Friday 9 October 2015

Paronella Park, Mena Creek, Queensland, Australia

Back in high school history was by far my least favourite subject. My teacher was a textbook teacher which did not help. The hour period was to read through until the end of the chapter then answer the questions at the end. Looking back I would never have even thought of becoming a tour guide due to this lack of interest in history, but travelling and tour guiding in Australia are two of the best things imaginable. Not only do you see some of the beautiful places Australia has on offer, but as we learnt from being tour guides in Central Australia, it is a wonderful way to learn the history and culture of different parts of Australia. Paronella Park it is no different. It is here that Cameron and I have been guiding for the past 6 months.

The park is full of beauty, as it is surrounded by a lush rainforest. As you explore you find castle ruins which take on the characteristics of a fairy tale. It reminds me most of Hansel and Gretel. Originally it was intended to act as an oasis in the sense that it was surrounded by acres of cane fields and at the park you could escape into another world getting lost in your imagination and thoughts as you explore its beauty. It is still like this today, 80 years on. The story of the park is intriguing and relates to so many people. It touches on immigration, determination, and the desire to achieve one's dream. As the park is located in northern Queensland, natural disasters can occur at any time without warning and have done in the past leaving a trail of destruction behind. Paronella Park is by no means immune but it has the character and determination to keep fighting back.

Paronella Park was built by a man named José Paronella. Some refer to him as the crazy Spaniard. Here is a brief summary of his story. He was born in the late 1800's in Catalonia (the north-east region of Spain). His parents were poor and he spent a lot of time with his grandmother who told him wonderful stories of Spanish castles. To José who was a little boy, the stories of the castles were like fairy tales. As he grew older he never forgot these stories, and eventually they became the inspiration for Paronella Park. His dream was that one day he would build and own his own Spanish castle.

José migrated to Australia when he was 26 and worked in the cane fields in Northern Queensland. He realised the potential profit in owning his own farm so saved enough money to buy some land, developed it into a cane farm, then later sold it for a profit. He did this many times and became very wealthy. After 12 years he returned to Spain to marry, and on their honeymoon José and Margaritta were able to visit many of the castles José's grandmother had told him about. This fuelled on his dream of owning his own castle surrounded by beautiful leisure gardens. A few years later back in Australia José found the perfect place for his castle and gardens at Mena Creek, Queensland as there is a waterfall in view from the road, and a rainforest. This was the perfect place, and after negotiating with the farmer and the council to subdivide the property, José's dreams of building and owning his own castle and leisure grounds started to become reality. He worked extremely hard over the next 5 years, and in 1935 Paronella Park opened to the public.

It was not an easy road for José. There were many who did not believe in him, many critics and doubters, many who thought he was crazy but he was determined to follow his dream until it became reality. He was well ahead of his time. Not only did he create some wonderful buildings with no formal training in architecture or building, but whilst in Spain and Europe he had taken the time to look at working hydro electricity plants. He went and talked to electrical engineers at the South Johnstone Sugar Mill to see if generating electricity would be possible. With their help he was able to develop a plan and generate his own power from the first hydro electric plant in Northern Queensland. The sceptics fuelled him on to achieve this as not only did he want to prove to them that he could do it, but to himself as well. To prove his success, one of the first things he did once the power was going was to light floodlight Mena Creek Falls at night. In the words of his daughter Teresa, “Dad lit the waterfall to show off.” What a beautiful thing to want to show off though! Today it is still alight staying on until 11:30pm each night.

José Paronella died in 1948 aged 60. His family kept his dream alive until 1977 when they eventually sold the park. After a few disasters including a fire in 1979, and cyclone Winifred in 1986 the new owners had given up and left the gardens abandoned. In 1993 there was new hope for Paronella Park. Mark and Judy Evans, along with their three children were travelling Australia, keeping their eye out for a business to buy. Not just anything though. Something with character. Something with history. Something unique. Something beautiful. Something that doesn't come up for sale every day. Paronella Park ticked all the boxes. At last Paronella Park would again start to receive some love. Nearly 22 years on, they still love Paronella Park just as much as José did. Despite their own trials with cyclone Larry in 2006, and Yasi in 2011 they are keeping his dream alive.

