Australian Oasis: Paronella Park
KIng Arthur's Dream in the Rainforest
A Vision Rises in the Bush
Many and varied are the reefs in a man’s life that lie just under the surface and prevent his journey proceeding any further.
For Jose Paronella, it was just 13 acres of rough rain forest country along the Mena Creek in Queensland, Australia, which took his fancy and where he was to create a park, house and castle like something from a dream by King Arthur.
People visiting Paronella Park over the some 76 years since its inception have to rub their eyes as this vision rises from cane fields and forests, the scrub and rolling hills of Central Queensland. Up until the facility was badly damaged by a series of natural disasters and finally closed for some years in the eighties, the Park became an oasis for many travelers and local residents of the town of Mena Creek close by. I visited the place in the mid-sixties and often wish I had spent more time there or returned, but my reefs were waiting elsewhere.
Jose Paronella, to whom the dream and the execution of the stunning reality belongs, was a Spaniard from Catalunia. He emigrated to Australia in 1913 and began to cut sugar cane, eventually becoming a broker for the sale of sugar cane properties.
In 1934, Jose returned to Spain to marry his childhood sweetheart, Margarita, and return with her to the new world; the trip back was their honeymoon. Paronella had paid just $120 for the land 120 miles south of Cairns. We can only imagine Margarita’s expression when Jose said this is where he intended to live; she must have thought she had married a madman!
But Jose was to prove his worth and dispel her fears; he was no Walter Mitty. First, a grand staircase was constructed from the creek up to a bluff so that sand and water could be easily transported up to pour concrete. Then he built Margarita a tidy house from local stone, the only natural building material that would be used for the extensive construction. Paronella used reinforced concrete from then on, to build the attractions which were to include a castle!
Jose also built restaurants, a large swimming pool, a theater, a ballroom, which included a huge ball covered in 120 tiny mirrors reflecting light from blue and pink spots on the twirling dancers. This in prewar Queensland! Unheard of. The concrete was all finished in plaster made from cement and coloring; some still shows the fingerprints of the builders left as signatures.
In 1935, the Paronella’s opened their fantasy to the public; we can only imagine the awe on the faces of the rough-hewn Queensland cane-cutters and jackaroos (cowboys) and their simply-frocked ladies as they beheld these marvels from another world. Now they had somewhere they could come to dance, see a movie, eat first- class food and swim in a lovely pool, inspect the curiosities and collectables in the museum or stroll under the 7000 trees, including the many beautiful Kaury, planted by the owners, and waterfalls. “She’s a bloody dinky-die beauty, mate!”
And we can only imagine the days, months and years of backbreaking labour it took to see this oasis rising from nothing. Not to mention maintaining it against the forces of nature.
In 1946, the first of what were to be many disasters struck the Park. This was caused by a dam forming higher up in the creek and finally bursting during torrential rains. The resulting slurry of mud, trees and water swept through the place destroying the lower levels for ever. Doggedly, the Paronellas cleaned up, rebuilt and moved the restaurant up to a higher ground.
Two year later, in 1948, Jose succumbed to cancer. This left his wife and two children, Joe (Jose) and Teresa to carry on. They would soldier-on for nearly thirty years. Teresa married and moved to the capital, Brisbane. Joe also married, but brought his wife, Val, back to Paronella Park where they had two children,
Floods were to be the bane of the resort. 1967, 72, 74...in 1967 Margarita also passed on and in 1972, well before his time, her son Jose also died. The family finally sold the property in 1977 and in 1979, a huge fire swept through the castle area forcing the new owners to close the park for some years as the woes were aggravated by Cyclone Winifred (Hurricane) in 1986 and more floods in 1994.
In 1993, Mark and Judy Evans acquired the long-suffering, yet still outstanding property; in 1997, it was finally accepted and listed by the National Trust.
Paronella Park has received 11 awards for merit by those that are involved in tourism. Mark and Judy are said to be rebuilding the place to how it once was instead of putting new construction in place. Its glory years were between 1933 and the mid 1940’s when Jose and Margarita were proudly showing and sharing their home to visitors from all over Australia and tourists from afar. Jose had, indeed, taken advantage of his “reef.” Such a shame he couldn’t have had a longer tenure.