Gritty Gladstone a success story without tickets
GLADSTONE personified is a bloke in a black singlet, rear cleavage poking out the top of his shorts, a barbecue fork in one hand and a beer in the other, at the end of a hard day’s physical labour, thinking about the weekend’s fishing trip.
He’s the poor cousin who the rich relatives down south don’t like to talk about, but who they are happy to call upon when something entails a bit of grunt, a few blisters, some dirt under the fingernails and most likely a complaint from the tree- huggers down the road.
Gladstone’s the guy who rolls up his sleeves and does Brisbane’s dirty work. And he doesn’t mind because he’s doing OK. For one thing, the real estate he owns is rising rapidly.
Bernard Salt described Gladstone best when he said: ‘‘ Just as Sydney needs a Wollongong and Melbourne needs a Geelong, so Brisbane needs a Gladstone.
‘‘ It needs an industrial muscle man. You can’t have the entire state being five- star resorts. Someone has to do the gritty stuff and Gladstone is it — by default, no one else wants it.’’
My previous Hotspotting column was on Townsville, which I see as a great case study in hotspot creation.
Townsville is a different kind of bloke to Gladstone. Townsville came from working class stock, but went into business as a self- employed contractor, made it rich and now has a multifaceted business empire with interests in manufacturing, mining, tourism and providing support services to the military.
Old- money people still look at him sideways, but they have a kind of grudging admiration for his initiative and success.
I ended my discussion of Townsville by suggesting that the next ‘‘ local boy made good’’ story is likely to be Gladstone.
The thing is, Gladstone already is a success story, but not too many people realise it because he doesn’t brag about it and he’ll always be an ordinary bloke, no matter how much money he makes.
And while he’s a tough nut, he also has a softer side. He spends his working week in factories that belch black smoke, but his leisure time often involves sandy beaches, postcard coral reefs and picnics with the wife and kids in the best regional botanic gardens in Queensland.
It really gets up his nose that people don’t see his finer qualities.
Anyway, who cares? He’s rolling in money, has a great lifestyle and his future prospects suggest he won’t have to worry about his retirement.
Putting aside the cute analogies, Gladstone shapes up as a strong long- term investment prospect. There is around $ 20 billion in large projects earmarked for the region. The centre is emerging as an economic engine room and its property market will benefit because the jobs created will place pressure on available residential accommodation.
In 2006, while most markets around Queensland experienced single- digit growth in residential values, most of the key suburbs and localities around Gladstone delivered price growth above 15 per cent. Some did better than 20 per cent.
Still, most sections of the city remain affordable, with median house prices in the $ 200,000 range.
The capital growth is likely to continue, given the forthcoming new demand for housing.
Queensland’s Department of State Development, Trade and Innovation says of Gladstone: ‘‘ If all the proposed projects proceed, they will create 9000 jobs at the peak of the construction phase and countless business and flow- on opportunities.’’
Salt says Gladstone is evolving into Queens- land’s industrial powerhouse. ‘‘ Although a coastal city, it is very much a worker town with an economy based on power stations, aluminium refineries and coal from the Bowen Basin.’’
Projected population growth figures place Gladstone high on a national list of boom growth regions.
Salt nominated Gladstone as No. 4 in his Australia on the Move report, which identifies growth areas around the nation.
The report, which studied the housing needs of the 41 largest urban centres of Australia until 2031, predicts Gladstone will be one of four centres that will double its population and housing stock in that time.
Factors that place Gladstone category include: ■ Australia’s largest aluminium smelter. ■ The largest cement kiln in Australia. ■ One of the world’s largest producers of sodium cyanide, with a plant in Gladstone which is targeted for a major expansion. ■ Queensland’s largest limestone mine operation. ■ The state’s largest multi- cargo port ( and the nation’s fifth largest port). ■ Queensland’s largest power station. ■ ( Soon) the world’s largest coal- exporting terminal.
A major driver for Gladstone has been the construction of Comalco’s new $ 1.5 billion alumina refinery, which illustrates the effect of major industrial projects on residential property.
The refinery was officially opened in April 2005.
