Bert Gerbrands, founding general manager of Turtle Cove Beach Resort, has died. After opening the resort in 1993, Bert retired to Thailand in 1999. However, he returned in 2009 when a Melbourne couple bought the resort with the aim of returning it to its glory days.
Bert Gerbrands established himself in the Cairns hospitality industry in the years before the international tourist boom. By the late 1980s he managed the Colonial Club Resort, then one of the town’s leading accommodation houses. Always prominent on the LGBTIQ scene, he was involved in early local efforts to deal with the HIV/AIDS crisis. As a friend of Dr David Bradford, Victoria’s chief venereologist, Bert had access to the most up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS.
By the early 1990s, Bert looked for a new challenge.
He worked for a time at the earliest Cairns gay resort, Be Bee’s. Although popular, Be Bee’s was little more than a suburban motel. Bert wanted something grander.
During a visit by Dr Bradford and partner Michael Williams, Bert took them for a drive to Port Douglas. On a bend in the highway, they noticed some deserted buildings tucked into a secluded cove. Stopping to explore the site, they found a small complex of ramshackle bungalows on a private beach. Rocky headlands at either end of the beach hindered access to the sandy shore looking out to the Coral Sea.
They had stumbled across an accommodation complex built by then fugitive businessman Christopher Skase. Skase housed workers there during the construction of the Mirage Resort in Port Douglas. He managed to acquire freehold title to the land through Martin Tenni, autocratic premier Bjelke-Petersen’s Environment Minister and the local member. The notoriously anti-gay Tenni probably suffered conniptions when Skase’s land later became a gay resort.
A consortium of gay men, headed by Dr David Bradford and Michael Williams bought the land and constructed the resort. After the opening at Easter 1993, the resort enjoyed the title of World’s Best Gay Resort for three years running.
F*** the drag queen
This writer performed for Turtle Cove’s opening night and on many other occasions over the years. I remember Bert mainly for his eccentric wit. On opening night, I performed poolside. With the audience way over the other side of the pool, I decided I needed a big finish and affected a fall into the pool. Back in the days before lace-fronts, I just plonked a wig on for the show. After ‘falling’ into the pool, I surfaced to discover my wig and I had parted company. I saw it bobbing in the water, some distance away.
“Where’s the lifesavers? Save the drag queen,” someone in the crowd called out jokingly.
‘F*** the drag queen,” yelled Bert above the laughter.
“Drag Queens are cheap. Save the wig. Those things cost money.”
Turtle Cove Beach resort announced today they will provide details of a planned Memorial Day in the coming days.
Bert Gerbrands RIP.