The picture-perfect Australian island having to turn people away

Gary Allott with his wife Joy and children Nikki, 15, Sophie, 13, Jodie, 12, Jai, 10, and Joy??????s mother Joy Padula.

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Flinders Island - Domain Feature.

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave.

Image Credit: Sarah Rhodes Story by Allison Worrall
Gary Allott with his wife Joy and children Nikki, 15, Sophie, 13, Jodie, 12, Jai, 10, and Joy??????s mother Joy Padula. Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Flinders Island - Domain Feature. Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Image Credit: Sarah Rhodes Story by Allison Worrall
Gary Allott with his wife Joy and children Nikki, 15, Sophie, 13, Jodie, 12, Jai, 10, and Joy??????s mother Joy Padula.

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave.

Image credit: Sarah Rhodes  Story by Allison Worrall

Gary Allott with his wife Joy and children Nikki, 15, Sophie, 13, Jodie, 12, Jai, 10, and Joy??????s mother Joy Padula. Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Image credit: Sarah Rhodes Story by Allison Worrall

Interstate Hotel, main street of Whitemark, Flinders Island

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave.

Image credit: Sarah Rhodes  Story by Allison Worrall

Interstate Hotel, main street of Whitemark, Flinders Island Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Image credit: Sarah Rhodes Story by Allison Worrall

Plane from Flinders Islaqnd to Launceston.

 Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave.

Image credit: Sarah Rhodes  Story by Allison Worrall

Plane from Flinders Islaqnd to Launceston. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Image credit: Sarah Rhodes Story by Allison Worrall

Lady Barron, Flinders Island

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave.

Image credit: Sarah Rhodes  Story by Allison Worrall

Lady Barron, Flinders Island Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Image credit: Sarah Rhodes Story by Allison Worrall

Killekrankie Beach, Flinders Island

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave.

Image credit: Sarah Rhodes  Story by Allison Worrall

Killekrankie Beach, Flinders Island Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Image credit: Sarah Rhodes Story by Allison Worrall

On the road between Killekrankie and Lady Barron

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki

Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave.

Image credit: Sarah Rhodes  Story by Allison Worrall

On the road between Killekrankie and Lady Barron Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Whitemark, view to Mt Strezlecki Housing shortage on Flinders Island. Properties have been bought for holiday rentals or are riddled with asbestos. Workers take up jobs on Flinders but can??????t find long term accommodation so have to leave. Image credit: Sarah Rhodes Story by Allison Worrall

On paper, it seems Flinders Island has it all for those looking for a slower pace of life. Off Tasmania's north-east coast, the strikingly rugged remote isle is inhabited by a fiercely protective, close-knit community.

But as more sea-changers have discovered its appeal, the population has surged. The problem now is that there's nowhere to live.

Exhausted and in debt, Gary and Joy Allott sold their dairy farm in Victoria's south-east last year and packed their four kids into a tiny plane with the only airline that flies here.

The family headed south across the sea to buy a cattle farm on Flinders Island, known for its high quality beef. "We just sort of fell in love with it," Mr Allott recalls. "We had to learn how to wind down a little bit here because it's that sort of lifestyle."

That easy-going lifestyle is in high demand, and the Allotts count themselves lucky to be among the island's newest residents, because there simply aren't enough houses to go around. And though the local council wants to attract new residents and boost tourist numbers, its plans have been stymied by the lack of available accommodation.

"There is no housing," says mayor Carol Cox. "Housing as a difficulty has been mooted for quite a few years, but we've got to the stage where we're turning people away or people can't come because we can't find the housing."

In recent months, a family of five, the parents both nurses at the local hospital, were forced to leave the island with their three children because they couldn't find a family home to buy or rent. Flinders Island, in stark contrast to many other remote rural communities around Australia in steep decline, is struggling with growing pains.

The largest of 52 islands dotted across the Bass Strait, known collectively as the Furneaux Group, Flinders recorded a population of 833 at the last census, up from 702 five years earlier. It's a big increase for a sleepy island that wasn't hooked up to electricity until the 1980s.

