Tuesday, 12 October 2010

A Little Further North to Paronella Park (Mena Creek)

Hinchinbook Island
With the sun shining and clean clothes on our backs, we bid Lucinda farewell. Lying off the southern end of Hinchinbrook Island, it is the quiet twin of Cardwell. Lucinda attracts the Grey Nomads, who fill the caravan park in the winter months, the southern legs bared to the sun and fishing rods over shoulder which have earned laziness. A spattering of families visit, dad with his fishing boat and mum with her penny dreadfuls and the vast expanse of trees and soft fall grass in which kids can make splendid adventure.

The rowdy twin, Cardwell, is the port for Hinchinbrook cruises and it supports the young adults too poor to lounge by Cairns beaches. We stopped there on the way north to catch a view of Hinchinbrook without its cloudy wig. Stopping first at Port Hinchinbrook Marina, we were meant to marvel at the lavish or was that garish displays of wealth floating patiently at mooring awaiting their masters need to posture and position, even in leisure. Instead, we had a cheap coffee, took a few photos and left. I felt the crushing weigh of the class difference and was most uneasy.

At the other end of town, we happened on the Rainforest Centre, a faithfully created and maintained building taking visitors on a tour of the marine environment, above and below the surface with excellent displays lots of information, all displayed in small grabs ... perfect for kids.

Out of Cardwell, we made one of those decisions of happenstance and took the turn west toward the constant chain of ranges which run adjacent to the coastal plain, watching in unchanged combination of rocky ridge and impenetrable rain forest from well before the time when they first saw men scrambling about in pain, agony or death throws from swimming in the clear blue waters to the east. In fact the changes to these ridges are mostly the responsibility of white man as he came looking for timber or other, more golden riches.

Murray Falls
Our twenty minute diversion inland took us to Murray Falls NP, at the very feet of the ranges, to where a valley exhausted at a beautiful 20m waterfall as the Murray River thundered into a splash pool below. Those clever people from the Qld National Parks have erected viewing platforms which are so close to the action that spray will mist your camera lens at the very least. The waterfall area is out of bounds, as the force of the falls creates dangerous undercurrents in the main splash pool which will pull you under and keep you, dashing you on submerged rocks and river debris which has found its way over the falls in flood times. Having experienced those undercurrents at Edith Falls on a lilo, I can attest to their strength. A neat camping area adjoins the falls and further downstream where the water has calmed and broadened after its manic descent, a long swimming area is designated for day users and campers alike but they do so with an advisory risk of red-bellied black snakes who also like to take a dip on a hot day. We convinced ourselves we had too far to drive to pause for a swim and after repeating it often enough, we eventually believed it. This was a magic, unexpected find.

We found our way back to the Bruce Highway and went a little further north to the home of the Giant Gumboot at Tully. It's also the home another big sugar mill but fortunately for us, the mill was closed owing to the recent rain. Too much rain prevents the machine harvesters from working and with no billets to process, the mill simply closes. Not so fortunate for the mill workers who just about all casual employees, so no work, no pay packet. Tully claims the title as the wettest town in Australia, hence the town symbol of the giant gumboot. The golden gumboot in question lies in a park near the business centre of town and is 7.8m high ... the height is representative of how much rain Tully had in its biggest rain fall year of 1950. The adventurous may climb the gumboot via an internal circular staircase for an outstanding view of ... the mill and the business centre.

The grounds of the two parks we tried to access for lunch were sodden and muddy, further supporting their claims. We eventually avoided bogging the car and trailer and sludged our way to a picnic table. Had we not taken photos of the golden gumboot, all memories of Tully may well have faded faster than the five minutes it actually took. You know that saying "I spent a week there one day"? In Tully, a week takes ten minutes.

After lunch we struck out north, bitter at having to leave Tully so soon after arriving, eventually leaving the Bruce at East Silkwood and travelling on what had once been the Bruce Highway to Mena Creek and the former home of the Spanish dreamer, Jose Paronella.

Paronella Park
Paronella Park is an unusual tourist attraction, in that it lies off the beaten track, it features buildings that are in disrepair and 85% of its visitors are there by word of mouth. At the entrance and in their advertising the owners guarantee that visitors will be amazed at what they see and I have to admit, they were as good as their word. Rated the No1 tourist attraction in Qld by a recent RACQ survey, Paronella Park is like nothing else you will visit, based as it is on the amazing vision its original owner had for it.

Paronella came to Australia in 1913, after leaving a fiance in Spain on the promise he would return for her once he was established. He went first to Cloncurry in summer but soon realised he could not tolerate the heat so came east to Cairns, where he worked as a cane cutter and threw all he could into buying other farms on the cheap and improving them for resale or lease. Then with enough capital, he bought a section of rainforest from the Australia government, whose crowning feature was a waterfall. Paronella had a vision for a property with a series of castles and entertainment areas for visitors. At this point, he returned to Catalonia for his bride, Matilda but as he had maintained no contact with her in thirteen years, he was disappointed to be informed she had married another. Not to be outdone, the family soon agreed he should marry a younger daughter, so he and Margarette returned as husband and wife to Mena Creek.

In the following six years, Jose and a local builder constructed a grand ballroom, a cafe which led down to the water's edge below the huge waterfall and a series of stairways and walking paths through the dense rainforest. He eventually got around to constructing a cottage for his wife!

His greatest achievement was using the waterfall to create hydroelectricity in the late 1930's, which gave the facility electric light well before the rest of the area. This eccentric man's dream has come true, but only in the relics of his passionate pursuit of his dreams. Floods, fire and cyclones have reduced the buildings and even many of the walkways to unusable status but there is something about the guy which fascinates you. To this day, the facility generates its own electricity with much of Paronella's infrastructure intact. A caravan park run by Paronella Park offers a free night's accommodation to all visitors who go through the park and the information from the the guided tour was incredibly interesting.

Sue and I would certainly add our mouths to the words.

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