IT started with a secret affair in paradise, broken taboos and a cultural ceremony involving a bullock being given to a family by a man who promised to look after a baby girl.


Almost three decades later, what has become one of Queensland’s most intriguing legal fights will finish with the state’s Chief Justice deciding whether a young woman so poor she lives in a shack with a dirt floor and no running water or electricity, should share in a fortune worth millions.

The judge must decide whether Queensland millionaire Ken MacGowan, who had lived a colourful life that could have leapt straight off the pages of a movie script, “adopted’’ a Vanuatu girl 26 years ago.

Sheralee Seule MacGowan, now a mother-of-three, claims she became MacGowan’s child through a Vanuatu customary adoption ceremony, with the approval of her mother’s family, in 1993.

While working for gold mining and exploration companies in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, MacGowan had hunted crocodiles for their skins and uncovered crashed war planes lost in jungles in his spare time.

When he sold his Airlie Beach land that was to become Abell Point Marina, he decided to buy a slice of paradise on a Vanuatu island that was so beautiful it inspired the musical South Pacific.

In the 1980s, the intrepid MacGowan found his peace at Bellevue, a 185-hectare plantation estate near Port Vila.

According to Brisbane friend Jennifer Crawford, the bachelor also found love in the arms of his housekeeper Rachel Seule, but the relationship was a little complicated.

MacGowan confided to friend Jennifer Crawford, who visited from Brisbane with her husband Bruce, that he loved Rachel but had to keep their relationship a secret because having a liaison with a “native girl’’ was frowned upon.

Then Rachel fell pregnant with a baby girl named Sheralee, who was born in 1993.

“Ken said when Rachel told him she was pregnant he told her he loved her but that he could not marry her, because it was taboo,’’ Crawford said in a court affidavit.

MacGowan was sure the child was his and was devastated when Rachel gave Sheralee to another Vanuatu family because she could not afford to keep the baby.

“He said he told Rachel ‘No, she is coming back to Bellevue. I want her to be raised here, with her family’,’’ Crawford said.

MacGowan said he told Rachel he would pay for Sheralee’s upbringing and education and gave a bullock and food to Rachel’s family, in a ceremony which is now at the centre of the Queensland Supreme Court case over his Queensland and Vanuatu estates. READ MORE