generally find the solution to how do we fix this problem? Or how’s it best dealt with? And, and you know, and then we go and then we look at it and go wow, look at together what
Matt Waters 1:13:25
we’ve achieved. Yeah. Ecotourism? Obviously, a lot of our subjects here is about how and how you as Would you would you say, your location? Would you call yourself a company as well?
Peter Gash 1:13:49
Yeah, we’re a proprietary.
Matt Waters 1:13:50
So how, how else are you reducing your carbon footprint I’m trying to think about, because another arm of me is that I’ve got a travel company, as you know, for diving, and more and more over the last few years, apart from COVID times, more and more people that that want to book, one of the main questions they ask is about how the operator that they’re looking at going and staying with is reducing their impact on the local environment. And we’ve already alluded to the fact or pointed out that that you guys are you know, bloody good at what you do. But there’s a I think there’s still a number of elements there that we’re probably not touched on, which are vitally important in how you go about your everyday routines
Peter Gash 1:14:38
are yet there’s so much and I mean, we haven’t got enough time on this podcast, to be honest with you, but I’ll try and touch on it quickly. You’ve heard me talk about our solar power, that reduced our use of diesel, which has reduced our risk of having it stored out there, greenhouse gas emissions Weigh Down, you know, 98% down, storage has reduced the risk of bringing it out there in the back. arches is reduced, as well as the cost. Obviously, that’s a really big one saving us a lot of money, but it’s saving our environment. But that then enables us, because we’re in an a UNESCO listed World Heritage National Park on ladywell. It’s a green total Green Zone, no fishing, no spirit, no taking, can’t do anything that’s not approved. We can’t drink water off the roof because roofs covered bird poop. We can’t drill a hole in the island and take the water out of there because that’s a very, very delicately balanced ecosystem. And it’s got a fine layer of water that feeds the tree. So what are we going to water from? We have to desalinate, it’s too far to bring it. So we desalinated and desalination, as you know, is a very power hungry method. Well, we get it from the sun for free, because our solar power drives out the cell, you make about 30,000 litres of fresh water from the sun direct every day. 30,000 a day Love it. Love the day a day, yeah, we hold about 400,000 litres, we’ve got about 12 or 14 days of spare to have the system breaks, we got that much time to fix it, or else we’re sending everyone home because without water, you’re not doing anything else. But then the water goes into the shower and the toilet and the cooking and the washing. And then it’s got to be treated. You can’t just we’re going to send it you just don’t flush it down the plug. It’s got to go into a wastewater treatment plant. And it has to be treated to an A standard. So it can be used and and managed in a UNESCO listed World Heritage marine park. So we treat it through a wastewater treatment plant. When we took over the water was at a C standard. Not very good. But it was approved. And that’s what I mean about the old resort and the old way of doing things. And the new one we wanted a we actually wanted a plus. And the difference between a and a plus is UV sterilisation, you’re going to love this in a minute. I’ll get to it. But so to get to our a standard, we had to build a new system. And we looked and looked and they were all a million dollars. We didn’t have a minion and we talked and we asked, and we found a bloke and we collaborated and we built a system that cost us about 300,000 and put our water out of a stand and we thought we were pretty chuffed. We couldn’t get a plus we didn’t have enough spare power using our DSL to run the UV. And then it was so simple. We’re sitting there having a cup of tea, a few of the blokes will talk and someone said, UV Doesn’t it come from the sun? Isn’t there a way we can get it for free from the sun. So down the refuse Centre, we went and found an old big roll water tank. And so after the war had finished all its other treatment, we put it into there. And then we cut the top out of the tank and we let the sun shine in order that the standard improved. We thought, how can we make it better. So then we put a solar panel and a solar powered pump in the bottom of it. And then a heap of that Elson like plastic like Corrugated Roofing plastic. And when the sun’s out, the pump runs and the water cycles up and it gets really closely UV sterilised and oxygenates it and water goes out a plus, that’s considered some of the best treated water on the reef, cost me about a third of what I was getting quoted, and I’m making the best water I could possibly make. So then we just irrigate it irrigated out of the airstrip and into our revegetation programme. And we monitor it, we test it every day, we send it away for an external test every month, we have to report it and the condition and the quality of the water. Just and we’ve got teams of in our maintenance team, a couple of the guys have been to school and learn about running a wastewater treatment plant. And they love it. They specialise in because it’s it’s a living organism and wastewater treatment plant has all these little bugs doing their job, you know. And when you study it, it’s crazy. Learn that.
