A Spanish Dream in the Queensland Countryside

I need you so that I could die
I love you so and that is why
Whenever I want you, all I have to do is
Dream, dream, dream, dream
Dream, dream, dream, dream

All I Have to Do is Dream by Boudleaux Bryant

If like me you thought the Everly Brothers or at least Don or maybe Phil wrote “All I Have to do is Dream” you would be wrong as well. But who the heck is Boudlaux Bryant. Well Boudleaux along with his wife Felice wrote numerous country hits from the nineteen fifties on including Wake Up Little Susie, Love Hurts (my favourite) and many other Everly Brothers hits. They also wrote songs recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Charlie Pride and Simon and Garfunkel. Now we both know.

After a restful week in Mission Beach we decided to backtrack just a little. Paronella Park is 120 kms south of Cairns and inland some 50 kms from Innisfail. We had heard of Paronella Park from several neighbours in the campground at Cairns as a must see so decided to see what all the fuss was about. It was worth the effort. Paronella is a slice of old Europe in northern Queensland and was the dream of Jose Paronella, a Spaniard from Catalonia who arrived in Australia in 1913 as a young immigrant. A pastry chef by trade from the age of 14 years he created a fortune through working on then buying and developing cane farms in north Queensland. After returning to Spain to find a bride he came back to Queensland to pursue his dream of building a castle. The story has it that Jose grew up on his grandmother’s stories of medieval knights and chivalry. He purchased five hectares of bushland beside Mena Creek ( both a waterway and a small village). He was nothing if not a very hard worker and almost singlehandedly created what is today a breathtaking little slice of natural beauty and a testimony to one man’s vision. The park opened in 1935 and consisted of native parkland, the castle and ballroom Jose built along with a cafe and icecreamery. Much of this hard work has been destroyed through earthquakes and cyclones but the parkland remains and the castle and buildings have been restored to a resemblance of what it must have been like in the forties and fifties when Jose’s dream of musical events and grand dinners were in full swing. Paronella Park was sold by the Paronella family 25 years ago but continues to be maintained and restored to be voted Queensland’s No 1 attraction today. As a testament to Jose’s work and forward thinking he utilised the Mena Creek waterfalls to set up Queenslands first hydro scheme and today it still powers the park and amenities including the small caravan park we stayed in. What we thought would be some prattish sideshow turned out to be a highlight of our trip. I’ll let the photos tell the story.

From Paronella we returned to the Bruce Highway but decided to try the inland route through Charters Towers south to Emerald. After an overnight at the free camp at Rollingstone Beach Bushy Park under the melaleucas and being fortified by a meat pie at the very attractive seaside town of Cardwell we turned inland again just after Townsville. The 135 km run towards Charters Towers on the Flinders Highway confirmed how dry this part of Queensland has become. Charters Towers itself is a typical farming service town that boasts a very long main street with some beautifully restored buildings. But it was a very long street with what appeared to be only one cafe if you don’t count McDonalds. As another Australian town that sprang from the goldfields in the 1870s Charters Towers once had a population of 30,000 (second only to Brisbane at the time). A population that is now reduced to around 8,000. Although the town does host the Goldfields Ashes (a regional cricket tournament) each year and Australian cricketer Andrew Symonds grew up there it would appear nothing else much has happened since. Then it was onward south to a night at the free camp at Belyando Crossing. We had heard the Belyando Crossing Roadhouse had a free camp but on arrival found it had been turned into a miners camp with dongas, ablution blocks and foodhall. Follow the money! We were ok to stay in the carpark and they did allow us to use the toilets and showers for a fee which was good. We met a young woman from Essex working in the roadhouse which again reminded us of the visa system in Australia. Young overseas travellers obtain a two year working visa which requires them to spend 90 days in rural Australia following which they can travel and work wherever they want. We have met so many backpackers from nearly every continent including US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia. As they effectively work for food and lodgings these travellers keep country Australia’s pubs, cafes, roadhouses and fruit picking industry running. A problem now that Covid has decimated the backpacking population. If the stories are to be believed $2 billion worth of mangoes will be rotting on the ground if things don’t change soon. The best story was Scout asking a worker in a roadhouse in remote Western Australia for a macchiato and “Do you know what that is?” The reply in refined English from the young Asian barrista was “Yes. We are not complete country bumpkins you know”. Take that.

We received a visit from a friendly local at Belyando Crossing.

We left the carpark for the 250kms across country via Clermont for Emerald which is really the start of our return to the coast. We had been to Emerald before on our first trip to Karumba in the gulf. It is a hub of the Central Highlands coal mining industry and as such its fortunes ebb and flow. I know a couple who had a million dollar motel investment in Emerald and who now have nothing. A not totally uncommon tale. The town of around 14,500 people takes its name from the gems that are found in the region. It sits on the Capricorn Highway which winds from Rockhampton west to Longreach and beyond. Emerald is an attractive town with a nice botanic gardens and great sporting facilities including a golf course, large tennis club and a swimming pool and surrounds that many cities would be proud of. A good stay before we headed back to the coast and Bargara Beach.

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