SUCCESSFUL: Akmal Saleh is one of Australia's most popular comedians.
SUCCESSFUL: Akmal Saleh is one of Australia's most popular comedians. Christian Hagward

Akmal Saleh's Northern Rivers treechange from hell

COMEDIAN Akmal Saleh may be one of the few people to have ever lost money selling real estate in Byron Bay after going through the tree change from hell.

His situation was so dire he agreed to be dipped into a vat of fish guts and scorpions in the South African jungle as part of a reality TV show.

Akmal speaks of his experience living on the Northern Rivers in his current show Open for Renovations, and he spoke about it on ABC's Conversations with Richard Fidler.

In 2008 Akmal and his wife Cate bought a home in Lilli Pilli Estate, Byron Bay, but unfortunately their treechange dream didn't last long.

"We had a beautiful house in Byron Bay and we were living in a place where you weren't allowed to have cats or dogs," he said.

"This woman came up to me and said, 'we worked very hard not to have dogs here!', and I said, 'we don't have dogs'. 'What are these?' she said. I said, 'these are not dogs, they are children dressed as dogs' and she just looked at me weirdly and walked away."

Looking for a place to live where their dogs could roam free, Akmal and his wife decided to rent out their Byron home and started looking for a property to buy.

"In desperation, one day we were driving through the hills near Mullumbimby, where there is a place called Mt Jerusalem, which has magnificent rainforest - extremely remote," he remembered.

The couple bought a shack in Huonbrook, 20km west of Mullumbimby, the same day they inspected the property.

They moved their two dogs, a sports car, Persian rugs and valuable books into the shack surrounded by bush rats, leeches, wild dogs roaming the property at night and other situations they were not ready for - like getting a goanna stuck in their pipes.

Within three months they realised they could not live there either.

Akmal Saleh when he was a contestant on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here. The comedian will be in Yamba in January with his new stand-up routine Transparent.
Akmal Saleh when he was a contestant on I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here. The comedian will be in Yamba in January with his new stand-up routine Transparent. Nigel Wright

Stuck for ideas, Akmal opted to participate in Season Six of Selling Houses Australia in 2013, but that also ended in disaster when the comedian and producers realised that the property they were renovating was not registered with the council.

While their home in Byron Bay was rented out, and unable to sell the property in Hounbrook, they moved to Mullumbimby, a move that was expensive for the couple.

When news came from their accountant that they had forgotten to lodge a tax return for three years, the couple faced bankruptcy, so the comedian did what he does best: accepted a gig in another reality TV show.

He ended up in South African jungle on the 2018 season of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

He lasted two weeks and in the process was dipped in a vat full of fish guts and scorpions, befriended his hero Shane Warne and earned just enough money in two weeks to get himself out of financial demise.

Eventually, Akmal and his wife sold their Byron Bay home, but it was not a profitable sale.

"We had to sell that for the same price we bought it, but we spent $200,000 renovating it, so I must be one of the few people to lose money with real estate in Byron Bay," he said.

Akmal and his wife are currently based in Canberra, but he is looking forward to coming back to the area as they still own a property in Rosebank.

"We are looking forward to going back to the Northern Rivers, we love it there, everyone is accepted there and, for me, it's the best place in Australia," he said from Sydney, while preparing to go on stage at the Star Casino.

To listen to the full Conversations podcast with Richard Fidler click here.



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