Statements - North Queensland

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:17): Today I want to talk about two significant industries in what we all know and acknowledge and agree is the best part of Australia, and that is northern Australia—in particular, northern Queensland. There would be no-one in this chamber who would argue with that description. The two industries in the north of Queensland in particular that I want to talk about are the tourism industry and the banana industry. In the tourism industry, I particularly want to talk about a wonderful feature called Paronella Park, which is otherwise called 'The story of a Spaniard's dream'.

Before I get to that, I want to briefly mention another great Australian industry, and that is the banana industry, which is centred principally around Tully, Innisfail, some parts of the Atherton Tablelands and up further, at Lakeland in the north of Queensland. In doing that, I wish to correct a misstatement I made previously when I told the chamber that Australians consume five million bananas each and every day. I was wrong in saying that and I want to correct the record. I'm told by the industry that it's actually six million bananas each and every day.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Well, I'm glad you've cleared that up!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It's a wonderful statistic. But when you think of the uses bananas are put to and the way they are readily consumed by most Australians—particularly young Australians—you can understand that that statistic of six million bananas being consumed in Australia each and every day of the year is accurate. For young people, of course, when parents pack a lunch for the kids to take to school, a banana has in-built wrapping—it comes in its own wrapping facility. And, of course, it is wonderfully tasteful. Not long ago, the industry in the north achieved a Guinness record of having the world's longest banana split. It was something that happened as a new world record of 8.04 kilometres. That's a pretty big banana split.

It's a great industry. It employs a lot of people in tropical North Queensland. It's well run and well managed. They obviously do have their difficulties with diseases and importations but, by and large, it's a wonderful industry. Along with Senator O'Sullivan, I had the pleasure of attending the annual banana growers' conference during the break and saw firsthand the wonderful things they are doing: the way they are farming so sustainably; the way they have a concern about the environment in which they work; the sustainability, marketability, and future of their industry. All congratulations to the Australian banana growers on what they do. I thank them for their hosting of the banana growers' conference and wish them all the best in the future.

The other industry in North Queensland that I particularly want to highlight today is the tourism industry. There are so many wonderful aspects of the tourism industry in North Queensland that it would take more than 10 minutes—in fact, more than 10 hours—to properly detail them. In what is wrongly called the 'break' over the last month or so, I was in the area of Tully and the Atherton Tableland. I had been up to a local government conference at Yungaburra and Atherton, and that was followed by a meeting with the Mareeba Shire Council and the Mayor, Councillor Tom Gilmore. It was more than a meeting; I actually opened a facility of theirs. I've done a lot of openings in my time, and some of them were pretty schmick sorts of openings, but this was the opening of a sewerage plant—not quite as glamorous as many of the other openings I do. But, thanks to the Minister for Regional Development, Senator Nash, who happens to be in the chamber, $5 million was made available through the Stronger Regions Fund, which Senator Nash administers, to the Mareeba Shire Council to do this new sewerage plant, which will stop run-off of effluent contaminating some of the gulf rivers. It is visionary and provides for the future.

On the way home from those parts of the Atherton Tableland, I thought it was time I again went to have a look at a wonderful venue called Paronella Park. For those who are not aware of this, Paronella Park is a Spaniard's dream. It is a Spanish castle built in the rainforest. A man named Jose Paronella arrived in Innisfail in 1913, having sailed from Catalonia in northern Spain, to plan a splendid life for himself and his fiancee, Matilda. He worked for eleven years—cutting cane, I might say, in those days—and created some wealth for himself. He then went home with the intention of getting Matilda to join him in Australia. He was going to build for Matilda this wonderful Spanish castle in the middle of the rainforest at Mena Creek just outside Innisfail, on the backroad between Innisfail and Tully. Unfortunately, in the long time Jose had been in Australia, Matilda thought he was never coming back and married someone else. Never mind, Jose married the sister, brought her back and then built this magnificent Spanish castle right in the middle of the rainforest.

It has had a chequered history over the years. In the prewar and immediate postwar years it was the social venue for anyone in that part of North Queensland. It had a ballroom and a theatre. It is on the banks of Mena Creek, which is a fast-flowing waterfalled creek in that part of tropical North Queensland. It is a magnificent site right in the middle of the rainforest. In the middle of that he built this Spanish castle with turrets, walkways and a love tunnel. It's really interesting.

Over the years it became a tourist attraction. Following Cyclone Larry and Cyclone Yasi it fell into disrepair and the jungle started to take over. Since then two very enterprising people, Judy and Mark Evans, acquired Paronella Park and have restored much of the property. They have improved the surrounds and the grounds. They have wonderful tours through there. While I am at it I want to thank Pablo, the young Spaniard, who conducted the tour we took when we visited that place. They've turned this around so it is a very successful tourist attraction in tropical North Queensland. Not only do Mark and Judy Evans own Paronella Park and all that goes with it; they own the old hotel across the road, the caravan park and the skywalk through the forest not far away. They have done a wonderful job. They employ 80 people. They tell me that, if they did not have to pay the payroll tax they pay to the Queensland government, they could employ another two people.

It is a wonderful enterprise. Mark and Judy Evans have done a wonderful job not only in restoring Paronella Park, the castle and the grounds, but in building a real tourist enterprise that provides real jobs for 80 of my fellow North Queenslanders. I congratulate them on all they have done. Any senator who happens to be up that way—if there is a committee meeting up that way—should take time off and travel the hour or so from Cairns to see Paronella Park. It would be well worth their while.

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