During its construction, which created 2150 jobs, Gladstone went from high residential vacancies to virtually zero vacancies.
Take a look at the following list of big projects and imagine the effect on the local housing market:
The $ 3 billion Aldoga aluminium smelter, which will employ a construction workforce of 2250 over three years plus 900 permanent jobs when operational.
A $ 3.7 billion nickel refinery, for which stage one is expected to create 1200 jobs during construction and 400 when fully operational.
The $ 2 billion Wiggins Island coal terminal and associated rail infrastructure, which will make Gladstone the world’s largest coal export facility.
Stage one is expected to create 500 construction jobs for 30 months, plus 125 permanent jobs once operational. ■ The $ 160 million reclamation of 153ha at Port Curtis by the Central Queensland Port Authority. ■ The $ 800 million expansion of the RG Tanna coal terminal, which is creating 250 construction jobs plus 80 permanent jobs once operational. ■ A liquefied natural gas plant by coal seam gas producer Arrow Energy ( the first stage is likely to cost over $ 400 million, with a similar outlay on a second stage. ■ Investment group Babcock & Brown announced in January it was conducting a preliminary analysis on a $ 1 billion coking coal and power plant. ■ A $ 4.3 billion expansion of the Yarwun alumina refinery by Rio Tinto, creating 2100 jobs during construction and 200 permanent jobs after completion.
A number of new mining ventures happening within 180km of Gladstone, including a $ 1.1 billion expansion of Anglo
special Coal’s Dawson project, creating 700 jobs in construction and 200 once operational, as well as Macarthur Coal’s Monto coal mine and Aquila Resources’ Belvedere development.
In addition, Gladstone may be chosen as the site for a $ 3 billion refinery associated with the mining of bauxite at Aurukun in far north Queensland by Chinese entity Chalco.
Gladstone is one of three locations shortlisted for the facility.
There is also the 440km gas pipeline from mining town Moranbah to Gladstone at a cost of $ 220 million, providing 300 construction jobs, and the $ 1 billion ‘‘ missing link’’ rail line from the coal- rich Surat Basin to Gladstone ( which received funding in the recent state budget).
Against all that heavy industry, it’s easy to forget Gladstone is a coastal city with a spectacular harbour. It has some fine beaches and there are spectacular Barrier Reef islands off its coast.
Gladstone is a major access point for Great Barrier Reef islands such as Heron Island, regarded as one of the best scuba diving locations in Australia, and Lady Musgrave Island. Tyron, Erskine and Masthead Islands are important nesting grounds for loggerhead turtles.
Tannum Sands has good white sand beaches while just offshore, and linked by bridge, is Boyne Island, with its ‘‘ beautiful foreshore parks’’. The area is popular for fishing, boating and water skiing.
Gladstone has seen a substantial increases in property values since 2000, like everywhere else in Queensland, but has not had the same level of growth as some other centres.
According to Real Estate Institute of Queensland figures, Gladstone’s median house price rose 90 per cent in the five years to 2005.
Not a bad effort, but dwarfed by 122 per cent in Mackay, 121 per cent in the Whitsundays, 120 per cent in Townsville and 150 per cent in Hervey Bay.
But in 2006 catching up.
Many areas of Gladstone showed strong price growth. Gladstone City, South Gladstone, New Auckland, Boyne Island, Glen Eden, Tannum Sands and Calliope all experienced price rises of between 15 and 20 per cent.
Some areas showed growth above 20 per cent, including Kin Kora and West Gladstone.
But most of these areas still have median house prices between $ 230,000 and $ 270,000 — the exceptions being Boyne Island ($ 300,000) and Tannum Sands ($ 380,000).
Gladstone’s overall prospects are summarised by this reference in a recent edition of The Month in Review by valuer Herron Todd White: ‘‘ The residential market continues to strengthen.
‘‘ Key drivers include 30- year- low unemployment rates, high income levels and positive investor sentiment as a result of over $ 20 billion worth of projects under construction, recently completed or under investigation in the region.’’
Sunshine state: Even the sunset smiles on Gladstone, earmarked as a hotspot