Matt Waters 1:18:26
So are they when they take all the rubbish out and the crap and all that malarkey? Are you reusing that again? Is it being turned into fertiliser? Or are you getting rid of it offshore?
Peter Gash 1:18:37
With the new system? There’s very little we just when we had the old system every three months, we had to dig the malarkey out as you call it. And let me tell you, no one was fighting to beat the malarkey out. And then we would put it in a hole and burn it. That was what had been done for years. And we didn’t like that one little bit for a whole host of reasons. And Lisa witches were burning it smoke all the dramas, the new system, we’ve just emptied one of the tanks and we didn’t have to use shovels because it was such a small volume of it just using the sludge pump after 10 years. And so we just send it off, we just put it into IBCs and send it off. It wasn’t hard to deal with it. And we think now we’ve worked out because the guy who helped us design it said you’ll never have to dig malarkey out. And we were hoping that was the case we did. So we said okay, this is where I mean about what we just got to keep adjusting and getting better. So we we’ve now put another pre tank in, which means we’ve got even more process at that point. So we should hopefully never have to well the volume of it is so small as to you know, just to be not really relevant to the question. So that’s power water waste, but then our food scraps on an all our waste food because we needed soil to plant our new trees and new vegetation and the island was a windswept barren rock where you’re gonna get soil from if you bring it in you’ve got a quarantine issue who knows what bugs and beetles are gonna bring in? Metal this food scrap so Pretty simple collaboration was let’s put it through and composter we had all this cardboard we they had initially when we took over, they were burning, we stopped burning and started flying it off, we’re still a cost and was okay, well, why don’t we just mulch it up, put it with the food scrap and compost it. Long story short, that’s what we do. We have a big eight metre long composter all our food every day. And all that cardboard gets mashed up goes into this thing. But every two weeks it comes out at the back end, it just continues continually coming out all the time, then it goes into a windrow where it’s turned, its temperature goes up to about 75 degrees. That turns we then slowly put wood chip in from some of the old dead trees and green mulch and stuff and turn it and after about six months, it’s the most magnificent black soil that we use to our trees and to nature given it to us from our food scraps. So no longer because of food scraps product were buried in a pit in the ground and covered in lime. Can you imagine in a spectacularly beautiful thing like the island was, so we don’t do that anymore. So that’s just another one. And I could keep going on and we do
Matt Waters 1:21:01
you go on for as long as you want me.
Peter Gash 1:21:05
Sorry, a glass bottles, you know our glass bottles used to all go off and, and get recycled. And and that was quite a big effort because we went from 12 barges a year to four barges. So you’re collecting it up and you had big amounts of it. So we got a thing called an O presser and Glasgow presser, it’s like a crusher only better, it turns the glass back in the sand crushes it right down to the sand it came from. And if you’re on a continental Island or a Rock Island, you can then just spread it on the beach. We don’t because when a coral K, but as it goes off, but you can get about 120 bottles in a 20 litre container. So you shrink it and then it gets sent off and it gets melted down and recycled very easily. That type of thing is what we do. We we we have, as I said de sel water for washing and showering. And now we’ve got these things called Source hydro panels. And they’re they’re about a metre and a half wide by about a metre high. And they’ve got a photovoltaic PV panel in the middle of fresh air comes through them. And fresh air has a relative humidity it has an element of moisture in it. And with this panel heating in the sun, and then there’s fresh air coming in cooling, you get condensation. So the condensation dribbles down, the system speeds up condensation process up, little PV panel then pumps it up to a tap. And you get the most beautiful, clear, fresh drinking water. It’s like rainwater, and we get about six litres of water per day out of each of these panels, we’ve got eight of them. And that’s what our crew drink. And that was given to us by source hydro panels in Arizona, when they saw our solar power station and saw some of the media that we’d been given over that. And they said, Can we give you these Can you have a look at them. And we’ll try them. And we did and then one of my friends came out and saw these things went Wow, man, they are really good for my brothers and sisters. He is in now indigenous community or Aboriginal community and, and he went and told the people that matter about we could put these things on the roofs of their houses out in the west where it’s really dry. And they have and they sold a whole bunch of these things. So we keep getting rewards. And people keep learning and collaborating. Because of some of the things we’re doing,
Matt Waters 1:23:17
get get the girls to some of the links to all this kind of stuff, mate, because I’d love to check it on the podcast as well put it in the show notes. There’s bound to be people that are keen on them.
