|The Silkwood Pub|
|A Section of the Johnstone Shire, North Queensland|
|Paronella Park, Mena Creek|
|Above and below...Paronella Park, Mena Creek|
|Sundown on the jetty at Cape Richards, Hinchinbrook Island...Goold Island in the background|
|Orchid Beach, Cape Richards...the resort's main beach.. My little abode looked down on it to one side; and to the ocean across to Goold Island on the other.|
Over the years I’ve lived in some beautiful areas throughout Queensland, not the least being Hinchinbrook Island and its mainland surrounds, north and south.
In the late Eighties, early Nineties friends of mine (earlier, in 1986, one of their daughters was a member of my staff at the resort on Hinchinbrook Island), having, in the late 1980s, moved to North Queensland from Brisbane – first to Cairns, and then a little later to Silkwood, a sugar cane area southwest of Innisfail. For a time, prior to building a new home for themselves on acreage at nearby Japoonvale, they rented a house on a cane farm a couple of kilometres out of Silkwood
“Just up the road a bit and around a corner or two” is a verdant, magnificent area called Mena Creek. Its waterfall, natural pool, rope bridge and lush surrounding are perfect backdrops to the legendary, wondrously mystical Spanish castle that was built in the 1930s by José Paronella as a monument of love has been a tourist drawcard throughout the years.
In 1913, José, a Spanish immigrant from Catalonia ,arrived in Innisfail to start a new life for himself and the love of his life, Matilda. Matilda had remained behind in Spain while he went about setting up their future. José became an Australian citizen eight years after he stepped Australian soil. He diligently put his nose to the grindstone.
From his hard work, within little over a decade José became a wealthy man. He bought cane farms, improved them, and then sold them. It was during this fruitful process he discovered the lush forest, waterway and waterfall at Mena Creek....the perfect answer to his dream. Paronella purchased 13 acres of Heaven.
With a happy heart and a healthy bank balance, Paronella returned to Spain. Upon his return, to his dismay, he learned Matilda wearied from waiting for him. She, of little faith, had married another, leaving poor José momentarily stranded.
“Determination” was his second name. With no intention of return to Australia without a bride, José married Matilda’s younger sister. A year later, with an exciting future ahead of them, the newlyweds set off to Australia.
At first the couple lived in a stone cottage, but soon José set about fulfilling his dream of building a castle reminiscent of the Catalan castles of his former homeland. Tennis courts, entertainment/refreshment areas, a picture theatre, staircases and a ballroom with mirror balls were incorporated into the grand structure.
José Paronella planted thousands of trees in the already dense forest.
In 1933, it was on this property that Queensland’s first hydro-electric plant was built.
After a few years of neglect and decay, it has been restored to its former beauty...and the story goes on...as does Mena Creek’s Paronella Park.
Ted, my head maintenance man when I was manager of the resort that once held pride of position at Cape Richards on Hinchinbrook Island originated from Silkwood, (Ted now lives back in the little township, enjoying his retirement years) often spent his time off, spear-fishing in the waters off Murdering Point and Kurrimine Beach (other friends of mine owned and managed the Kurrimine Beach Motel…I had a wild week there one night helping them demolish their wine cellar, but that’s another story!), which is east of the highway, opposite Silkwood.
My staff and I benefited when Ted took time off, which, in fact, was rarely, because invariably he’d arrive back to the island with a large esky or two full of Painted Crayfish upon which we would dine in style in the staff room, away from the prying eyes of the island guests.
“Painted Crays are magnificently armed and brilliantly coloured. Because they are vegetarians, it’s only possible to catch them by nets or spearfishing.
After one of his trips to Silkwood and Kurrimine Beach, Ted returned to the island armed with a large esky full of large crays just in time for one of my staff members’ birthday.
Daina (correct spelling…pronounced “Day-na”) turned 18 the day of Ted’s return.
I was in the midst of arranging a party for her to be held at my little abode on the island. In my not-so-infinite-wisdom I had declared it to be a “Toga Party”!
My little studio-style house was off-limits to everyone other than me and Ruska, my beloved ginger cat. I was rarely there because most of my time, every day and every night, was spent over at the main building that housed the restaurant, cocktail bar, office, kitchen, cold-room, store-room, laundry etc. I valued and protected my privacy and time alone when I was “home”. And my staff respected my wishes.
David, my head chef, unburdened Ted of his load of painted crayfish. Wasting little time, David proceeded to prepare them for dinner...for the staff, not the resort guests...to feast upon.
No one was late for dinner that evening. Pre-dinner drinks at the bar were even ignored as everyone eagerly gathered around the large staff table, drooling , waiting for the festive feast.
The staff dinners were always held early...before the guests began to wander down to the bar and restaurant. Everything was done fairly leisurely on the island...that was our style; that what people wanted once they realised it was a world unto itself...totally divorced from mainland style of living.
That evening our poor island guests didn’t partake in the same tasty fare we did, but “you don’t miss what you don’t have”...but I feel certain some of my staff couldn’t resist bragging!
As soon as the staff dinner was completed my staff, those who were not on kitchen and table duties, rushed off to the laundry to clothe themselves in “togas” using the older stocks of bed sheets as substitutes for the real thing.
In the meantime, I played hostess to my guests, joining and chatting with them at their tables.
One by one, my “kids” (by habit, I often referred to my staff as “the kids”), chanting "Toga! Toga! Toga!" happily strolled through the restaurant area donned in their “togas”, en route to my house, much to the guests' interest and amusement.
Laughter filled the night air.
The party-goers each made a detour to the bar, for a warm-up drink before progressing out of the restaurant to the track leading across to where the party was to be held.
To my surprise, the last two members of my staff to parade through the restaurant were Ted, followed soon after by my brother, Graham. I’d not expected Ted to get dressed up, and I definitely hadn’t expected Graham to do so. He, even more so than Ted, wasn’t a “group” party person; and, normally, he definitely was into fancy dress of any description.
My mouth fell open in shock at the unexpected, hilarious sight before me.
At the appearance of Graham, the last toga-wearing renegade to walk through the dining area, I heard one of the guests exclaim good-humouredly;
“There goes another one!”
Seeing my brother dressed in a “toga”, for one thing was surprise enough for me, but to see him strut through the restaurant with a wide grin on his face really “knocked me for a sixer”, as the saying goes!
Such a display was not his normal style. If you’d known my brother, you would understand.
Eventually, everyone gathered together on the deck overlooking the ocean at my little house.
I was the only “civilian” present, opting not to wear a “toga”.
Generously, knowing what was underway elsewhere, the resort guests didn’t linger long in the restaurant that night. It wasn’t too long before the bar, restaurant and kitchen staff joined the party.
David, my chef, and the others who'd been on shift arrived armed with platters of tasty finger foods for us to nibble upon.
By the time they arrived, the party was well under way. My staff were always "up" for a party, and never needed urging! Every day was a party!
What a fun night we had.
Ruska spent the night, sleeping on “our” bed, with one diligent eye on the high jinks going on out on the deck, a couple of metres away.
Daina and I are still friends. She now lives at Japoonvale, near where her parents built their home. These days she’s manager of Innisfail’s K-Mart store.
She has never forgotten her 18th birthday spent on Hinchinbrook Island.
Where else could she have had such a feast of fresh painted crayfish for no cost, followed by a toga party to end all toga parties, accompanied by the sounds and view of the ocean on either side of the venue?