Luxury retreat that forms part of the empire

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The Independent Online
Hayman Island is one of the world's most exclusive resorts, drawing the rich and famous who flock to escape the hassles of daily life and are prepared to pay for it. Keith Richards and his family were among recent guests, during a break in the Rolling Stones' world tour, paying almost pounds 500 a night for a suite overlooking the Pacific.

Apart from the apparent aim of impressing his political guests with unparalleled luxury, Mr Murdoch's choice of Hayman Island for a gathering of his News Corporation executives is a pragmatic one: News Corporation has a strong financial interest in the island through its joint ownership of Ansett, the Australian airline which built the resort during the 1980s.

Senior Australian Labor Party figures are understood to have been invited to the jamboree, but it was considered unlikely that Paul Keating, the party leader and Prime Minister, would join them. Mr Keating has caused controversy recently with his government's sanctioning of arrangements that will see the expansion of Mr Murdoch's film and television empire in Australia, where he already controls 70 per cent of the metropolitan daily press.

Mr Murdoch recently praised Mr Keating as "one of the few really strong leaders in the world today". Under fire from such diverse sources as Labor's left wing and Kerry Packer, Mr Murdoch's rival mogul, Mr Keating is not likely to give his enemies further ammunition by allowing himself to be so openly courted.

Hayman Island is located in the Whitsunday Passage group of islands off the Queensland coast, and most of the area remains as pristine as when Captain Cook arrived in June 1770.

To reach Hayman, you fly to Hamilton Island then board a 115ft launch, Sun Goddess, for the 45-minute crossing. As soon as you step on board, the regularities of ordinary daily life are left behind. Porters whisk away your luggage, and waitresses hover with trays of champagne.

The same assiduous service applies at the resort, where sandstone and marble fittings predominate, and all the 214 rooms and suites, starting at pounds 166 a night, have a view of the ocean or the giant octagonal swimming pool which has become the resort's trademark.

By day, guests can fish, swim, play golf, work out at a gym, attend a beauty salon or go snorkelling off a secluded beach at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. By night, there is a choice of six restaurants, each with different food themes, such as "Aussie" or "Oriental Sea-food". Prices start at pounds 30 a head.

Exclusivity is the keyword. During a recent working stop-over, I asked the resort's resident manager if day-trippers were allowed to drop in. "It's not something we encourage," he replied with cool understatement.

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