Australia is an ancient land form with a 40000+ year history of indigenous settlement. But European convicts and pioneers have only been here for approx. 200 years.
One of those early pioneers was José Paronella. He arrived in Australia from Catalonia in Spain in 1913, a 25-year-old man with dreams to be rich and build a castle. For 11 years he worked hard cutting the sugar cane, a hot, hard, labour intense job. Buying, improving and selling cane farms.
In 1924 he went back to Spain to find a wife and married Margarita in 1925. The trip back to Australia was their honeymoon. I wonder what her first impressions of this hot, humid land would be.
José first saw the 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.
It became a passion and a life long project
All of the structures were constructed of poured, reinforced concrete, the reinforcing being old railway track. The concrete was covered with a plaster made from clay and cement, which they put on by hand, leaving behind the prints of their fingers as a reminder of the work they had done. 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.
Jose planted over 7000 trees creating a dense rain forest environment and also planted this impressive avenue of Kauri Pines.
A waterfall carried the copious, tropical rainfall past the castle and this enabled Jose to commission a Hydro Electric generating plant, commissioned in 1933, it was the earliest in North Queensland, and supplied power to the entire Park.
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.
They faced many natural disasters with floods of 1967, ’72 and ’74, but struggled on.
After Jose and Margarita died son Joe and daughter Teresa with their families carried on the family tradition to keep the dream alive. But in 1977 they sold and then in 1979 a fire swept through and the castle 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.
Amazingly Paronella Park is making a come back. Mark and Judy Evans, 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.
Now it is the number 1 tourist attraction in Queensland. I rate it as a “must see”.
We stayed in the camp ground for $14/ night so we could do the night tour and see this amazing place lit up.
Paula asks us to share “traces of the past”. This magnificent castle, one man’s dream, is a solid reminder of the past in Australia. Though it looks as though it came from the middle ages of Europe it is in fact only 86 years old.