An iconic resort has been forced to shut down for the first time in its 94-year history.
An iconic resort has been forced to shut down for the first time in its 94-year history.

Iconic resort shuts and 80 staff stood down

ICONIC eco-resort O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat is having to shut down for the first time in its 94-year history under a Queensland Health order in response to the coronavirus.

But even though guests who had already booked and confirmed accommodation for the Easter holidays are being told they cannot come, O'Reilly's will still be looking after a small army of staff who have nowhere to go.

Despite them now being out of work until the nationwide COVID-19 crisis passes, many will be housed and fed for free because they either cannot return home overseas or are Aussies without families and have lived permanently in staff accommodation.

Not even the bushfires last year were able to have such an impact, with the Green Mountains resort nestled within the Lamington National Park near Canungra emptied of all staff and guests for just one night on that occasion.

O'Reilly's O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat managing director Shane O'Reilly. Picture: Adam Head.
O'Reilly's O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat managing director Shane O'Reilly. Picture: Adam Head.

"We'll just be hibernating,'' managing director Shane O'Reilly said.

"Basically the (State) Government just shut us down.

"We're having to stand down about 80 staff today and tomorrow.

"This Easter will be 94 years exactly since we opened.''

He said the shutdown was "temporary'' while a government order in response to the crisis was in place, but standing down staff was necessary so they could access government benefits and the resort, with no revenue, could look at being part of the Jobkeeper rescue package.

"But you have to make three wages payments before you get anything back from the (Federal) Government. We can't pay out of the air with no revenue.''

He said O'Reilly's had been paying staff a total of $150,000 a fortnight, plus superannuation.

"We were fine. We confirmed all our Easter bookings on Monday. We had 60 per cent occupancy. We thought everything was OK.''

But then O'Reilly's management received word a health directive had been issued some days ago, which he said was not received until Tuesday.

O'Reilly's put out a statement saying the temporary closure was in compliance with a directive titled "Non-essential business, activity and undertaking, Closure Direction (No 41)'' released by Queensland Health on March 29. It came into effect on March 31. The order included a home confinement direction.

"Point 6 says a person who resides in Queensland must not leave their principal place of residence. The fine is $13,000 per person,'' he said.

O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat has been operating in the Gold Coast hinterland for 94 years.
O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat has been operating in the Gold Coast hinterland for 94 years.

He said the O'Reilly's interpretation of the directive was that apart from international or interstate travellers stranded in Queensland, it was therefore "illegal'' for anyone to stay anywhere other than their principal place of residence.

He said about 30 staff were on work visas and could remain because they needed to be housed and fed, which the resort would do for free. The same would apply to about another 30 who lived on site. They were singles. "Maybe they don't have family to go to,'' he said.

The shutdown follows Mr O'Reilly's concerns about the future of the guesthouse last month, when he told the Bulletin the impact of the bushfires elsewhere in the national park, the looming threat of the coronavirus and a massive hike in insurance costs could force a permanent closure, with the resort reverting to its original role as a dairy farm.

O'Reilly's has long been a rainforest refuge for holiday-makers and even major political parties wanting conference facilities.

At the moment its campground is being redeveloped, with workers on that project allowed to stay because that project is their job.

The O'Reilly family became a household name in 1937 when one of them, Bernard, went in search of a missing plane - a small airliner named the Stinson - which had crashed in thick forest in the rugged mountains on the Queensland-NSW border. He found two survivors, and led a rescue team up gorges and cliffs to the crash site.

Originally published as Iconic resort shuts, 80 staff stood down



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