TOURISM INNOVATOR: Capricorn Caves icon Ann Augusteyn.
TOURISM INNOVATOR: Capricorn Caves icon Ann Augusteyn.

'Passionate' tourism operator leaves her mark on community

CAPRICORN Caves owner and beloved tourism icon Ann Augusteyn has died while holidaying in Africa.

Ann's family and the Capricorn Caves issued a statement on Saturday afternoon about her sudden death on Friday.

While unexpected, Ann's death was peaceful as she passed away in her sleep.

Ann, who purchased the Capricorn Caves with her husband Ken in 1988, was travelling with her son Robert.

"Ann's three children, John, Helen and Robert and her five grandchildren and extended family are deeply shocked and saddened by the news and all staff of Capricorn Caves were notified in person at 4pm today," the statement read.

Ann and Robert were in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to enjoy a safari tour en-route to the International SKAL Conference to be held from October 17 to 21 in Mombasa, about 500km away.

 

(From left) Son Robert Augusteyn, Ann Augusteyn, daughter Helen Harmsworth  and son John Augusteyn.
(From left) Son Robert Augusteyn, Ann Augusteyn, daughter Helen Harmsworth and son John Augusteyn. Contributed

This year marked the 10th anniversary of Ken's death and would have been the couple's 30th anniversary of the ownership of the Capricorn Caves. 

The couple came across the sale of the Capricorn Caves in an advertorial in the Courier-Mail.

At the time Ann was a high school teacher and Ken was plumber.

They were both looking for a new adventure and packed up their whole world into the car and drove to Rockhampton.

Capricorn Caves is the only privately-owned show caves on freehold land in Australia.

Ann and Ken knew nothing about tourism and even less about caves, but they had energy, determination and with Ken's skillset across all trades, they had what it took to make a mark on the industry.

 

Ann Augusteyn
Ann Augusteyn Contributed

After buying the Capricorn Caves, the couple made it into a multi-award winning destination at a state and national level.

"Ann was passionate about the environment, education, travel and has left her mark on many people far and wide," the statement said.

The local community was initially apprehensive that someone from the city had bought the caves and wondered what the future was for Olsen's Caves but that did not deter Ann and her family.

They were determined to execute a plan to make the caves a premier tourist attraction.

Ken began working on the infrastructure of the property while Ann took on everything else.

She did the marketing, ticket sales, cleaning, and to top that off, was the sole tour guide.

For the next 20 years, they focused on the development of the property.

 

FAMILY VENTURE: John Augusteyn, Ann Augusteyn, Ken Augusteyn and Helen Harmsworth (nee Augusteyn) during their first day at the Capricorn Caves.
FAMILY VENTURE: John Augusteyn, Ann Augusteyn, Ken Augusteyn and Helen Harmsworth (nee Augusteyn) during their first day at the Capricorn Caves. Rachael Conaghan

ANN'S ACHIEVEMENTS IN HER TIME AT CAPRICORN CAVES:

  • Telstra Business Award- less than 6 employees- 1994
  • Queensland Tourism Awards- Significant Tourist Attraction 1995
  • Queensland Tourism Awards- Chairman's Award for Excellence 2003
  • Queensland Tourism Awards- Adventure Tourism 2005
  • Queensland Tourism Awards- Ecotourism 2008, 2009
  • Queensland Tourism Awards- Tourist Attraction 2014 (Bronze at National Awards)
  • Runner Up QTIC Award for Innovation 2017

Their business plan was to generate enough income to reinvest in maintenance, new facilities, conservation and sharing the natural wonder with the world.

These achievements had made Ken and Ann very proud, however nothing more so than making Capricorn Caves wheelchair accessible.

In 1992, carrying in six tonne of timber and three tonne of steel, they worked to minimise impact on the caves and maximise views for visitors, becoming the most accessible cave in Australia.

Ken's health declined after years of hard work and in March 2008 he was pushed up the ramp that he had constructed to attend his son John's wedding in the Cathedral Cave.

Ten days later he passed away, leaving behind a remarkable legacy and a tourist operation completely in the hands of Ann.

From this point, Ann never took a backward step, she became a community leader and well respected within the local tourism industry, developing Capricorn Caves into one of Queensland's Hero Experiences and a Best of Queensland Experience.

Ann, who became director of Capricorn Caves, stepped away from daily operations and undertook special projects like writing grant submissions and tourism awards.

She also had a focus on mentoring the younger staff, highlighted when general manager Amanda Hinton became a Young Tourism Leader.

Embracing digital technology and collaborating with scientific bodies like the Queensland Museum, Ann broke new ground in tourism and still after 30 years, led the way in product development and inspired those around her with her ability to adapt in such a quickly-changing world.

Capricorn Enterprise CEO Mary Carroll said the news had shocked the local tourism industry.

"Our tourism industry is in absolute shock and Ann was highly respected as an industry leader," she said.

"Our hearts go out to Ann's beautiful family, her staff and her colleagues.

"Capricorn Caves general manager Amanda Hinton is very capably running the business and her colleagues have rallied around her to assist however possible," Ms Carroll said.

Some information has been supplied by Capricorn Caves and Capricorn Enterprise.



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