A retiree fugitive now facing deportation led a double life in a far north Queensland town where he ran school fundraisers, taught neighbours how to cook and was known as a local “grandfather figure”.
Paton Eidson, 72, went by the name Mike McGoldrick for 30 years in Julatten, fitting right in to the town of fewer than 1000 people.
Locals were “completely amazed” when his true identity was revealed, but have been rallying to stop the “good bloke” from being deported.
Mr Eidson came to Australia with his wife Sonja – who went by the name Anita – and their 16-year-old daughter Maya in 1986, travelling on false passports to escape allegations he was part of a cannabis ring in the United States.
He started one of the country’s first health spa resorts soon after the family arrived in Julatten. Mr Eidson built the timber cabins, resort and family home himself.
The resort spearheaded a new tourism industry for the area, family friend Michael Gabour told The New Daily.
Travel websites describe Julatten Mountain Retreat as “a place of peace and tranquility” with “eco friendly cabins … nestled on the hillside, surrounded by tropical rainforest”.
The retreat, which is no longer run by Mr Eidson, features spa therapists and yoga classes.
He enjoyed playing golf and following the football, while his wife was a “fantastic chef”. The couple also ran Mexican food stalls together at local arts carnivals.
“Young people knew Mike as a sort of grandfather figure, and Anita as well,” Mr Gabour said.
“She was just one of the most remarkable, free-spirited people I’ve come across.”
Mrs Eidson died last year after losing a “valiant” fight to cancer. Her ashes have been scattered on the family property.
Cooking runs in the family, with their daughter Maya Eidson owning and running a restaurant called Maria’s Donkey Tapas Bar in the far north Queensland town of Mackay.
The community has been lobbying the government for Mr Eidson’s release after the US citizen was thrown into immigration detention three months ago.
His neighbour Nemesis Eisel, 20, said he helped her with school assignments while she was growing up and taught her how to cook.
In video petitions to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, two young women Danieka Arcadia Eisel and Jessie Cunningham-Reid compared Mr Eidson to an uncle and a grandfather figure respectively.
Mr Eidson was so well-loved locally that local MPs Bob Katter and Warren Entsch have been advocating for him to be allowed to live in Australia.
Mr Katter said Mr Eidson had created hundreds, even thousands, of jobs in Australia through the health spa industry.
He was involved in local cricket and school fundraisers, and organised Sunday community meetings, Mr Entsch said.
“He’s got no shortage of friends up there that will maintain his property for him,” the Cairns-based MP told The New Daily.
The family’s double life was first revealed in 2012, when Mr and Mrs Eidson were jailed for passport fraud.
“Nobody knew. It was quite remarkable when they were apprehended getting off a bus, and all of us saw the footage. Everyone was completely amazed,” Mr Gabour said.
Still, nobody questioned the quality of the family, despite the shock arrests.
“We know the character of the couple,” Mr Gabour said. “They are honest, hardworking, decent people.”
Mr Eidson said he was charged in 1991 with conspiracy to import marijuana relating to allegations that stretched back to 1985.
He was detained in May because he does not have a visa under his correct name.
He is now willingly returning to the US to sort out his paperwork on the basis that Mr Dutton has committed to fast-tracking an application for permanent residency in Australia.
Mr Eidson has emphysema and has been hospitalised twice since his arrest.
Mr Entsch said he will celebrate with Mr Eidson upon his return.
“I can assure you he’ll be looking forward to a very big celebration when he gets back. We’ll enjoy a bottle of red cordial.”