Billionaire Gerry Harvey has revealed the reasoning behind his recent purchase of a luxury property in the NSW South Coast town of Narooma, believed to have been worth in excess of $11 million.
Mr Harvey's most recent land acquisition was a 16-hectare luxury property in Narooma. Webster Nolan Real Estate agent David Nolan wouldn't reveal the price, but said it was a record for the region and bettered the $9 million to $11 million price guide.
But Mr Harvey, who has extensive interests in regional real estate, said it didn't signal any change of direction in his property investment strategy. It was the uniqueness of the land, a point surrounded on three sides by Wagonga Inlet with 1.2 kilometres of private water frontage, jetty and guest cottages, that was its allure.
"I just viewed as it as a really unique property. To be able to divide 40 acres in a position like that with a jetty and boat ramp in a place like Narooma with that wonderful inlet. And then Montague Island just off the side. It takes you like 20 minutes to get there if you've got a boat. I thought, gee, this is a great place, would I spend a bit of time there? Yes, I would, I like it.
"People go and pay $50 million on a waterfront place on Sydney Harbour but the water is much cleaner in Narooma," he said. "Would you eat a fish caught in Sydney Harbour?"
No stranger to the regions
Mr Harvey always wanted to be a farmer and even won a scholarship to agricultural college before a twist of fate saw him become a multi-billionaire retailer.
To pay for his education, he studied part time and held a door-to-door sales job, where he met future business partner, Ian Norman.
"I always used to think by the time I'm 30, I'll have enough money to buy my own farm," Mr Harvey said.
"When I got to 30, I was making so much money, if I became a farmer and made nothing, it would be embarrassing so I kept putting it off.
"So at the end of the day, I kept opening shops because it was a thousand times more profitable than being a farmer for me."
Even so, Mr Harvey is undeniably now a farmer. He might not be hands on but his extensive agricultural investments range from cattle to cucumbers.
No stranger to the horse racing industry, Mr Harvey's ag interests include Westbury Stud in New Zealand, with its hundreds of thoroughbred broodmares and Vinery and Baramul thoroughbred studs in NSW which also host a few hundred cattle in NSW.
He also owns a 500-head Angus cattle operation at Bundella in NSW, Security Foods with its decades-long Wagyu cattle business in Victoria and NSW, and a $30-million, 5-hectare glasshouse in Peats Ridge, NSW, where 65 million cucumbers are grown a year.
Mr Harvey is particularly proud of the Peats Ridge facility's productivity, which he said ranked among the best in the world, but it did cause a stir amongst locals in the early days.
"I drove up there and on the posts were 'No, Harvey, no' and I thought 'What the hell is this?' and found out there was a rumour going around that I had a marijuana farm," he said.
Mr Harvey also invested $34 million of Harvey Norman money in a joint venture with businessman Alex Arena into one of Australia's largest dairy farms, Coomboona, in 2015 while the financial press was talking up rivers of 'white gold'.
But that investment proved ill-fated and Coomboona was sold by administrators to the Perich family in 2018 for $40 million.
"If you asked me, 'Do you want to go into a dairy farm?' now, I'd say, 'I have no interest whatsoever, at all, in going into a dairy farm'."
While Australia's record high agricultural land prices had helped many farmers retire with unexpected wealth, Mr Harvey said, he thought it made new purchases less attractive.
"Is this a good time to buy a farm at the moment? I'm a bit shy. So when we've had three years of drought, that's when I'll probably buy another farm."