I always have to know the story. This is why I love to travel.
Ruins, ghost towns and abandoned buildings have always fascinated me. I want to know the story behind the place. Who lived there, what is their story, why did they leave, who was the last person to walk away, did they ever come back? I have so many questions. Paronella Park is one of those places that had my interest from the moment I arrived.
Situated 120 km south of Cairns and 280 km north of Townsville in Far North Queensland, Australia, Paronella Park is situated on the ‘old’ Bruce Highway at Mena Creek. It is situated in the heart of the banana growing area.
Included in the entry fee is a tour of the park, a definite must do. I was lucky enough to have an awesome guide for my tour, Yeng. Not only did Yeng do an extraordinary job of telling me about the history of the park and answer my many questions, but he was also a super photographer with my i-phone so credit goes to this awesome dude for the great photos.
Paronella Park is an award winning tourist destination, one I have now ticked off my list. If you visit the Paronella Park web site you will be able to read the whole history of this fascinating place. I have taken the most interesting bits from the site and put them together with my photos.
The park was a vision of an inspiring man, José Paronella, who arrived in Australia from Catalonia in Spain, in 1913. José first saw this 13 acres of virgin scrub along Mena Creek in 1914. He eventually purchased it in 1929 for £120 and started to build his pleasure gardens and reception centre for the enjoyment of the public. The earliest structure, the Grand Staircase, was built to facilitate the carrying of the river sand to make the concrete. They certainly would have been fit in those days carrying sand up and down those stairs! José would have exceeded his 10,000 steps a day on this staircase.
First they built a house to live in, then they started on the Castle itself. Apart from the house, which is made of stone, all of the structures were constructed of poured, reinforced concrete, the reinforcing being old railway track.
They laboured with unswerving determination, until, in 1935, the Park was officially opened to the public. The Theatre showed movies every Saturday night. In addition, with canvas chairs removed, the Hall was a favourite venue for dances and parties.
The concrete slab tables forming the lower Tea Gardens and the swimming pool both proved extremely popular, as they still do today. The avenues and paths were well laid out with the familiar shaped planters which are still to be seen wherever you go in the Park.
Upwards of 7000 trees were planted by José. The creek is lined with rocks and traversed by small bridges. The Hydro Electric generating plant, commissioned in 1933, was the earliest in North Queensland, and supplied power to the entire Park. José was certainly a visionary, well before his time.
In 1946, disaster struck. Upstream from the Park a patch of scrub had been cleared and the logs and branches pushed into the creek. When the first rains of the Wet Season came, the whole mass began to move downstream until it piled up against a railway bridge a few hundred metres from the Castle. Water backed up until the weight broke the bridge, and the entire mass descended on the Park. The downstairs Refreshment Rooms were all but destroyed, the Hydro was extensively damaged, as was the Theatre and Foyer.
Undaunted, the family began the task of rebuilding and José built the fountain. The Castle was repaired, the gardens replanted, and the Park was alive again.
In 1948, José died of cancer. The Park was sold out of the family in 1977 and sadly, in 1979, a fire swept through the Castle. For a time, the Park was closed to the public. Cyclone Winifred in 1986, a flood in January 1994, Cyclone Larry in March 2006, and Cyclone Yasi in January 2011 were all further setbacks and challenges for Paronella Park.
The current owner/operators, purchased the Park in 1993 and formulated a plan to put the Park back on the map. They see the Park as a work of art, and work on maintaining and preserving, rather than rebuilding. Small restoration projects have been undertaken, pathways uncovered and improved, and the Museum, an ongoing project, is continuously being enhanced.
In November 2009, the ambitious project to restore Paronella Park’s original (1930s era) hydro electric system was completed. At a cost of $450,000, the system once again provides all of the Park’s electricity requirements. Paronella Park’s life as a pleasure gardens continues as José intended, for visitors, and with social gatherings, particularly weddings, continuing to make use of this unique location.
If you are travelling by road between Townsville and Cairns make sure you take the time to stop for a few hours to explore Paronella Park. The park is a tribute to José, a man with big dreams, determination and a vision well before his time.
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