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Paronella Park

July 29, 2011

Paronella Park is quite an extraordinary place.

Near a little, out-of-the-way town called Mena Creek, about 120kms south of Cairns, it’s basically the preserved remnants of a castle and other attractions dreamt up and built by hand almost entirely by a single man, José Paronella, in the 1930’s. José was an amazing man, not only for the unashamed grandeur of his dream, and the years of work he undertook to create it, but also for his innovation. Examples of that innovation include the entirely gravity-fed fountains (no pump required), and the fact that the Park had electricity about 20 years before the rest of the Cairns district due to José’s custom-made hydro unit, run off Mena Falls. When José’s wife, Margarita, realised that children were taking coins out of the wishing well to buy her gelato José put eels in the fountain and erected a “Warning: Electric Eels” sign. The kids who, understandably, believed José capable of anything then steered well clear and Margarita received no more tell-tale wet coins in her shop.

The Park in it’s hey-day must have been mind-blowing for the locals. Not only was there a castle, the area included a ballroom, with what must have been one of Australia’s first spinning mirror balls and a projection room, for screening the news as well as films. There were tennis courts, outdoor picnic tables, Margarita’s gelato shop, and Mena Falls were lit up at night. José even had plans for a tunnel through a hill, the walls of which were to be be lined with tanks full of tropical fish.

The Park has a fascinating and extremely checkered history, marked by cyclones, floods, and being abandoned to the whims of the rainforest for almost 40 years before the present owners began their long process of careful recovery and preservation.

Mark and Judy Evans, the current owners, really are doing a wonderful job of pouring money into the site without looking like they are. Mark says that they’re very deliberately not “recreating” or even “restoring” the site, but strictly preserving it. Which is a wonderful thing, as its air of decaying but still-proud glory is poignant and beautiful.

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