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Lonely Planet Great Guidebook Moment - The catalan dreamer

AUSTRALIA | Saturday, 24 May 2008 | Views [829] | Comments [2]

Even before we knew that we were going to take this trip, and even before thinking of coming to North Queensland,  Ginny (Tiffany’s mother) was already telling us that, somewhere around Cairns, they went and saw a Spanish castle, and it was absolutely amazing. At the moment I thought that, though it can be pretty interesting for an Australian, a Spanish castle doesn’t mean that much to me. (I remind all of you of my iberical origin).

 

A few weeks later, and after receiving the lucky call (in this case, email) from the WorldNomads people (hello Amanda!), telling us that we were the fortunate next set of drivers of our wonderful Ambassador Van, I was researching a little bit on what to do in a Darwin-to-Brisbane tour. And, in Mena Creek, closer to Innisfail and Mission Beach than Cairns, I found again this Spanish castle, like everybody calls it. Giving a chance to the recommendations, I pinned it as a place to visit on our way.

 

Once already on the road, and while we were calling on different information centres along the way, we kept finding brochures of the Spanish castle, some as daring as assuring that “it will be the most amazing experience of your trip or your money back”. You have to be pretty brave to assure that, so I began to look at the Spanish castle with certain curiosity. And, not knowing very much what it was all about, I was already looking forward to it.

 

And finally, we got into the place. As a great start, the entry price includes a powered site for a couple of nights, which is absolutely great if you are in our van + budget conditions. And as a continuation, the very helpful and proud-of-the-place staff handed me a little brochure about the story of the place, and of the man that created the whole thing: Josep Paronella.

 

First of all, he was Catalan, like me, and his name was Josep instead of José, as is depicted everywhere. The reason of this mistake is that, in those times (he was born in 1888) it was not legal in Spain to name your child, officially, with a non-Spanish name (eg Catalan or Basque). So, though he was known by family and friends with the Catalan Josep, he had to be named, officially, José.

 

Said that, Josep was the smallest of six children from a relatively poor family. He wouldn’t get anything, so he had to build a future for himself. Like many other Europeans in a pre-war climate, they felt that emigration overseas was the easiest option to try to make a fortune, and in 1911, Josep sailed from Barcelona to Sydney, with the intention of working in the sugar fields of northern Queensland. Before leaving, he was arranged in marriage with Matilda, a girl from his own little village, with the promise that he would come to pick her up once he had made his fortune.

 

And after some years of canecutting and some more years of the wise management of money Catalans are well known for, he actually made his little fortune. So he thought that it was time to go and get Matilda, to start their life together in Australia.

 

The problem is that had been 11 years since he left, and he didn’t send a single letter, so, understandably, Matilda didn’t wait for him and had married somebody else. Catalans are, also, a bit stubborn, and since he made the effort to sail half the world to marry somebody, he was going to do it, so he took Matilda’s younger sister Margarita, who at the end proved to be a better match for him.

 

It seems that, during his childhood, Josep was marveled by the prince and princess stories that his grandmother used to tell him. Later, when he saw the many gothic castles that dot Spain, and when he discovered what Gaudi and other modernist architects were doing in the early XXth century in Catalonia, he had the dream to build himself a castle. And this dream was idling in his head until he had enough money and land to fulfill it. And now, that moment had arrived.

 

When he went back to Australia in the mid-twenties, he bought some land next to the Mena Creek falls, and he began to build his park. Which is not a castle! What he built was a little cottage to live with his family (Catalans often don’t really see the point in luxury), plus several pavilions, with castlesque appearance, as amenities for a park that he would open to the public. And it became a nice success, offering balls, cinema sessions, tennis courts, swimming, boating, large strolls in the gardens… Is not that the architecture of the place is very remarkable. That’s not the point. What is magical is that everything looks slightly amateurish, done by hand by somebody that knew what he wanted, but didn’t really know how to do it. And is this fairytale hand-made appearance what makes it that special.

 

But the blend of these attractive constructions right in the middle of the rainforest was the burden of his dream. Floods, winds and fires has shapen the place for years before and after the death of Mr. Paronella, tearing down some walls and overgrowning stairs and turrets, and adding lots of charm to the whole thing.

 

Josep Paronella, with his dream fulfilled, died in 1948. Margarita kept working on the park til she died almost 20 years later. Their children did what they could, but finally, and tired to fight against the elements for a dream that was not theirs, closed it, and eventually, sold it.

 

In the early nineties, a couple from Perth saw the property and fell in love with it, dedicating time and money to restore it and show it to the world. And believe me they are doing a great job. Free day and night tours, plus a bush tucker tour, tell you everything about the place. And the best thing… people who works here loves it.

 

A place that you won’t really understand til you see it. And that you won’t really be able to explain. As a proof, now I understand it, but I still can not explain it properly. So, please, just go and understand it yourself.

For more info about the place: http://www.paronellapark.com.au

 

Comments

1

Now this IS interesting indeed. It is so fantastic to stumble accross something that sticks out a bit. Something in the wrong place at the right time. Rather like running into a helpful French person in England who offers to make heavenly croissants - possibly.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9IdOAQU-wQ
I absolutely insist that you view this video and tell me how amazing I am for posting it to you.

Thinking about yous.

  Katrine May 25, 2008 11:40 PM

2

:)
We will look in a couple of days.... our last posts with the van!!!!!!

  allwelcome Jun 2, 2008 5:53 PM

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