Jose’s glorious gambol a must-see

​Restoring Paronella has been a nearly three decade projet for Judy and Mark Evans.
​Restoring Paronella has been a nearly three decade projet for Judy and Mark Evans.

​I reckon the saying “no way Jose” originated in far north Queensland, about 110km south of Cairns to be exact, at a place called Mena Creek on what was once the Bruce Highway.

Not quite 90 years ago, hard-working, big-thinking Spanish migrant Jose Paronella set about creating a Catalonian-inspired castle and pleasure garden on the banks of Mena Creek Falls.

Locals shook their heads in disbelief  as he worked his 5ha rainforest block, hand building the family home, a steep 47-step staircase, a movie theatre that doubled as a dance hall, a pavilion with turret-topped balconies, refreshment rooms, changing cubicles for swimmers and picnic tables and bench seats along the lakeside. And he planted more than 7000 trees.

Locals were again aghast when the “crazy Spaniard” installed a hydro-electric plant harnessing the power of the waterfall, bringing electricity to Mena Creek.

The critics were wrong. Open to the public from 1935, Paronella Park was a hit.

Fairy tales have twists and turns and Paronella Park is no exception. Fire,

floods and cyclones have all played a part in shaping the park of today, a mystical Queensland Heritage-listed site whose current owners, Mark and Judy Evans, have heard variations of “no way Jose” in the  23 years they have been reclaiming the park from encroaching rainforest.

“I think Jose, Judy and I are kindred spirits in sharing a philosophy. The more people said ‘it can’t be done’ the more we’ve been set on proving them wrong,” Mark says as we wander along the avenue of now towering kauris that create a cathedral-like feel.

“Like a good wine, Paronella Park has improved with age,” says Judy, her hands resting on a concrete table topped with moss, thick and green as a billiard table’s felt. “It has shown exceptional ability to withstand and recover from disasters – and that only enhances its story.”

Today’s visitors enjoy the history and the gardens on guided tours, run day and night.

There’s no swimming in the water-hole – at least one crocodile has taken up residence.

But for those who yearn to know how things work, the refurbished original hydro turbine that now powers the entire park is a tour in itself.

With caravan and camping sites as well as six basic cabins, and the deck cafe, Paronella Park lends itself to stay awhile.

IF YOU GO

Paronella’s caravan and camping grounds are available to guests who have their own caravan, camper or tent. A site for a night is included in the park’s entry fee. The site for a night arrangement also applies for camper sites at Mena Creek Hotel, recently bought by the Evanses.

Paronella Park is open daily (except Christmas Day) 9am-7.30pm.

Old Bruce Highway, Mena Creek – (07) 4065-0000, www.paronellapark.com.au 

This story originally appeared on The Senior