Have you heard about the millionaire turned castaway with Cork roots?

As he reflects on his own retirement dreams, in his weekly column, Trevor Laffan tells us about David Glasheen, an Australian millionaire turned castaway who lives on a remote island off Australia - who has Cork roots. 
Have you heard about the millionaire turned castaway with Cork roots?
Millionaire turned Castaway, David Glasheen, who says he has Cork roots. Pictures supplied by David Glasheen.

FUNERALS of ex-colleagues are sad occasions at the best of times, but they do give us an opportunity for a catch up with people we probably haven’t seen for years. It’s always an interesting experience and there are usually a few surprises.

For example, at a funeral shortly before the lockdown, I met a character I had worked with in the eighties. I knew him well, but I didn’t recognise him initially. We started talking and even then, I couldn’t place him. My brain was screaming at me that I knew him, but it took a few minutes to make the connection. In my defence, it was a cold day and he was wearing a cap and a scarf, and appearances can change in thirty years.

I met another guy who retired over thirty-five years ago but you wouldn’t think it to look at him. He’s in his late 80s now and enjoys good health and doesn’t seem to have aged a day. Others also managed to defy the ageing process, but it wasn’t all good news either. There were shared memories of fallen colleagues, and complaints of bad prostates, dicky hearts, dodgy knees, hips and backs. There was no shortage of walking wounded and it wasn’t that long ago since we were all young, energetic and invincible.

We’re far from invincible now and these gatherings are a reminder that the clock is ticking so it’s time to forge ahead with whatever plans we have while we’re still able. No point in putting things off because circumstances can change quickly.

In 2018, I got a glimpse of how tenuous our grip on life can be. It came out of the blue and while I was recovering from surgery, I decided to drive on with my own plans and as soon as I was fit enough, I was off to Cyprus with my buddy, John O’Connor.

I am a regular visitor and I hope to be spending a lot more time there when my wife retires. The climate suits me fine, the people are friendly, and the food is great so what’s not to love. It’s a beautiful island.

It reminds me of an Ireland back in the sixties but without the dampness. The entire island is only about the size of Munster so it’s very intimate. It has over three hundred days of sunshine a year and I love to feel the heat on my bones. I feel better for it so unless something crops up to spoil my plans, Larnaca is where you’ll find me.

David spends most of his time on the island, in a renovated WWII outpost. Pictures from David Glasheen.
David spends most of his time on the island, in a renovated WWII outpost. Pictures from David Glasheen.

I won’t rough it though. I like my comfort and while peace and quiet are top of my list, I won’t be cutting myself off from the rest of civilisation. I’m very happy in my own company but I won’t be doing a Billy-no-mates on it, like David Glasheen did.

Mr. Glasheen is in his mid-seventies and he gave up his wealthy lifestyle 20 years ago for the opportunity to live on a desert island. He was born in Australia, but his family came from Cork, which is very appropriate given that his name is Glasheen.

David with a visitor to Restoration Island. Pictures from David Glasheen.
David with a visitor to Restoration Island. Pictures from David Glasheen.

Matt Young wrote a story about this guy and it’s quite a tale. Mr Glasheen is an Australian millionaire turned castaway, who walked away from his life and became Australia’s real-life Robinson Crusoe in 1997. He has endured the toughest landscapes in the largest unspoilt wilderness in Northern Australia and one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth.

David, in younger days. Pictures from David Glasheen.
David, in younger days. Pictures from David Glasheen.

“The wild is pretty severe. It’s a tough world. Things are forever going wrong, and you’ve just got to deal with it. You’ve got to work with the elements.”

Except for the annual grocery shop to Cairns, Mr Glasheen spends most of his time on the island, where he lives in a renovated WWII outpost.

This character is 77 years old, but he moved to the island after losing his fortune in the stock exchange crash of 1987.

The island in Northern Australia where David Glasheen lives. Pictures from David Glasheen.
The island in Northern Australia where David Glasheen lives. Pictures from David Glasheen.

Before that it was estimated that he was worth about 27 million dollars as chairman of a Sydney-based company which specialised in gold mining.

He invested in luxury real estate along Sydney Harbour but after the Black Monday crash in 1987, the Dow Jones dropped a record 508 points and Glasheen’s stock fell rapidly too. He lost $7.25 million that day alone, and the next few years saw his life spiral into bankruptcy and a broken family. He divorced his wife in 1991 and by 1993, the banks had moved in.

He published a book about how he spiralled into bankruptcy and a broken family and moved to the remote Australian island. Pictures from David Glasheen.
He published a book about how he spiralled into bankruptcy and a broken family and moved to the remote Australian island. Pictures from David Glasheen.

He later heard of a lease that was available on an undeveloped 64-acre island within a national park in Cape York, on Australia’s remote peninsula called Restoration Island. He moved there and now lives in a wooden beach shack and mostly lives off the land, growing his own vegetables and catching fish, crabs and shrimp. But despite having limited electricity, fresh water and having to face regular battles against deadly wildlife, the bearded exile insists he feels safe on the island. There are snakes, spiders and crocodiles but it is safer here than lots of other parts of the world he says, and he can go to bed knowing that he is not going to be attacked by humans.

David's book. Pictures from David Glasheen.
David's book. Pictures from David Glasheen.

The only down-side for him is that he misses intelligent conversation and the physical contact of other people. So, while we share a Cork connection and a fondness for a nice island, that’s where the similarities end. He is happy to endure hardship for his desert island lifestyle - I’m not.

I’m prepared to put up with the odd mosquito bite or an occasional glitch with the air conditioning. I’ll even put up with the Wi-fi dropping from time to time but any more than that and I’ll be on the first plane back home.

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