Flinders is hardly a breezy resort island. It is untamed and largely undeveloped ??? and not for the faintest of hearts. One third of the sprawling 1300 square kilometres is cleared farmland. The rest is rugged bushland, rocky outcrops and pristine beaches with white sand and glistening turquoise waters.

It takes a light aircraft trip to get here, with 19 passengers squeezing in behind the open cockpit. There are ships, but it's an arduous eight-hour journey from Tasmania (what the locals refer to as "the little mainland"), packed in with freight and, quite possibly, livestock. Once on the island, the staggering amount of roadkill can be confronting but locals assure visitors that wallaby and wombat populations are at plague-level proportions.

A handful of farming families have lived on the island for generations, dating back to the early 20th century. Their names remain on street signs and buildings in the two small villages, Whitemark and Lady Barron. It wasn't until the 1950s that Flinders Island's population really boomed, when soldiers returning from World War II were offered three-bedroom cottages and farmland. At its most substantial, the number of residents peaked above 1200.

By the turn of the century, the population had shrunk by 500, threatening basic services. The commercial fishing industry fell away, and beef farms across the island consolidated. To fill the void, niche industries like honey production, garlic growing and essential oils began to crop up. And a growing number of people are looking to cater to tourists.

The mayor hopes the island can once again reach a population of 1200 and it seems there's no shortage of folk who want to move to Flinders. The conundrum is how to put a roof over their head. In an attempt to attract new residents and blossom into a holiday hotspot, the island has hit several snags. A small band of locals are opposed to sharing the island with more people, and are shutting down new development.

"There may be folk on the island who don't want change at all," says Linda Nicol, who has lived on Flinders for 12 years. "But if you don't do anything, you stagnate and that is change itself, and it may result in you going backwards."

Known for its generous and united community, the island boasts one of the highest rates of volunteering, according to the census. But it is also bitterly divided about what its future should look like.

Entrepreneurial residents like Jo Youl want Flinders to carve out a name for itself in ecotourism. The 34-year-old mother of two and her husband have lodged plans to build 12 upscale beachside retreats. The couple also want to redevelop a shed on Whitemark wharf to include a whiskey distillery, cafe, shops and function space. "If we don't get our projects through, this place is just going to be a big retirement village," Ms Youl jokes.

While there are 101 children enrolled in the local school this year (six years ago there were just 61), the island's population is ageing, partly because Flinders has become a retirement destination among Victorians and Tasmanians.

The Flinders Island Tourism and Business Association recently launched a marketing campaign highlighting the island's stunning landscapes, and have set ambitious goals to boost visitor numbers. But president Mick Grimshaw admits the island cannot flourish without housing to accommodate increased residents and visitors.

"It's a bit of a happening place but if we can't get that population up because there's a shortage of housing, it hinders our whole growth," Mr Grimshaw says.

Cr Cox says the island needs dedicated investment into the housing sector, but concedes building costs are higher than mainland areas. "Council is working with the state government to try and get a housing needs analysis done as to what sort of housing we need here," Cr Cox says. "Is it short-term for tradespeople or long-term family stuff?"

Mr Grimshaw, the former deputy mayor, says proposed developments get "bogged down in red tape" in a complex town planning system.

On the housing affordability front, the Flinders Island Aboriginal Association owns and manages dozens of houses, and are building more. Their waiting list is reportedly well in excess of 100 people. The association did not respond to interview requests.

Flinders Island's western neighbour, King Island, is smaller and flatter but has double the population. The two share a healthy rivalry but little else.

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King Island made headlines last year when a group of residents circulated a petition pushing to secede from Tasmania and become part of Victoria, an idea the Victorian Premier welcomed.

"Leave Tassie?!" Ms Cox repeats incredulously when asked if Flinders Island would ever follow. "No, we're definitely connected to Tasmania."

This story The picture-perfect Australian island having to turn people away first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.