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Last Updated: Friday, 16 May, 2003, 20:04 GMT 21:04 UK
Branson gives staff Virgin paradise
Richard Branson
Branson: Island will be "a lot of fun"

British entrepreneur Richard Branson has bought an island off Australia's Queensland Sunshine Coast as a leisure haven for staff of his Virgin companies worldwide.

Makepeace Island, covering 10.2 hectares (25 acres), will be developed into an "eco-tourism retreat", according to the website of his Australian budget airline, Virgin Blue.

Alongside an existing "Queenslander" house, it will have tree-house accommodation, tennis courts, camping facilities and opportunities for nature walks, fishing, sailing and water-skiing.

Mr Branson is investing 5m Australian dollars ($3.2m US) in the leisure complex.

It will be the first Virgin staff island in the world.

It lies in a broad stretch of the Noosa River, upstream from Tewantin.

Virgin Group already owns Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, but that is run as a business for outside clients.

Thanking his staff, Mr Branson said Makepeace Island would be "a wonderful retreat for them" and "a great way for our team to spend time together and to get to know each other outside of a work environment".

Virgin Blue's pre-tax profits soared to A$158m ($102m , 63m) in the past financial year ending in March - up from A$47m a year earlier, and defying the global travel slump.

Virgin Blue has about 2,500 staff based in Brisbane - just a two-hour drive from the island.

Worldwide, the Virgin companies employ about 50,000 people.

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