Tuesday, April 10, 2007
My Excursion To Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.. Chapter One...
In July 1987, the Queensland Tourism & Travel Corporation, informally known as the “QTTC”, in their infinite wisdom, decided to send a tourism delegation to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. This venture into the unchartered territory of our northern neighbours across the aquamarine waters of the Torres Strait, would be the first of such tourism marketing strategies into New Guinea (and probably the last as far as I know!).
Nine illustrious, notorious representatives were chosen by methods unknown to any of them, to represent chosen areas of Tropical North Queensland. Seven of these reputable representatives were male; two were female. I was one of the elected, honoured few, one half of the celebrated, seraphic feminine duo! We were to cut a swath through the savannah dust of Port Moresby and the emerald, dense vegetation of the Highlands, spreading the word on the benefits of holidaying in North Queensland, just a hop, skip, jump and swim away to the south! My part in the adventure was to represent the Hinchinbrook, Cardwell and Johnstone Shires.
Heading north from Townsville, the shire of Hinchinbrook incorporates the sugar towns and areas of Ingham, Lucinda, Forrest and Taylors Beach and, of course, Orpheus Island in the Coral Sea. Orpheus Island lays just to the south of Hinchinbrook Island. Ingham, located about forty-five minutes south of Cardwell, has a rich history of sugar-farming, where over 60% of its population is of Italian descent. The region from Ingham north is well-known for its natural attractions and diverse environments. Of course, Hinchinbrook and Orpheus Islands being amongst its best known destinations, both are accessible by sea plane or boat and both service a limited number of guests.
Cardwell, gracing the shores of the Coral Sea and the Hinchinbrook Channel, is a perfect, relaxed fishing spot. As I’ve described in some of my previous posts, Cardwell services Hinchinbrook Island, the world’s largest national park island. Further north from Cardwell, is another sugar cane and banana-producing area, with its town centre being Tully. The Cardwell Shire is in the heart of the wet tropics. The town of Cardwell, itself is in a rain shadow, but Tully, less than thirty minutes north, boasts of being one of the wettest areas in Australia. Tully is a very small town, again rich in Italian heritage. The waters of the Tully River have become world-renowned for white-water rafting. Enthusiasts from all over the globe flock to the area.
Across the highway from Tully, a few kilometres to the east through lush, thick rainforest to the coastal fore-shores, which it fringes, hides beautiful Mission Beach with Dunk Island 4kms away. Easy access to the Great Barrier Reef from both the island and mainland is on offer to the adventurous tourists. Dunk Island is part of the Family Group of islands, which also includes Bedarra, Bowden, Wheeler, Hudson Islands, amongst others. Dunk is the largest and the most northern island in the group.
There is so much to see and explore in Tropical North Queensland, like the state’s two highest mountain peaks, Bartle Frere and Bellenden Ker, (the state’s third highest mountain is Mount Bowen, on Hinchinbrook Island). Australia’s longest single-drop waterfall is Wallaman Falls not far from Cardwell.
Further north along the highway from Tully, one enters into the Johnstone Shire, immediately one become immersed in and awed by its stunningly beautiful vistas of lush, thick green pastures, sugar cane fields and dense vegetation.
In the early 1900’s, a Spaniard, José Paronella arrived in Australia from Catalonia. He headed to north Queensland where he worked as a cane cutter for more than a decade before returning to Spain and marrying the love of his life. Paronella came across 13 acres of virgin scrub at Mena Creek the year after he had arrived in north Queensland, and it too, stole his heart. Eventually, in 1929, he purchased the land for a sum of one hundred and twenty pounds. Immediately, he started to build beautiful gardens and a reception centre for public enjoyment. He built a house for he and his bride to live in, then he commenced work on a castle, part of which still stands today. It is said he built the castle in dedication to his love, his wife. Throughout the years the castle has been restored and maintained. The house was made of stone, but all the other structures were constructed of poured, reinforced concrete, the reinforcing being old railway tracks. Finally in 1935, the park was officially opened to the public. Within the castle walls was a movie theatre which showed movies every Saturday night. Other times, with the canvas chairs removed, the hall became a popular venue for dances and parties. Even way back then, Paronella had a “disco ball”. A myriad reflector, a large ball covered with 1270 tiny mirrors, was suspended from the ceiling. Spotlights of pink and blue shone on the reflector from the corners of the hall, creating a coloured snowflake effect around the room.
In the grounds, Paronella built Tea Gardens and a swimming pool, both of which still operate today. Romantic avenues and paths meander throughout the rich, tropical vegetation. Two tennis courts and a playground for children are situated near the banks of Mena Creek. A Hydro-electric generating plant was commissioned in 1933. It was the earliest in North Queensland. The plant supplied power to the whole of the park. A rope bridge is strung across the top of the falls where those brave at heart can pretend they're Indiana Jones
Disasters have struck the Park many times over the years, but like the Phoenix, Paronella Park rises from the ashes. Floods and fires have almost destroyed it at oft times, but with the spirit and strength of José Paronella guiding and protecting it, Paronella Park will remain for many years to come.
José died of cancer in 1948. Paronella Park and his dream continue. The Park was purchased by new owners intent on bringing it back to its former glory, in 1993. In 1997, Paronella Park gained National Trust listing. The Park remains alive and has won many Tourism Awards over the past number of years. José’s dream is never-ending.
I packed my suitcase and headed off to Cairns where I was to board a flight to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, armed with all this information and much more. Arrangements to meet up with my fellow partners in crime at the airport had been made prior to my departure from the island. I knew only two of my fellow conspirators, meeting them previously at various tourism conferences and expositions. Each time I’d met one of the two known to me, he hadn’t impressed me very much. Loud of voice, he was quite an arrogant fellow, I felt. Rather than speak in a normal manner, he had a tendency to bellow. He was one not open to the opinions of others, not that I ever bothered offering mine to him. I was a novice, an apprentice to all this tourism marketing and mainly kept my own counsel in such social conversations, mingling and merging when in his presence. He annoyed me, so I could see no useful purpose in cultivating a friendship.
However, everyone was in high-spirits as we waited for our flight to be announced and our boarding call to echo through the loud-speakers. The flight from Cairns to Port Moresby is only about forty-five minutes in flight duration, so we’d be there in no time at all. Well, that is if our flight had been on time! Two hours later, we were still waiting and wasting time at Cairns Airport. Our feet hadn’t left the ground!
Finally, after we’d answered the calls of our thirsts in the bar to while away the time, our flight was announced. Shortly thereafter, we were ascending the sky above Cairns heading northwards to Papua New Guinea. The crystal-clear waters of the Torres Strait smiled up at us as we flew low over the Strait and its islands.
To Be Continued....