A city is only as strong as those who forge ahead for its best interests despite the many obstacles in the way of progress. Fortunately for Townsville there are many big-picture thinkers we’re proud to call our own. In this series we celebrate some of the doers who’ve helped put Townsville and the North on the map.
Born and bred in Townsville, renowned entrepreneur Bill Condon has owned 31 businesses in the region but it’s his 20 years of operating reef services out of Townsville he’s perhaps best known for.
the TOURIST MAGNET
In the days when Bill Condon barely had a dollar to his name he did, however, have a valuable asset – a visionary mind. Then a truck driver hauling bananas out of Townsville down south, Bill had plenty of time to think of all the big ideas he could bring to life if only he had the money…
“My wife Joan and I used to go camp on Orpheus Island and we thought: ‘What a beautiful place, we could take people here…’
Together they managed to save enough money for a deposit on a boat to be built on the Gold Coast. Things seemed on the up and up until, halfway through the boat being built, Westpac Bank pulled the pin on the finance. “The bank got the jitters because Doug Tarca, who had Reeflink, advertised in the paper that he was going to start cruises to Phantom Island,” Bill says.
Somehow Bill managed to convince ANZ bank manager John Blake that he could beat Tarca and he approved the loan to keep the boat-building on track. Bill and Joan started their cruises to Orpheus Island, to the research station owned by James Cook University and the clam farm off Orpheus Island. And when Tarca’s planned floating hotel went under, that created a huge opportunity in Townsville for a reef cruise. There was just one problem – it would take two million dollars to step up from the small boat they were running to Orpheus to buying a Wave Piercer.
“I’ll never forget going to the Commonwealth Development Bank in Martin Place in Sydney to put forward my proposal,” Bill says. “I walked into the director’s room and all around the table were the bosses and bank managers. They had the silverware out and waiters and everything and here I was, just a boy from the bush.”
“Some of our tourists couldn’t catch a fish in a fish shop, so when they did (which happened most days) it was a big deal for them and a unique experience”
Although they knocked back the loan at first too, they advised Bill to lease the boat to prove he could get the figures he talked about. “It was supposed to be six months that we chartered the vessel for but we had the figures after three months,” Bill says. “We bought the Wave Piercer in 2001 and built a pontoon at Kelso Reef, then expanded our marketing to include Pure Pleasure Tours Cruises and Holidays, which encompassed tours of North Queensland attractions as well as reef tour pick-ups daily.” Besides snorkelling, diving, coral viewing and ecology explanations Bill and his team also offered line fishing. “Some of our tourists couldn’t catch a fish in a fish shop, so when they did (which happened most days) it was a big deal for them and a unique experience,” Bill says.
Although Bill and his wife Joan are now well past retirement age, they are still showing tourists what the North has to offer courtesy of their caravan park at Black River Stadium, which has become the grey nomads’ hibernation capital of North Queensland in winter. “We promote all the activities on offer in the region and keep people here as long as possible by offering package incentives to stay longer,” Bill says. “The ones staying here do a good a good job of promoting us as well, sharing the stories of attractions they’ve experienced.”
As grandparents of seven “precious” grandchildren, Bill and Joan enjoy spending time with their family in their downtime from managing the caravan park.
“Our daughter Trisha lives on a cattle station at Richmond and has two boys; our son Dean lives in Kirwan and has two girls; and our daughter Kelly lives at Black River and has two girls and a boy,” Bill says.
“One of our favourite ways to spend time together is to dine out on a Saturday night.”