Peter Gash 1:23:27
They’re awesome. And they’re about 3000 Australian dollars, you’re born on the roof of your house, and just sits up on the roof little cap comes down your sink, and you get this magnificent, clean, fresh rainwater drinking water six or eight litres a day, you don’t have to have a tank, it’s not using it’s not plugged into the grid. It’s just free. It’s run and power and water out of the sky. It’s crazy. And of course, I see that and think this is, you know, first or second generation of this stuff, what’s it going to be like in 20 or 30 years when they really refined it and really got it going. So the more of us use that stuff. In the early days, the better it will get and the cheaper it will get.
Matt Waters 1:24:01
So if I end up if I end up buying the place in the dive shop in Indonesia, I’ll have a couple of those things on the roof because that would be fantastic. Rather than going down to the seven elevens and having to buy big containers of water all the time.
Peter Gash 1:24:15
And that was one of the things we did while I’m sitting here in this very desk back in about oh six or seven and we sold water in plastic bottles like everyone did, you know 600 million bottles and we sold them we take them out in the aeroplane it was heavy. And we flew them out and then of course people would drink it and then they had this throwaway plastic bottle. And one of my staff came to me derange and she said to me, Pete, I got an idea. We’ve got to stop selling water in plastic bottles. We’re gonna know how are we going to do that? Said I found this company we can buy these stainless steel ones for $10 Are these reusable. They were a form of plastic with a we can put our logo on them and people can keep reusing them and they’re about $3 And so people are buying a bottle of water for about three or $4 and then they throw it away they can buy this and they can fill them up with the DSL. And now of course, they fill him up with our source. So I can buy, he was talking about $2,000 worth not gonna we didn’t have a spare 2000. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t have his offer enthusiasms there, right, I might go and get him. And let’s give it a go. So she stripped all the plastic bottles out of the fridge. There’s none of those. There’s only this stuff. And if you want to drink more that lady, you buy one of these, and you can go and fill it up at the D cell. And people loved it. And all sudden, I’ve got the media on the phone me. Are you the first blog in Australia to stop selling plastic? On the Great Barrier Reef? Yeah, actually, I was. There told the story, I got 1000s of dollars worth of publicity. We paid two and a half grand for the bottles, which we probably sold for five grand, you know how it is with retail. So we got our money back. And the bottle that they bought had lady elite on it. So they took it home very proudly, and they’re telling their friends I’ve been to Lady elite, and they don’t sell plastic bottles and, and the ones who had a bit more money, they bought a stainless steel one. And people still got those bottles they bought all those years ago. And so now that’s all we sell. And that’s and so now you can go and fill your bottle on the source hydro panel, which is even better than the distilled water to drink. And we don’t have to fly water out there. So we don’t have to carry it. You know how to get that. And that was someone else’s idea that came to me and I’ve gone yeah, that’ll do. Collaboration? Yeah, give it a crack. Let’s try it. And it just made sense. Yeah, that’s the sorts of things that you’ll see happening all the time. And, you know, even in our food, like, we used to get little jams, you know, silly little plastic jam things, and batters in those silly little butter things. And my team were always on the back. Now we got to stop this because of course, what was happening is those little plastic and silver metal things were ending up in our food scraps, which is ending up in your composter, which was ending up in our dirt, okay, it’s not the end of the world, but we were finding them. And we have stopped, how are we going to stop it. So we found these squeezed things and you could get the jam in bulk and put it in and then you could squeeze the jam out, then we found a way to just cut the butter and put it in, in a little fridge. And then people could just take a banner with the knife, which was great. And we were just proud of ourselves till COVID hit then we weren’t allowed to do that. So we had to go backwards to those old plastic single use things. Again, it was like, Oh, we just felt like dinosaurs again. And now we’re out of COVID. And now we’re just getting back to where we were with different ways. And you got to experiment. I just say that people are trying your place is different than my place because we do try and encourage other resorts other islands. Other operators don’t don’t have to be on the reef you can be out in the bush, you know, we do a lot with Outback Queensland and outback Australia. Look at what you do, and look at how you do it. And just ask yourself the question, how is this going to affect me financially? But how is this gonna affect the environment? And when you weigh those two up, nearly always the environment wins. Nearly always the environment wins. And then quite often, it’s actually cheaper. And almost certainly you’re going to get all this what I call intangible publicity for what you’ve done. And so it pays back in spades.
