21st Century castaway: David Glasheen

The Retired Millionaire on a Deserted Island

A lot of people got very rich, very quickly in the 1980s. One of those was David Glasheen, who earned his millions in stocks and shares before the big crash of 1987 more or less wiped him out, leading him – via the messy end of a 22-year marriage, abandoned business plans and a personal experience that sounds equal parts awakening and breakdown – to Restoration Island, a deserted, otherwise uninhabited paradise just off Australia’s northernmost peninsula.

Since then, Glasheen has made the island his home, and at the age of 73, still lives there today, despite numerous attempts to evict him. He has the occasional visitor – Russell Crowe has been known to pop in for a chat –but most of the time he’s alone, living at the mercy of the seasons, making the effort to wear clothes when he has guests, brewing his own beer, still playing the stock market occasionally via his solar-powered internet connection and hanging out with his beloved dog, Quasi.

David on Restoration Island, Australia

VICE: What does your average day look like?

David Glasheen: Oh, there’s no such thing as “average”. It depends on what I want do and the weather. It’s the wet season and things are unpredictable – it can get very ugly, very quickly. If the island had a direct hit from a cyclone it would completely wipe it out, basically. We’ve had big ones close to us and you get 200kph winds – that’s pretty destructive, but when they’re 400kph, that’s when it’s really damaging. The coconuts are like cannonballs.

Speaking of life and death, do you worry about ageing?

No! It’s part of nature. Humans are a species, we’re only a million years old, we haven’t adapted terribly well to the planet and I think we need to start living within our means on Earth. I think back on the last 100 years and feel glad that I lived in the era I did – we had The Beatles, The Stones, all the great music that everyone’s still playing. But in another way, 100 years from now, the tech is going to be extraordinarily exciting. I’m a great believer in that. We’ve just got to work hard at it.

You live alone on a desert island. Do you worry about the world getting too crowded?

People keep saying the world is overpopulated but I don’t buy it.

We just need to figure out how to grow food in a way that is smarter and share it more.

Restoration Island, Australia

What is the single biggest misconception that we have about time?

The idea that we can control it! We can’t; time marches on, and life just does stuff to us. People have all these grand plans about what they’re going to do with their lives – and for their children, their families, their businesses. But all of a sudden, someone pulls the lever. That’s just nature, and it’s unbelievably powerful.

We could have a disease that flattens the world tomorrow.

How has living on a desert island changed the way you think about time?

You have to enjoy every second of it. Time is really valuable. You can realise how much of it you waste – like I did, for example – in the corporate world. Spending all your energy making money to buy what you think is happiness for the family. At the time, I was in the hunter-gatherer role, the man who, rather than go around banging animals on the head, goes to a job and gets paid money so the wife can go to the supermarket. We hunt in different ways now, we hunt in the office in ties and suits and all these silly clothes that we don’t need to wear. I visit Sydney but I would never ever live there no matter how much money you offer me. It’s a beautiful city to look at but a horrible place to live because everyone’s so time-poor – everyone’s supposed to have more time now, with all this tech, but I see people working more than ever.

David on Restoration Island, Australia

What is your single biggest hope for the future?

That we learn to be more tolerant of each other. We need to find the talent in our countries to help the world work. The West has a lot of talent, a lot of philanthropic talent – there’re more and more people with money who want to help, but they don’t want to give their money away and it then be wasted, because they’ve had to work so hard to earn it. The future is the younger, smarter people who can see what the old farts like me have done wrong – people like me should be kicked out of power, I think. But one thing at a time. Slowly, slowly, catchy monkey.

Interview by Kev Kharas 

Photography by Brian Cassey