Tropical dream becomes a reality

Paronella Park's perfect match

Domestic travel
TREASURE: Paronella Park is still treasured more than 80 years on. Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

TREASURE: Paronella Park is still treasured more than 80 years on. Photo: Tourism and Events Queensland

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It was another man's vision, but Mark Evans has ensured the dream lives on at Paronella Park - a once derelict property deep in the North Queensland rainforest.

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IT'S a special person who takes on another's dream; and blind faith - some would say foolhardiness - when that dream is a derelict property deep in the North Queensland rainforest.

But in many ways the former owners, the late Jose and Margarita Paronella, and current owner, Mark Evans and his wife Judy, are perfectly matched.

Paronella, who emigrated from Spain, had a can-do attitude, shaking off the "no way Jose" naysayers to open in 1935 the most remarkable structure in Northern Queensland - a pleasure palace complete with castle, waterfall, picnic area, tennis courts, cafe and ballroom in a tropical five-hectare setting.

Mark and Judy had been travelling Australia and in the early 1990s were looking to settle.

They wanted something different and when the agent said he had a property with a waterfall and castle, they knew they'd found it. Only, after years of neglect, it was little more than a shell of its former self, its buildings ravaged by floods and cyclones, paths overgrown and gardens reclaimed by rainforest.

With determination every bit as strong as Jose Paronella's, the couple set about maintaining and preserving Paronella Park. Their focus is not on rebuilding but preserving the buildings as they are, with only repairs and stabilisation to ensure everything is structurally sound and safe.

Mark and Judy see themselves as custodians of Jose's dream, welcoming a new generation of pleasure-seekers.

In 2009, they restored the original (1930s era) hydro-electric system, which was the first in North Queensland. Today it again provides all the park's electricity requirements.

They also opened a small museum in the original Paronella family home which tells the story of Jose's dream.

The steep steps at Paronella Park bring visitors down to the remains of the castle. Courtesy Tourism and Events Queensland.

The steep steps at Paronella Park bring visitors down to the remains of the castle. Courtesy Tourism and Events Queensland.

You can wander the park or take one of the guided tours that run during the day and at night when floodlights cast a magic glow.

We pass the old changing cubicles and the area where Margarita Paronella served ice-cream to swimmers and picnickers near the old wishing well. As the story goes, Margarita became suspicious of the still-wet coins offered by eager children and solved the problem by having an eel placed in the well.

The weather was not kind during Jose and Margarita's years, nor to the Evans' subsequent preservation efforts.

Cyclone Yasi and Cyclone Larry inflicted considerable damage, leading to the Evans's decision to make park tickets valid for 24 months.

It is perhaps inevitable that the buildings will again fall victim to cyclones and punishing winds.

However, if in years to come there are only the remnants of what once was, there will still be the romantic story of one man's dream and another's courage to continue his legacy.

IF YOU GO...

Paronella Park is a 90-minute drive from Cairns. Open daily, tickets are $47 and can be used for multiple visits over 24 months. Guided walks operate every half hour from 9.30am-4.30pm and take around 45 minutes. There is one steep staircase but a courtesy vehicle is available to assist those with mobility issues.

Finish the day with dinner on the verandah of the nearby historic Mena Creek Hotel.

Details: (07) 4065-0000 or click HERE

Sue Preston was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.

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