Matt Waters 1:28:04
Yeah, for sure. What about the you must have an element of waste that has to be shipped off. I mean, you know, your packaging, your containers, you up bean tins, those kinds of things. There’s going to be those elements that you can’t get around really isn’t.
Peter Gash 1:28:20
Yeah, yeah, we sold out of cardboard goes into our food scraps. As I’ve said, our food scraps goes into our dirt. So that’s all managed to this, that’s that’s a major portion of it. No plastic bottles. So that’s another one glass goes into crushed down or I press down to sand, which goes back and gets melted. So really, the last one is what you said what we call the heavy materials, heavy building materials, and then heavy stuff. So we store those into big bins. And every three months, they go back to be recycled in some and we recycle as best as we can. But obviously we can’t keep all that stuff in the tiny little 100 acre island. So it goes off and has to be dealt with on the mainland as best as possible. And, and and that’s what we do there. Yeah, I think that probably means is that one is it’s every three months, you guys was going to
Matt Waters 1:29:11
be able to get around and you can’t make Heinz baked beans come in something that’s not in unfortunately, not yet.
Peter Gash 1:29:19
No, you can’t.
Matt Waters 1:29:20
Peter Gash 1:29:21
can’t. Well, we do crush the cans, we have a look crushed and we crushed and so they fit and then you’ll send them off and they’ll get recycled, you get paid a small amount of money for him but it’s all contributing to the cause, you know, so again, that’s a balanced way up between how much does it cost for a person to be squeezing him how much per hour compared to what you’re getting in the space that they take up on the barge there’s not really a space issue so there’s, there’s you’re always doing what I said why not? How much is this gonna cost me how much what to do and for the environment? Is it worth spending my time and money here my better spend it here. I call it the low hanging fruit. Look at what you’re doing and go what can I do now and quickly to get a result that’s a low hanging fruit. Let’s grab that one and do that, like even if it’s light bulbs, get ahold of that 100 watt bulb and get rid of that or that 500 watt bulb rather than that little 20 Watt one, you know, that’s the one you really need to deal with first
Matt Waters 1:30:12
What’s with all this like mini industry that you’ve got going on on the island? What’s the light for noise? How do you have you got to try and control the noise pollution as it were, in any way.
Peter Gash 1:30:24
My, I’m really proud to say that the noise, the biggest noise was generators, and I could hear them when I was out snorkelling or diving, I could, I could tell when the generators stopped, I’d come to the surface and have hundreds of metres wide, bloody generators stop what’s going on. But now the generator is run. So really, there’s no noise from and that was the noisemaker was the power supply. That was a noise, my gear can put them in a little tight shed and quiet them down, but it was still noisy. The only other thing for us that makes noises are de sel, but it’s it’s not really noisy. You can stand near it. It’s not too bad. And of course, our dive compressors, so we run Bower, Mariner 320s. We’ve got two of those little little darlings and they work beautifully. And we’re we’re looking into the 320 E which is a nitrox compressor. Because we’ve got an older style of nitrox compressor that runs with a diesel motor. And we want to be rid of that so we’re looking at a 320 so we’ll have three Bowers. You know that I’m sure it’s you know what I’m talking about? A little bit noisy when they’re working. But they’re in the shed we run them. When there’s sun we call it no sun, no power. No, no, no, no sun, no water, no sun, nowhere when the sun’s out, bang, that’s when we’re running and making stuff. And we bank and we’ve got it all into banks. So they’re not happening at night. So guests aren’t hearing generators, diesel generators, diver compressors at night. It’s all happening during the day when they’re out snorkelling or diving anyway, but that’s not a lot of noise. We had a, here’s again, just more things we had a gator. One of those John Deere gators that run around and pick up people’s bags and drive around their little diesel motor, great little thing, but noisy, and burning diesel. So someone did some research one of the team and said to me, we need a new data that was 25,000 or something we’ve just discovered Polaris have now got an all electric thing that’s like the gator and it was 22,000 So we’ll decision what to do for the environment what to do financially. That was really easy decision. So we bought this Polaris and best thing we ever bought got big suspension. It’s comfy. It’s quite, you don’t even hear coming. People say What do you mean the Polaris. So now we’re headed because we’ve got two diesel powered loaders, big loaders that turn the soil and do the things we need to do and digging the holes through got a net. They’re quite powerful machines and quite heavy machines and they run on diesel and Volvo now make an electric or battery powered loader. So I’ve been pounding at Volvo trying to get them to sit, assist us to buy what we hope will be the first or one of the first battery powered Volvo loaders in the country. And then we conventional car diesels and get rid of them you know and then in the load is quiet because it’s not noisy but it’s not quiet either. You know what I mean? Like it’s a machine and we use it sensibly as much as we can but but me I don’t think noises would be considered a factor out there. I think it’s generally pretty quiet and when it’s windy isn’t always have the wind in the trees.
