Tony’s perfect timing . . .
Real estate doyen Tony McGrath has witnessed all the ups and downs of the Port Douglas real estate market. He sat down with
WHEN Tony McGrath sees an opportunity he doesn’t wait for it to come to him.
He marches right up to that opportunity, shakes its hand and says “I’m Tony and we’re going to be friends”.
Throughout his life he’s sold his business at the drop of a hat, relocated cross-state on a whim and swapped professions in the blink of an eye.
And he doesn’t have a single regret.
Tony was born in Narranderra, a town in the Riverina region of southern New South Wales.
His father was killed in the war when Tony was three and his mother, then a war widow, moved her three children to Sydney.
With a war widow mother living on a pension Tony said his young life was at times less than glamorous.
In 1948 the family moved to Villawood where Tony met his first love, horse racing.
For the next few years Tony lived and breathed harness racing.
But after a clash with the Gold Coast Trotting Club Tony turned away from the horses and found his second great love. Real estate.
“I thought about all the agents I knew on the Gold Coast who came to the races and they had endless sums of money and they weren’t very good judges,” he said.
“So I thought if they can do it then I’m a possibility.”
He moved back to New South Wales to a place in Newcastle called Toronto.
“I eventually got a job selling land on the side of the road where I would go Saturday and Sunday and sit with just a sign that said Land Sale.”
For two years Tony sat on the side of the road.
And after those two years Tony decided he had enough experience to open his own real estate business.
“A couple of the local people said ‘you’re mad, you’ll go broke’ and I said ‘mate, I won’t go broke, that’s for the other agents, because I will work around the clock to make sure I succeed’.”
Sure enough, it didn’t take Tony long to “grab the game by the throat” and for the next 12 years his business thrived.
And that would have been enough for Tony if his wife hadn’t suggested they uproot their entire lives and move to Port Douglas.
“In 1986 it hadn’t been developed. There was nothing here. There were the two pubs and the general store,” he said.
“But [Christopher] Skase had started bulldozing.”
“I decided on that first day, without even waiting a week, that I would move here.
“So I flew home, auctioned my house, sold my business and within three months of getting off the plane I was here.”
Christopher Skase unveiled his new five-star Sheraton Mirage resort in 1988 and transformed the sleepy seaside town of Port Douglas into a sophisticated tropical playground for the rich and famous.
Celebrities such as Tom Hanks, John Travolta, Mick Jagger and Claudia Schiffer were regularly spotted strolling the palm-fringed sands of Four Mile Beach.
During 1986-91 the population of Port Douglas increased 270 per cent to more than 3500. Tony’s timing was perfect. “I knew I could make a liv- ing here. I knew it was booming enough for me to make a living,” he said.
“The fact that Skase was doing something actually convinced me that it should be OK.
“It was all highly speculative at the time. People from Melbourne were buying things just because of word of mouth.
“A number of guys bought up because they actually thought it would go on forever and they were short of so many developers.
“It lured all sorts of things, people with wild imaginations that thought they knew what things would be worth.”
It didn’t take long for Tony to make a name for himself and before long he was striving with the best of them.
Tony brought LJ Hooker to Port Douglas and entered into a partnership with Chris Harvey.
Together they built the company into a 23 person “monster” and presided over the Port Douglas real estate market for 10 years.
In 2002 Tony was confronted with health issues and decided to bow out of the real estate game.
But he didn’t stay off the horse for long, and entered back into the game with The Pink Company that he still runs to this day.
“People say to me, ‘ when are you retiring’ and I say, ‘I’m never going to retire, I’ll work as long as I can because it’s good for your brain’,” he said.
“I’ve got a few race horses that keep me preoccupied as well as 24/7 real estate.”
Surrounded by his two loves, what more could he want?
to recap the glory days of the Skase era.
Tony McGrath has sold and leased most of Macrossan Street since he arrived in 1986. Inset: A coaster from Tony’s first real estate business. The pink colouring of the lettering inspired the name of Tony’s current business, The Pink Company