The Russell Island land scam – a lesson for property investors


One of the most notorious land scams ever experienced in Australia took place on Russell Island, which is located in southern Moreton Bay and is just a short trip by ferry from the city centre.

The Russell Island Land Scam2Even though it is technically part of Greater Brisbane, the island was largely uninhabited when some enterprising property developers bought the island back in the seventies.

The developers had many issues to contend with, because there were no roads, water or electricity services.

Even worse, much of the island is swampy with poor drainage and some low-lying areas even disappear underwater at high tide.

To solve these problems, the developers encouraged the state government (some say with money) to rezone the entire island as “residential” even though there were no roads or utility services.

They also had the subdivision maps and surveys done by air at high tide, creating 20,000 blocks available for purchase.

Russell Island had boom potential written all over it

Sales were brisk, with interstate buyers attracted by the developer’s glossy project promotions, including a government promise that a bridge would soon be built to the mainland.

It was obvious to all the buyers that property prices on Russell Island were set to boom.

Over the ensuing years the opposite happened.

Many buyers discovered that their blocks were located in areas of poor drainage and some even disappeared at high tide.

Around 14,000 lots could never be built on and turned out to be worthless.

The government’s promise to construct a bridge to the mainland also evaporated, and no bridge has ever been built, but of all the people associated with this highly dodgy development, only the surveyor was charged and sent to prison.

The island is tranquil and relaxing, but the stigma lingers on

Moving on to the present, we find Russell Island tranquil and relaxing, dotted with holiday cottages, love shacks and weekend getaways.

It has basic services and facilities, some shops and a club, with fast ferry or slower car ferry connections to the mainland. Compare Property2

Russell Island has the lowest median house prices in Brisbane there are still several thousand undeveloped blocks of land, many in prime areas of the island, with water views and they would make ideal investments, but the effects of the massive overdevelopment linger on.

But even though it has been over forty years since that dodgy development, the market is yet to show any signs of recovery.

There are simply too many owners who have been waiting a long time for something to happen and as soon as prices lift a little, they quickly put their properties on the market, hoping for a sale.

One day, when the surplus of vacant land on Russell Island is all taken up and the memories of the scam finally dissipate, prices will rise and Russell Island may finally experience its long-awaited property boom.


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John Lindeman has well over a decade of experience researching the nature and dynamics of various types of assets at major data analysts and is a leading property market researcher, author and commentator. For more information visit Lindeman Reports.

'The Russell Island land scam – a lesson for property investors' have 12 comments

    Avatar for John Lindeman

    September 19, 2021 Andy

    Michael, thanks for the article about Russell Island. I have been keeping a close eye on RI for a few years now and, you’re quite right, the stigma of the land scams has kept prices depressed for a long, long time. And yes, it is not what you define as an investment grade location. However, you are also correct that it is a “tranquil and relaxing” place to be and, having spent some time there, I can tell you it has the feel of a small country town, surrounded by beautiful waterways and with easy access to the mainland and Brisbane. Also, it’s not just holiday cottages and love shacks, there are getting to be more and more permanent residents now that the island has all of the basic services available right there. Not doubt you’re aware that Redlands City Council has given approval for a major redevelopment of the area around the ferry wharf at Redland Bay including a large shopping centre. So in the next five to ten years, Russell Island will become much more desirable as residents will be able to take a lovely, 15minute ferry ride, land at Redland Bay, walk across the street and straight into a shopping centre. Still not the type of location within 5-10km of Brisbane CBD that you would prefer but I think it has a lot more potential than you are giving it credit for. And the prices are unbeatable… although I have noticed that this has started to change to.


    Avatar for John Lindeman

    August 25, 2020 Alicia Pallos

    Any thoughts on investments on Maclaey Island ?


      August 25, 2020 Michael Yardney

      Alicia- that’s not really an investment grade location is it? Holiday locations have never have performed averages, and especially islands – steer clear


        Avatar for John Lindeman

        November 1, 2021 jason bulman

        I disagree you need to have another look into what a good investment is. I bought a 3bedroom home 6mnths ago and if to resell tomorrow would clean up an easy $50,000.00 on top


    Avatar for John Lindeman

    April 30, 2020 Blanca Bellomo

    We bought 1 lot in December 1973 just 1 month after arriving to Australia. My husband and a friend were taken to from Sydney by plane, lunch provided and then via a small plane to the island. Yes, they showed a block of land and we paid $3,000 – $950 deposit and the rest at $50 per month with what ever the balance was, to be paid after 2 years (can’t remember exactly). The balance we paid including interests was $1344.31.
    We were also paying the rates to Redland Shire. We tried to get the title of the block of land but after attempts to get information from REdland Shire and with our lack of English and kowledge about the law in Australia we stopped paying the rates in 1983. We visited Redland Shire Council in 1992 when we were told that our block of land was sold. That it didn’t have anything to do with them. Apparently the scammers who sold it to us presented bankruptcy and the whole island was bought by another developers who eventually sold the land to someone else.
    We considered that a bad experience. I am 71 now and going through a paperwork from so many years ago, I found all the papers related to that purchase. Our friend bought 2 blocks of land at the same time – he lost both.
    Thanks for listening.


    Avatar for John Lindeman

    July 26, 2019 Peter

    Can you please look at this island a bit more objectively. I have a portfolio of 13 homes on Russell Island and yields are between 7 and 13 percent on low risk properties. I feel if you dug just a little bit deeper, and came over and saw for yourself the opportunity this place is for investors you would chnage your tune


      July 27, 2019 Michael Yardney

      Peter – i’m glad it’s worked well for you – investing there is noton my radar


    Avatar for John Lindeman

    July 25, 2019 Leigh

    Russell Island came to my attention when looking for my first property investment about 3 to 4 years ago . I bought a 1 bedroom home with carport still under the builders warranty. I paid $105,000 for this. It has been rented out since then at $200 to now $220. Over $30,000 in rent not bad for my 1st rental. Since bought a couple of blocks to build on in the future. R.I is half way between Brisbane CBD and the Gold Coast thank you for the land scam.


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