Matt Waters 1:33:24
So it sounds like you got it all nailed, but does that I can tell there’s just those little itches with you. Every now and then you just mentioned a little louder there. You can see it when you’re talking about it. Little itch, little itch I’ve got to get rid of that I’ve got to do that.
Peter Gash 1:33:37
Never stops aeroplanes. I mean, I’m really proud of this one. We a couple of blokes came and saw me about seven or eight years ago, they were just setting up a company that had been supported by a philanthropist that cared about the environment and wanted to make money and he had a lot of money and he was investing in an electric aeroplane. And they made a decision that the first aeroplane they’re going to put this electric motor in was a Cessna Caravan. And we just happen to have Cessna caravans we have currently we have five of them. And there’s a big reason we have caravans besides the fact they’re a fantastic aeroplane, and they’re very reliable. They’re also very capital intensive, they’re expensive machine, but they are a single engine turboprop. So very reliable engine, very easy engine to operate. But one engine 14 seats means that my fuel burn per passenger seat mile is unbeatable. There’s no other aeroplane that can do what we do, and land on that little short Island and burn the least amount of fuel per passenger seat mile. So we offset our carbon offset all our passengers we we contribute a couple of dollars per seat per trip for that. And that goes to Green Fleet and they plant trees with it. But we want to stop burning bloody jet fuel. We want to stop burning fuel in any way we can. So when these guys came and said, Oh, we want to do this. Can you support us like yep, you came to the right place. Because I said by the time I’m 65 I want to fly an all electric aeroplane from Harvey beta lady elite and we’re all going to work together on it. So We threw ourselves at it. And my engineers here my aircraft engineers loved it. And they supported it. And we worked with them for about five years for companies called Magne. X, you want to Google them and have a look ma G and AI slash x Magne X. And they started here at a Rundle on the Gold Coast. And they designed and built what was initially a 375 horsepower engine, they got it working, put it in the big iron bird, which we assisted them to build an iron bird is just a dummy you’re applying when you just run the engine, and you run it for hours and hours and hours and make sure it’s gonna last and then they doubled it and made it 750 Because that’s what we need it for the caravan. They ran 1000s of hours. And we supported him as much as we could not financially if we didn’t have that money, with knowledge and collaboration with ideas where the aeroplane people there, the engineers and the designers there the clever guys with that stuff. So we helped magnetics. And I kept saying to Roy and Bob and the team. In this country, we’re pretty heavily regulated with bureaucracy, you what you don’t want is to have what I used. The example is you don’t want to have a Hindenburg situation, with your first electric aeroplane, you want it to be a success. And you want to you want to have a bit of in the back sleeve. So you want to put this engine in a float plane and fly it for a while off the water so that if there’s a problem, and there shouldn’t be, but if they’re easy to put back on the water, and there’s no problem, there’s no media, there’s no headache. That’s happened. And of course, they couldn’t get support in Australia for that. So sadly, they took the whole project over to the USA to Seattle, the land of what I call the land of can do here in Australia with that sort of projects land of can’t do, they just wouldn’t help them. So magnetics went to Seattle. And if you do your history, you’ll see that the first engine went into a float plane with Greg McDougal from harbour air in Vancouver, and he flew it off the