Paronella park: a castle hand built by a Spanish dreamer in the Australian tropical jungle.4 min read
In Queensland, Australia, lies an old castle built by a Spanish immigrant that, for a while, had one problem after another. Abandoned for several years, it has now become one of the most popular tourist sites in Queensland.
Its story began when a young native of Catalonia, Spain, José Paronella, moved to a nearby town and became a baker. He discovered it was much harder than he had imagined, and, when he saw an advertisement for work in Australia, he took a chance and arrived in Sydney in 1913 at the age of 26.
He found a job in North Queensland cutting sugar cane and saved every penny he could. He would come home every night with blistered hands and sore muscles which led him to ask for a cook’s job to feed the cane workers. Thus, He served up the traditional fare of steak, chicken, eggs and bread, as well as some European style dishes. With the money he saved, he started his own sugar cane farm and soon branched out to money lending, mining, and turning over sugar cane properties.
At 34 José was quite wealthy, and he became an Australian citizen. Unfortunately, his wealth captured the attention of the wrong people and fearing he would lose his fortune or his life, he returned to Spain.
There he married Margarita, the sister of a woman he had known before he left for Australia. The couple spent time in Europe studying architecture, gardens, and cafes, getting ideas for the land José wanted to buy in Australia.
At the begininng Australian life was tough for Margarita, but she learn English and became acclimated to her new home, while José searched for the perfect place to build the castle of his dreams. Eventually he found twelve acres on Mena Creek surrounded by what are now National Parks.
He began by planting hundreds of trees and then built a home for himself and his family. It was a small stone house not far from the location of his later dream castle. With his family comfortably settled in, he began construction of the castle and renovation of the grounds.
José and Margarita did the majority of the work themselves. He built the Grand Staircase to help him carry river sand up the hill to make concrete, with which he built first his house, then the grand castle inspired by those of Spain, and installed an ingenious (and the oldest in North Queensland) hydro-electric dam.
They installed also benches, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a playground, fountains, and waterfalls on the land, and the castle itself included a large foyer, a large community room, a movie theatre, and places to buy refreshments.
The couple had never intended to live in the castle but to share it and the grounds with the public and in 1935, Paronella Park was officially opened. The owners held parties and dances for the locals, raised money for the Spanish civil war, and, during the second world war, the park became popular with American soldiers.
All perfect? Absolutely no, because afterwards, troubles began. In 1946 an area of land upstream was stripped of vegetation, causing avalanches of rocks and logs when the rains started. The hydroelectric system and the lower levels were all but destroyed. However, repairs were soon completed and the castle was once again opened.
The next year, in 1947, José was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer and, about the same time, a tropical cyclone hit Queensland, causing major damage to the park.
With no insurance and José’s health failing, the park closed for six months for repairs. In August of 1948, José died, leaving the care of the park to his wife and two children. Without his tireless energy, it became difficult to upkeep the park. His daughter, Teresa, had married and moved away, and Margarita and their son, Joe, attempted to keep the park going.
In 1967, Margarita passed away, and Joe died in 1972 which left the park in the hands of the Paronella’s grandchildren.
Problems are not over: floods in 1967, 1972, and 1974 further damaged the park, and it became too much of a burden for the family and in 1977, it was sold. Two years later, a fire destroyed virtually everything except for the outer walls of the castle, causing the park to close. In 1986, Cyclone Winifred further damaged the site, that was closed for good and abandoned to the jungle.
In 1993, Mark and Judy Evans bought the park with the intention of restoring it to its former glory. A flood in January of 1994, Cyclone Larry in March of 2006, and Cyclone Yasi in January of 2011 set the project back again and again.
The hydroelectric system was shipped off to Germany for restoration and was reinstalled in 2009, bringing sustainable power back to the park.
But there is a happy ending: Paronella Park is open again, it has won numerous tourism awards and was listed as a National Trust in 1997. Additionally, the updated the hydro-electric system generates all the power for the park and puts power back into the grid for neighboring towns. José and Margarita would be proud.
Images from web – Google Research