REAL ESTATE CRASH: High flyer's fall from grace
AS INSOLVENCY firm McGrath Nicol continues to probe the affairs of Byron Bay real estate agency Unique Estates, sources have told how embattled founder Nicolette van Wijngaarden lived a millionaire's lifestyle.
It included frequent jetsetting, Veuve Cliquot champagne "that flowed like a fountain all night" at her engagement party and luxury helicopter trips to events.
The company has collapsed, leaving up to 40 staff and a row of creditors unpaid.
Sources told The Northern Star that Ms Wijngaarden fell in love with a high-flying lifestyle, leasing luxury cars, regularly travelling business class to exotic destinations and maintaining luxury units in prime locations where she had offices.
As one creditor put it, "she thought she was bulletproof".
"I think what overtook her was absolute greed," they said.
Ms Wijngaarden originally entered the real estate game when her ex-partner was selling a prime property in the area in 2008.
She gained her real estate licence and went on to become the public face of an agency that specialised in selling properties over $2million for high-profile clients including Paul Hogan.
Her engagement to now-husband Andrew Cawley was a lavish affair at a luxury property near Bangalow, with a chef serving oysters and other delicacies and three different types of French champagne, as well as performers and a band.
Her subsequent wedding in 2015, at Mavis' Kitchen in Uki, was equally decadent.
Unique Estates was also a sponsor of premium events, such as classic car auctions and boat shows.
Ms Wijngaarden usually attended and was photographed for the social pages of the 200-page glossy lifestyle magazine, Unique Luxury, that her company published.
In one issue she is pictured at the Sydney International Boat Show onboard the prestigious superyacht Ghost II.
At the Mossgreen Classic Car Auction in NSW, a VIP event which Unique Estates co-hosted, she mingles with classic car collectors.
Unique Estates was not only involved in real estate. In a feature on the annual Monaco Yacht Show, readers are invited to book a luxury charter anywhere in the world through the agency.
Ms Wijngaarden reportedly sent a personal email to staff last week saying that wages could not be paid, as bank accounts were frozen and there were no funds.
In 2013, the ex-Melbournite was the guest speaker at a Byron and Beyond Networking event. According to a post by the organisation, she talked about "how thinking creatively and laterally as well as clever marketing has been a key factor in her success".
Neither McGrath Nicol or the Department of Fair Trading would comment on what they said was an active investigation.
It is not the first time a high-flying Byron agent has been caught up in such a scandal. In 2011, trust accounts held by the now defunct Byron Bay real estate agency Belle Property were the subject of an investigation by the Department of Fair Trading.