river. And he flew it and he landed it and that was a first electric passenger sized aeroplane it was an old Havilland Beaver, and eight seed aeroplane. And Greg threw a lot of time and effort into it, the harbour air family put that together. And then of course, that then went, the engine was good enough, they put it into a Cessna Caravan, which is where they wanted it to be. And then they fly that out of Moses Lake, over there in in, in Seattle, or sorry, in Washington State should I say. And that caravan is now doing up to 40 minutes in the sky and going up to 10,000 feet, which is great. And it’s running on batteries. But the problem is in all these years, we’ve gone from 30 to 35 minutes pizza or maybe 35 to 40 minutes panels, well, that’s not enough to get to Lady Elliot, I need a bit more than that, from the point of view of I want to have enough to get back home if we can’t land. So the batteries hold them up. But the machine is flying the engine is working. They’re now in the USA, they’ve got some tremendous support. They’re putting that very engine into a lot of different types. There’s so much money going into that. But they’ve gravitated away from the battery power, because it’s just struggling to give us enough time. And now they’re pushing. And Bob and the guys here strawless In Cannes, and the guys down in Sydney. And they are working on hydrogen power to drive the same engine hydrogen and electric. And I think that’s where it’s gonna go. And I’m still hopeful that before I’m 65, there’s going to be one that’s going to have that much range on a flight across the island, but it’s probably going to be hydrogen powered initially. And of course, that means we’re not burning,
Matt Waters 1:38:14
well maybe not make sense to have something that’s hybrid, I mean, if gonna rely purely on batteries, you’re probably gonna have a battery failure. And that’s it, you’re back on the water on you.
Peter Gash 1:38:26
So the hydrogen is the long term answer. I think for the time being, unless you said hybrid, you know, you go and look at what Airbus are doing. They’re working with hydrogen and hybrid. So I think what Airbus and those big airlines will do because it’s in their best interest to to look after the environment is they will have jet fuel and jet engines here. And then next to it will be an electric engine, they’ll use the diesel, the jet fuel to get them up to altitude, then not close that throw, push that one up, and then they’ll run on their hydrogen or their battery or their solar power for the cruise and the descent, which will rapidly like what happened to me with my power session rapidly dropped their fuel use over the sector. And then of course, then we’ll learn there’ll be mistakes, there’ll be good things bad things will get better. So over the next 10 years, we’re in for some really exciting times. Because aviation we love to travel we humans have always loved to travel. Haven’t been ever since we walked out of Africa, that Great Rift Valley, we’ve been travelling and finding ways to do it. And hey, without aeroplanes, Africa wouldn’t have that last great animal migration in the Maasai. You know, it’s the people coming over there with the cameras that have saved those animals from poachers. So aeroplanes play a part in so do better and
Matt Waters 1:39:39
as you know, I’m just thinking to that kind of description with the aircraft taking off on fuel and then moving over to hydrogen back on the fuel for the London Can you just imagine the amount of fuel or damage to the environment is going to be minimised just just because of not having to dump fuel coming into land. For those for those people who are listening, that don’t know about aircraft, passenger aircraft, if they’re if they’ve got excess fuel, when they’re going to land, they’re effectively going to be heavily weighted on on London. So it is pretty commonplace for for fuel to be dumped before coming into land.
