Thursday, 18 July 2013

To fulfil your dream

We saw this little bird fast asleep in a tree in the dead of night

Having fed the fish, turtles, and the eel we carried on up, not far as we’d booked to go to Paronella Park, a funny little place, I’d been told about it in Toowoomba, that it was magical and we had to go, as we’ve got back to the coast there has been more and more advertising about it. I’d almost decided not to bother as it is $40 each (though that does include a free nights camping if you book in in time) until one of the flyers said “if it’s not the best thing on your holiday we’ll give you your money back”. This is a fairly confident claim, so I got all inspired again.

Paronella Park, the waterfall and castle on top of the cliff
The castle today
Paronella Park was built by Jose Paronella a Spaniard from Catalonia who came to Oz in about 1920 to make his fortune in order to go back and marry Matilda. After working hard for 11 years he’d amassed $30k – millions in todays money, so back he went. Sadly he’d not kept in touch, so after no word for 8 years she’d married someone else! However on hearing how much he was worth, ‘Mama’ decided perhaps he should marry Marguerita her youngest daughter! This he duly did, and they honeymooned in style round Europe for a year while he filled her in on his dream – to build a castle!

And as it was in its heyday
Back to Oz and he found the perfect piece of land by a waterfall at Mena creek which he bought for £120 in 1929, equivalent to $3million today. He first built a modest little cottage in 1930 which they lived in with their two children, but the ‘project’ was a castle to be an entertainment for all. Having imported the cement from Germany he mixed it with local sand (this turned out to be a problem as it’s not good sand so becomes porous which lets water in allowing the old railway lines that he’d used as supports to go rusty!) 

The cafe with changing rooms and lake overlooking tennis courts
He first built a café, for Marguerita to sell her home cooking, then went on to build a ballroom (with the largest mirror ball in the southern hemisphere, costing the equivalent of $1million), another café, picnic area by the lake with BBQ, along with changing cubicles, the first public flushing toilets, a secret passage to where he’d created a weir and ‘Theresa Falls’ named for his daughter. It was the first place to have a hydroelectric power supply, first DC then after it was all damaged in a huge flood, AC. 

As it was
The fountains in the back are all gravity fed, so need no power, the render looks textured, which it is, by his finger prints. There is also a huge avenue of Kauri trees (just for you Robyn). As you can see, a real labour of love. It was opened to the public in all its glory about 5 years after he started, which is pretty good going, if you arrived to enjoy the park but weren’t formally attired enough he’d send you away!

The ballroom today, looking at the remains of the stage
The ballroom as it was and how they hope it will look in the future
This all continued till 1946 when a huge flood (caused by timber, logged from high in the mountains to be washed down until it got trapped by a railway bridge damming the river. Eventually the railway bridge gave way causing a 50 foot wave of water, logs and debris to wash over the waterfall) destroyed much of the lower area – the hardwood floor and drapes in the ballroom, much of the landscaping and the hydro-electric plant. So he set to and redid all his hard work, dying of stomach cancer 2 years later in 1948. He knew he was never going to make his money back, but he achieved his dream of a castle for all to enjoy. 

It continued as the cinema and a venue for weddings till the ‘70’s when due to an electrical fault it burnt down, and fell into disrepair, until it was bought by the current owners in 1993. They have just been issued with a heritage grant to rebuild the ballroom, so are thrilled – we may have to go back in a few years to see.

The Kauri tree avenue. Trees planted in 1933
The Golden Orb female spider with a little red male on her back. She eats him after mating
Their marketing has been stunning, you get a daytime tour where they leave you at the bottom of the grounds to find your own way back and an evening tour to see it all lit up, there are at least 5 Japanese guides along with 2 Chinese and as many English speakers as it takes to run 45 min tours every half hour. You are welcomed in from the carpark with an umbrella if it’s raining (it was) and the whole atmosphere was stunning. We loved it. 

Turtle feeding

And eel feeding
The little bandicoot we saw on our night trip
As well as the castle and grounds I also saw the biggest golden orb spider, our guide mentioned she’d seen a couple already so I pointed her at mine, it really was bigger than my hand, behind the toilet block on the way to the van, and even she came back pale! It seemed to become part of the tour for the day though, it had so many people come to visit. We saw flying foxes, micro bats, a bandicoot and ‘glow in the dark’ mushrooms. The turtles fish and eels were only to be expected as you are issued with food to feed them, but what we didn’t see was the crocodile who moved in 8 months ago (when it hits 2m they can officially get it caught and removed) or the python who shed the 4.25m skin!

The waterfall by night
What about this for a fabulous picture!
It was a wonderful place, I loved it and no way could B have kept a straight face to try to reclaim his money!

We’ve moved on to the Atherton Tablelands today, mostly in the rain which I suppose is good for all the waterfalls, not good however for campsites which are all turning into a quagmire – they don’t expect it to rain for 4 solid weeks at this, their busiest, time of year! We may not be able to leave this site though till we’ve seen a tree kangaroo, we were out for an hour and a half this afternoon looking, so will give it another go in the morning!

Hard work getting these coconuts!
Had our first pudding of foraged fruit, custard with banana (not foraged but local and very cheap) oranges (foraged) and coconut (foraged!) B was so happy I found those for him to open I can tell you!

But the end product was worth it!
Know your Australian Highway Code: Watch out for tree climbing kangaroos

The picture that sums it up for me, Marguerita and Jose
For me, Paronella Park was more than the place itself, although it was very magical, it was more about Jose following his dream and seeing it come true. We all have dreams, not all are turned into reality, but to see someone’s who has is very inspirational. In all they reckon he spent the equivalent of $60m, which is a huge sum to ‘follow your dream’, but somehow it all seemed worth it. Their old cottage is now a small museum, filled with photographs of the castle and ballroom in its heyday and a few of them I photographed and are here, but the one that summed him up for me was a photo of Marguerita and Jose seated outside his castle with his guitar enjoying their life and surroundings. It’s what we all need to do before it’s too late – follow our dreams!

1 comment:

  1. Just one burning on earth does the red spider mate with the huge golden orb spider? Does he climb in and out of her bottom several times?