Paronella Park

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Paronella Park from the top of Mena Creek Falls Innisfail c 1935

Paronella Park is a heritage-listed tourist attraction located at Mena Creek, Queensland, Australia, 120 kilometres south of Cairns.


Paronella Park was built in the 1930s by José Paronella (ca.1888 – 23 August 1948), a Spanish immigrant.[1] José Paronella built facilities, including tennis courts and a cinema and a ballroom inspired by Spanish castles, to provide entertainment for the public. Since his death, a fire, a cyclone and several floods have badly damaged the park and the buildings. The park changed owners several times until, in 1993, it was bought by the present owners.


José Paronella arrived in nearby Innisfail, Queensland, Australia in 1913, having sailed from Catalonia in northern Spain to plan a splendid life for himself and his fiancée Matilda. He applied for Commonwealth naturalization in 1921, identifying his place of origin as La Vall in the province of Jarona.[2] José worked hard for 11 years, creating his wealth by buying, improving and selling cane farms. While travelling through the beautiful countryside he discovered a virgin forest alongside spectacular Mena Creek Falls - perfect for his dream.

Upon returning to Spain, José discovered that Matilda had married another! Determined to sail back with a bride José proposed to Margarita, Matilda's younger sister. One year later the happy newlyweds were ship bound for Australia and by 1929 had purchased the land of José' dreams. He first built the grand 47-step staircase to shift building materials between the lower and upper level. Here the fun-loving couple had their cottage hand built of stone, and moved in on Christmas Eve.

Inspired by childhood memories of Catalonian castles José and his workers set to work designing an entertainment area. Their fingerprints in the cement foundations remain as testament to their extraordinary effort that guaranteed joyous times. A movie theatre transformed on weekends into a huge ballroom with live bands who entertained while a massive ball of mirrors spun from the ceiling to reflect a dazzle of pink and blue lights.

Surrounding their home and castle, more than 7000 trees were planted including an avenue of Kauris that tower now like cathedral spires in a sacred forest.

North Queensland's first hydro electric plant was built in 1933 to power the 5 ha (13 acre) park, and the castle grounds were ready to welcome the public in 1935.

The Paronellas invited everyone to movies on Saturday nights, built tennis courts from crushed termite mounds, and a pavilion with turret-topped balconies, refreshment rooms and changing cubicles for swimmers. Eventually a museum featured a collection of coins, pistols, dolls, timbers and interesting keepsakes.

The Kiosk Paronella Park Innisfail c 1935

Unexpectedly the tale of Paronella Park took swift and dangerous turns starting in 1946 when a mass of logs from a clearing upstream swept away a railway bridge and descended on the park, destroying the refreshment rooms. Undaunted, the Paronellas replanted gardens, repaired what they could, and re-opened for business 6 months later.[3]

José died in 1948, leaving Margarita, daughter Teresa and son Joe. Teresa married Pino Zerlotti and Joe married Val Ribes. In 1967 Margarita died leaving Joe and Val as custodians of José's dream. After Joe's death in 1972, Val and their two sons Joe and Kerry, continued until the park was sold in 1977. In 1979 a fire swept through the castle, leaving only the walls and the turret as a reminder of what had been.

In 1986, Cyclone Winifred tested the parks endurance once again.

In 1993, Mark and Judy Evans, the parks current owners [posted 24th March, 2012] rediscovered the almost lost park and envisaged reviving José dream with his appreciation for beauty and warm hospitality.

With the help of the Paronella family José's story was written ["The Spanish Dreamer" by Dena Leighton, available in the Paronella Park Gift Shop]. Paths were uncovered, buildings repaired, trees identified, and a museum created in the original home built by José for his family. Cyclone Larry in 2006 added another chapter of endurance to the story, and the dream continued once again.

2009 saw the refurbishment of the original hydro turbine which once again provides power for the entire park.

Today, visitors are taken on a range of guided tours. The story is told and the highlights of the Park shown through the day and into the night.

Paronella Park is eco-certified and heritage listed. Efforts today focus on maintaining the property while staying true to its historic and eco values. A number of ongoing restoration and preservation projects will see the Paronella Park story live on for many years to come.

The Impossible Dream[edit]

On 24 July 2010, a theater production, The Impossible Dream was launched at Shangri-La Hotel, The Marina, Cairns. The Impossible Dream is based on the true story of José and his bride Margarita.

Hydroelectric plant[edit]

In 1933, Paronella installed a hydro-electric plant, the first (privately owned) in Queensland, on the waterfall in the park. He used it to supply power for the park's lighting, pumps, refrigeration and cinema. The town of Mena Creek also used some of the electricity. The plant was eventually decommissioned.

In 2009 the park completed a restoration of the plant, and now runs entirely off hydro-electric power. Some of the excess electricity is fed back into the local grid.[4][5]

Hydro Plant from swing bridge over Mena Creek Falls


The Dream Continues tour - a 45 minute guided walk, departing every half-hour from 9:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., highlighting features of the park and telling the story of José Paronella’s ideas for the site.

The Darkness Falls tour - a one hour night tour of the site at 6:20 p.m., with an additional tour at 8:30 p.m. during peak season.

Self-guided Botanical Walk - a self-guided tour, with the aid of a 16-page booklet containing details of the Park's flora, with various tree species identified throughout the Park.

Awards and recognitions[edit]

In 2004, Paronella Park was named Queensland's premier significant attraction by the Queensland Tourism.[6]

It was also a joint winner in the "Emerging Business" category of the Reconciliation Awards for Business (2004), awarded by the Queensland Government.[7]

Paronella Park, in the middle of the Canecutter Way, was voted the Number One "Must Do" in the RACQ 150 Must Do competition in 2009.


  1. ^ "Paronella Park, Mena Creek Falls and Mena Creek Environmental Park (entry 16753)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  2. ^ "Advertising.". Cairns Post (Qld. : 1909 - 1954) (Qld.: National Library of Australia). 8 March 1921. p. 1. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  3. ^ "History of Paronella Park". Paronella Park. Retrieved 13 December 2013. 
  4. ^ Paronella Park: The Hydro Project
  5. ^ News - park now running off hydro electricity
  6. ^ "Tourism awards reflect Queensland's diversity: MP". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 27 November 2004. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 
  7. ^ "Reconciliation Awards for Business: 2004 winners". The State of Queensland (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships). Archived from the original on 2007-08-29. Retrieved 2007-09-12. 

External links[edit]

Media related to Paronella Park at Wikimedia Commons

Coordinates: 17°39′09″S 145°57′23″E / 17.65250°S 145.95639°E / -17.65250; 145.95639