Peter Gash 1:40:21
Airlines are pretty good. They do try hard, and they’re trying, you know, with these new sustainable aviation fuels, because aviation has led us for 110 or more years, they’ve led us enormously in development. And so, you know, Richard Branson, those sort of guys, they’re entrepreneurs, those forward visionary thinkers, they’re out there, and there’s lots of them out there trying to make this breakthrough. And we’ve played our tiny part and others are playing it, because that’s the other part of my business is our aviation business that, that we really working hard on finding ways and supporting whomever we can, in whatever way we can to come up with a better way. And that becomes the culture in my whole organisation, all my people, all our people. In our DNA, we say it’s about saving the environment in any way we can minimising waste. You know, I have this get a bit passionate, but I’d say waste is the enemy. I learned that when I was racing motorbikes. I can’t waste a second or an hour of energy or time and waste, you know, we think of waste we think rubbish. Yep, rubbish is the enemy. But so too, is waste of resources. And time. And I say this, I’ll say this to people who don’t believe in climate change, okay? You don’t believe in climate change? I’m gonna argue with you. Because pretty hard for me to prove otherwise. So. So why burn coal? When we don’t need to? I’m getting all my power out on the island from the sun for free. So why not leave the coal in the ground? Forget the climate change question, just leave it there. Get your power from the sun for free if you can, because our kids or their kids in 50s, I might need the coal for something we haven’t even thought of yet. So why waste it? If we don’t need to waste it? No matter what your opinion is? Why not? I look and go, why wouldn’t I do this, that saving money leaving the coal or the fuel in the ground if I can, and nothing is going to happen overnight. You know, we were if we were here, burn and all this coal, fuel gas, we want to be here, burning nothing. But financially, we’ve got to get there. It’s a transition. It’s a transitionary period. And whether we like it or not, whether it’s five years or 50 years, it’s a period and we got to get there. And the quicker we can do it, the better. But we have to also be financially sustainable while we’re doing it. I say,
Matt Waters 1:42:30
I mean, it’s fair to say that we’ve come up with an awful long way since the, I mean, I’m just thinking back to the 70s and 80s, where, you know, we just burn the shit out of everything. You know, just just 40 years, there’s been a huge benefit to to the earth. So I can only imagine what’s gonna be like event years from now.
Peter Gash 1:42:50
You know, read that lady, the most amazing Lady Jane Goodall, she talks about the four reasons for hope. And then if you haven’t heard of majesty, amazing, and she’s such an inspirational lady, I had the great fortune of meeting with her and good friends with the Oakland family. And she came out and presented at Australia zoo, she talks about an hour just coming out of my head here. But one of them is, of course, the brilliance of young people, young people’s brilliant minds, the the ambition of young people looking forward to what they want to do and be in their life, the resilience, remarkable resilience of nature, and the brilliance of the human mind. I’m pretty sure that’s the for the brilliance of the human mind. We’ve all got one, you’ve got one, we’ve all got this mind, but let’s use it let’s not sit there fat, dumb and happy. Let’s use it and use it to the best of our ability. And that lady is an inspiration check. She’s thrown a fifth one in and, and she now says there’s a fifth reason for hope. So that’s the power of social media. And when she first said it, I was 100 mile an hour behind it. But I’ve seen some terrible things happening on social media in recent times of people running each other down and I sometimes wonder, but ultimately, she’s right. The power of social media is fantastic. Because it gives everybody a voice and gives everybody the ability to learn and hear. It’s a lot harder to bullshit to us now. You know, corrupt governments and corrupt people. It’s a lot harder than bullshit to us. When you’ve got this amazing tool called social media you can get out your story and it’s been a big advantage for us on Lady Elliot because we were just a little place didn’t have much money and when we put our social media in and my daughter’s started putting up our just genuine photos of what people this is what that’s normal with today. This is what Arnie Jenny’s not with yesterday people are what is that all go on there and it cost us nothing to do it. So social media was a tremendous help for us because only Jenny’s in London and she’s just seeing what I’m doing two hours ago and I see that on social media now gone Wow. How powerful is that? A fair income photo shown and what we really are not dressed up with all colour What do you call it? colour matching, you know that you know what I mean photo shopping and stuff. We you know, we just show photos as they are ideally warts and all in colour. In great white sharks, which we see now, and we’ll post them, because we say, these are the animals you’d likely to see here. And we try not to hide it. There’s no secrets. This the animal was someone’s yesterday of soaring of water. And so
Matt Waters 1:45:12
it’s got to be done, it’s got to the education that comes from. Well, I’m not massively brilliant when it comes to reading. In fact, I can quite easily say that I hate reading, I find it boring. But if you give me an image or a video, and it’s in for interest, then it has my undivided attention. And as a chap down in Bondi that flies his drone all the time, and I think the education that’s coming out of him sitting out there with his deck chair, talking about the water and showing some sharks and so in showing the interaction of sharks with surfers is just the education element to it is fantastic. You know, you bring in all these people who’ve got that access to information online now, like you say, social media, they see that. And that fear that we had in the, in the 80s and 90s. From sharp movies like Jaws, it kind of gets diluted somewhat, when you see the reality of, of what’s been displayed on social media now.
