The Dream Continues…

We read about Paronella Park in the guidebook and it looked like it was worth a visit. The guidebook stated that there we would find, “the ruins of a Spanish castle…the culmination of the dream of Jose Paronella. In 1929 he began the monumental project that, in addition to the castle, included a tea house movie theatre, expansive ‘pleasure gardens’ and even a hydro electricity plant.” The pictures that accompanied the description were convincing.

The brochures that we found in Cardwell were more vague. We didn’t really know what to expect, but there was a caravan park on the premises that was free with paid admission and included tours and use of the park facilities.

The billboards on the way there were cryptic. The ads consisted of a picture of the “ruins” and the line, “The dream continues…”

When we checked in we were informed of all the tours that would be taking place that day. We should do one of the day tours, the woman said, and you simply have to do the night tour because it looks completely different at night. “You have to book the night tour in advance. Should I book you?”

It was free, so why not? After getting settled, we joined one of the day tours. As far as tours go, this one was less obnoxious than usual and we got to see the smallest species of bat. They hang out in the tunnel that was built on the property and even full grown they look like winged baby mice. The guide assured us that he wasn’t going to take us through the whole park, it was much to big, but we could wander by ourselves after the tour. What we found out was that the park was not a whole lot bigger than what we saw on the tour. We were done with the rest of it in about 20 minutes. Don’t get me wrong—the park was stunning. There were two waterfalls, several intriguing structures (although I wouldn’t call it a ruin of a Spanish castle), ponds with eels and turtles, walkways lined on both sides by enormously tall and perfectly straight trees, and a museum that told a little more of the park’s story. The gist of it is that this guy, Jose Paronella, was a Spanish immigrant. He made a lot of money, built the park as a tourist attraction, and then died soon thereafter. His wife and then his kids took it over, it was abandoned, and then the current owners bought it and restored it. But to hear the employees and the owner tell the story, well…

Jose Paronella was the most amazing man who ever lived in Australia. His death and the subsequent abandonment of the park constituted a national tragedy. Thank God the current owners stepped in to be sure that Jose Paronella’s dream (they never said what the actual dream was) could continue and that fine movies could be filmed in the park such as Sniper starring Tom Berenger and Billy Zane (I know, I had to look it up too). The whole place had a new-age smell to it. I suppose it was supposed to inspire us to continue our own dreams just like Jose Paronella. They even sold a blend of essential oils that was purported to “revitalize and energize you so that your dreams can come true.” Right.

The night tour was a disaster. See description of tour group dynamics in the post entitled “Falling into and Climbing out of the Tourist Trap.” This tour group was even worse. We were told that there would only be 10 people on the tour since you had to pre-book it. Apparently that isn’t true. Anybody who is willing to pay can show up right before the tour starts, so the total was closer to 20 people. The misbehaving child with oblivious parents was more distracting than usual as this time she had a flashlight, and the adults who couldn’t listen to the rules were continually farting around playing with their flashlights, shining them in each other’s faces and being stupid even after the tour guide gently and playfully told them to, in effect, cut the crap. We were told that the park looks completely different at night and that is true—it is dark at night. Other than that…

We were informed by the owner that if we left our email addresses at the desk we could get updates on Paronella Park like when it would be featured on TV, when the hydro electric restoration was complete, when Shirley MacLaine would be there filming a movie. Also, we could have a password to the website where we could download photos of the park. O…K…

The most bizarre thing about the whole experience was the disconnect between reality and fantasy that seemed to have a choke-hold on the employees and most of the visitors alike. I enjoyed the park, but I did not find it inspirational or mystical. It did not change my life. I did not find the story all that amazing. I don’t particularly want to go back again. But almost every other person there seemed to be consumed by the rhetoric that the employees, the owner, and the literature put forth. I guess they saw what they thought they were supposed to see. We, on the other hand, went back to the van and puzzled over a truly odd experience.

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