An entrance ticket to Paronella Park includes the following:
  • 'The Dream Continues' tour. A 45 minute guided tour in the day telling the history of the park, including the who, what, where, when, how, and why the park was built. What I have written above is just a small snippet of the story you will hear on tour. These day tours leave every 30 minutes throughout the day. The first leaving at 9:30am, the last at 4:30pm
  • The 'Tower of Power' tour. If you are interested in turbines and electronics this 20 minute tour takes you to see the hydro turbines that were restored in 2008 and now once again functioning and generating electricity for the park. This tour is weather dependant.
  • The 'Darkness Falls' tour. An hour tour of the park to see its beauty at night. Paronella Park certainly takes on a different character at night time. Both castle buildings and waterfalls light up. Content is more recent talking you through Mark and Judy's journey of owning the park, and their plans for the future. The tours leave at 6:15pm and 8:00pm. Torches are provided. During summer time due to less people coming through the park, only the first tour will run.
  • A 2 year return card. Your name will be written onto a card. When you return to Paronella Park you show the card, along with some photo identification (the card is non-transferable) and you can come back to visit the park for free. Best of all, if you return with a paying guest, your card gets re-stamped from that date, and you can come for another two years! Fantastic value.
  • A FREE night camping in the caravan park. If you book ahead of time, you can even have power at no extra cost! There are nice hot showers, a laundry facility, and a BBQ area. If camping is not your thing cabins are available on site for an extra cost and share the amenities with the caravan park. Both of these options are available so that people who are wanting to do the 'Darkness Falls' tour can do so and stay the night without having to travel far afterwards. The pub across the road 'Mena Creek Hotel' is a great place to have dinner too as they take orders for food from 12pm- 8pm. This allows for plenty of time for a feed before or after the 6:15pm tour, or before the 8pm tour.
  • FREE Wi-Fi.
  • A map of the park.
  • A botanical fauna and flora guide. This book can also be used at Mamu Tropical Skywalk if you flip it to the other side.
  • Fish food is given out upon arrival. The children particularly but adults too, love to feed the fish and eels. There are turtles in the park which are exciting to see and feed as well.
  • If mobility going up or down stairs is an issue for you, a vehicle taking you to the top or bottom of the park can be arranged by the tour guide.
  • Translation options at no extra cost. If English is not your first language, ask for a translation and you will be given an A4 sheet of paper with a summary of the story in your language of choice. There are also Japanese, Chinese, and Taiwanese staff available to take tours for these language groups.
  • Umbrellas provided on rainy days.
  • Optional 2 park pass upgrade to sister park Mamu Tropical Skywalk. If you love exploring rainforests as much as I do this is well worth the visit. The skywalk is among the treetops but the best thing for the less mobile is that it is relatively flat. At the end you have the option to go up to the top of the tower which looks out into the valley. It is government owned, however 18 months ago they approached Mark and Judy and asked them to take over the management, hence the ability to upgrade tickets to a 2 park pass. They have also implemented an audio guide available in 9 different languages that tells the history of the Palmerston region, including local Aboriginal history.
  • AMAZING CUSTOMER SERVICE. Staff are happy to help in any way we can, and go out of our way to help you have a great day. Here are some examples. Jo is the happiest person you will ever meet. She greets people as they come into the park. If you have a dog that needs minding while you explore but you are hesitant because it is whiney, Sue is a great dog wisperer! If you ring Paronella Park and get Mara on the phone your doubts will melt away as she is a very reassuring person. If you want a hot chocolate with a bit of a twist and you see that either Nicole or Mandy are working in the cafe, ask them to make a Mandy special, or Nicole special. Jasper makes great milkshakes if you want something more than just the usual chocolate or strawberry flavour. Carissa and Linda are like mums to everyone, with a good sense of humour. These are just a few of the amazing people you may meet, just to name a few. Oh and of course great tour guides who are passionate about the park and its story.

Hopefully by now I have convinced you that Paronella Park is well worth the visit. It is on the Old Bruce Highway. 17Km South of Innisfail, Queensland, Australia. As you start heading south, DO NOT turn right towards Townsville. STAY on the road you are on, because it is at this point that it becomes the Old Bruce Highway. If you are travelling north from Townsville turn left at a small town called Silkwood. Paronella Park is open all year round except Christmas day.

With a lot of hard work and the desire to not give up José achieved his dreams. Mark and Judy are now keeping his dream alive and they hope that you hold onto your dreams as well. 2015 has been an eventful year for Cameron and myself. 2 years ago Cameron started writing a book. He finished it earlier this year and it will eventually become part of a series called Necrosanguin. It has been a mammoth job getting it edited. Hopefully it will be released before Christmas. A Facebook page has been created for it, though not much information is there at the moment. Necrosanguin has been put on pause for a while so he could focus on another dream. When we started travelling again we found some old sketch books of his. A few years ago he had wanted to create a T-shirt company with his creations on them, so in July he decided to put them onto the computer, colour them and he has followed through with this dream by creating an online store called Li'l Aussie Monsters. Currently there are 15 designs of shirts. Each come in the choice of 2 colours, kids and adults sizing, and FREE SHIPPING world wide. Bubba Bunyip and Cassowary Col are featured in the above photos. The blog writing is something that has now become more of my project because as you can see Cameron has quite a lot on his plate. We both also have a Facebook page with photos of tours we conduct. Most of them are of our time at Alice Springs as the tours were 3-4 days long, but in the last couple of weeks we have decided to get a couple of photos of us guiding at Paronella Park too. To see either of us in action visit Jen's Tours, or Cam's Tours on Facebook.

Now for the references. This blog post is a brief summary of what is talked about on the day and night tour. A lot of the information comes from a book called 'The Spanish Dreamer'. Written by Dena Leighton with the help of many including José's daughter Teresa, it is a biography of José Paronella. In 2012 Mark Evans did an interview with ABC's Richard Fidler for the radio program called Conversations. Some of my information has come from this interview, as well as going on the 'Darkness Falls' tours with Mark himself which he occasionally conducts.

Happy travels and always follow your dreams!

- Jeni!

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