Peter Gash 1:46:18
Yeah, and that was the power of Steve Oh, and and I’m really proud to say he and I were good friends and amazing individual, and he could tell a story, he could get in there and tell the story and he reached millions of people, millions of young people, like kids today still tell Steve story and still and he reached them and made them into wildlife warriors, he was able to tell us to his son, Robert, amazing young man, he’s doing the same thing. As you’re talking about with his camera, he tells a story with his camera. And I’m gonna go out on a bit of a limit, I’m gonna tell you what I think about a bit of a story, the oldest living society, the oldest living culture on this planet today, unbroken culture is here in Australia, and it’s the Australian Aboriginal, they’ve been on this planet for something like 50,000 years, maybe even 60,000 years long time, unbroken, right? They go and show me their books, they don’t have any they don’t write, or they didn’t. In those days, they didn’t have the written word, what they had was storytelling. And they carried their stories so well. And then at work, they would paint pictures, visual, and storytelling. And this is an amazing thing, because we Europeans went down this bureaucratic road of writing. And that worked for some, but others it didn’t work for. And mostly young boys aren’t really big on that stuff. They want to be out there touching and feeling and telling stories and spinning yarns and drawn pictures, which is where the Aboriginal people were. So we’ve got a lot to learn from our brothers and sisters that have been here for 50 or 60,000 years. And I think we slowly are learning that and I’m proud to think that we are because as they can learn some things off us, we can learn some things off them. And that written word did a lot of good for us. But it created a lot of lawyers and challenges. That was like our main, you know, how far do we go with this bureaucratic stuff? You know, so anyway, that’s my little bit of a
Matt Waters 1:48:08
we’re on a sidebar, I’m more than happy for hearing and seeing rather than bloody reading, you can shove that right out the window.
Peter Gash 1:48:19
And I don’t mind reading I actually do enjoy reading in fact, but I can, I’m probably very fortunate like that, but I can see so many good mates that just don’t don’t get it. And I’m a visual, I got to see a picture. Someone will sit there and start telling me something like, stop, stop, stop. Get the paper draw me a picture, right? Yep, we’re gonna that’s how we’re gonna do it. Yep, that’s the engineering bit of my brain. I’ve got that done. No plans in here and we’re off. You know, drawing that picture. I just had an aeroplane come I might just come back.
Matt Waters 1:48:53
Right? Well, I’ll tell you what, we can sign off on that note. Yeah, what do you reckon we’ve been going for nearly two hours mate.
Peter Gash 1:49:00
By the crikey we have to close by four o’clock. Mate, you’re you’re you’re a good you’re a good interviewer. You’re a good bloke to be doing a podcast I’ve really enjoyed this. I hope I’ve given you
Matt Waters 1:49:11
another two hours easily but my bladder won’t let me
Peter Gash 1:49:18
do what I need to get me some water it’s funny. Just don’t do it.
Matt Waters 1:49:26
Well, at least rinse it out afterwards.
Peter Gash 1:49:30
We’ve gone too far now. We’re off the edge.
Matt Waters 1:49:32
Happy days. Right it’s been an absolute absolute pleasure and I’m I’m in awe of what you’re doing up there. So you know I look forward to the day of meet him in person having a beer and just having a wander around the place and seeing that we may have an eyes get that picture.
Peter Gash 1:49:47
Thanks, mate. Thanks, Matt. I really am looking forward to sharing it with you. And I mean, I mean all of what you do, and and people like you because this is collaboration. I can’t get my message out without guys like yourself that have gone out there on a limb and bust To depart and you’re getting that story told you sharing these stories of different people out there all having a go at making a difference. Great fun for diving. We all love our diving, but we’re going into the natural environment and that’s why it’s so thrilling about our diving that’s why we love putting a tank on our back getting down there. Have a look at the fish face to face feeling it and you will tell on that story, man, you’ll get it out there. For for for Fred and Bill and Joan and Jack to come and enjoy. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Lady Elliot or wherever it might be, you know, it’s getting it out. So thanks for your help. I really enjoy
Matt Waters 1:50:31
it. And yeah, on that note, let’s go and empty our bladders in different toilets. Good on your naked eyes. Here’s Matt and thanks for listening guys.