José Paronella arrived in Australia from Catalonia in Spain, in 1913. For the next 11 years he worked, cutting sugar cane initially, then purchasing, improving, and reselling cane farms. In 1924 he returned to Spain and married Margarita in 1925. The trip back to Australia was their honeymoon.
José first saw this 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.
First they built a house to live in, then they started on the Castle itself.
Apart from the house, which is made of stone, 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.
With spotlights of pink and blue shining on the reflector from the corners of the hall, it was rotated slowly, producing a coloured snowflake effect around the walls, floor and ceiling. During the mid-sixties the Theatre ceased to be, and the Hall became devoted to functions, particularly Weddings.
Above the Refreshment Rooms was the projection room, and up another flight of stairs was the Paronella Museum. This housed collections of coins, pistols, dolls, samples of North Queensland timbers and other items of interest. Originally, food service was from the lower Refreshment Rooms downstairs.
The concrete slab tables forming the lower Tea Gardens and the swimming pool both proved extremely popular, as they still do today. The avenues and paths were well laid out with the familiar shaped planters which are still to be seen wherever you go in the Park. Two tennis courts were behind the Refreshment Rooms, with a children's playground, The Meadow, situated near the creek.
Upwards of 7000 trees were planted by José. These included the magnificent Kauris lining Kauri Avenue. A Tunnel was excavated through a small hill. Above its entrances are the delightful stonework balconies. Walking through here brings you to spring fed Teresa Falls, named for his daughter.
The creek is lined with rocks and traversed by small bridges. Some parts have cascades built out of rocks, so the sound of water is always there. The Hydro Electric generating plant, commissioned in 1933, 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. The Refreshment Rooms downstairs were beyond repair, so this service was moved upstairs, and only the structure of the building recreated. In addition, José built the fountain. The Castle was repaired, the gardens replanted, and the Park was alive again.
In 1948, José died of cancer, leaving Margarita, daughter Teresa, and son Joe, to carry on. In time, Teresa married and eventually moved to Brisbane with her husband. Joe married Val in 1952, and they had two sons, Joe (José) and Kerry.
Renovations and maintenance meant there was always plenty of work, and the floods of 1967, '72 and '74 further added to the load.
In 1967 Margarita died, and in 1972, Joe died, leaving Val and the two boys to continue the hard working tradition and keep the dreams alive.
The Park was sold out of the family in 1977 and sadly, in 1979, a fire swept through the Castle. For a time, the Park 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.
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. Small restoration projects have been undertaken, pathways uncovered and improved, and the Museum, an ongoing project, is continuously being enhanced.
In November 2009, the ambitious project to restore Paronella Park's original (1930s era) hydro electric system was completed. At a cost of $450,000, the system once again provides all of the Park's electricity requirements.
This work, and other environmentally focused initiatives culminated in Paronella Park being awarded Eco Australia's GECKO award for Ecotourism in 2011.
Paronella Park's life as a pleasure gardens continues as José intended, for visitors, and with social gatherings, particularly weddings, continuing to make use of this unique location.
Mark and Judy Evans, the current owner/operators, trust your virtual visit has been enjoyable and memorable and look forward to seeing you in person when you visit the Park.
If you'd like to learn more about Paronella Park, Jose, and Judy and my story, have a listen to this audio of my interview with Richard Fidler on the Conversations podcast. - Mark Evans