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Gondwana Festival Opening Ceremony

by | Mar 4, 2021

By Steve Noakes - Chairperson, Binna Burra Lodge Ltd. | Councillor, National Parks Association of Queensland Inc.

Binna Burra Lodge acknowledges and pays respect to the land and the traditional practices of the families of the Yugambeh Language Region and their Elders past, present and emerging.

On behalf of Binna Burra Lodge may I first express our appreciations to those organisations who have supported the launch of this inaugural month long Gondwana annual festival:  

  • National Bushfire Recovery Agency,  
  • the Queensland Government – particularly the Hon. Cameron Dick now our State Treasurer   
  • Tourism & Events Queensland,  
  • Brisbane Economic Development Agency,  
  • the Scenic Rim Regional Council  
  • as well as our industry colleagues who are here with us tonight: particularly those from O’Reillys, Mt Barney Lodge and Park Tours. 

101 years ago, in 1920, an event important to the founding of Binna Burra Lodge happened.

After his contributions to have the Lamington National Park officially gazetted in 1915, after being wounded in action during the first world war as a member of the Australian Imperial Forces and after surviving the Spanish Flu pandemic which spread worldwide in 1918 & 1919 

Romeo Lahey – the engineer from a Canungra based timber industry family - put three ex WW1 servicemen to work on clearing an old cedar timber track along the Upper Coomera Valley and making a zigzag track up a spur on the Darlington Ranges. 

From there, he saw a knob of land, then already known as Mt Roberts, which commanded a striking view.  

Tonight, we stand on that piece of land here at Mt Roberts – the same one where a century ago Romeo saw possibilities for guest house facilities that would enable people to access, appreciate and protect the Lamington National Park. 

Romeo decided to try and hold this land for a future company to be formed. He asked Arthur Finch, a Canungra grazier to talk to the owners, George and Bill Rankin in the hope of getting a good price. At that time in the early 1920s, the Rankin brothers would not sell their farmland to Romeo Lahey. 

The Rankin brothers had both left Beechmont to also serve in WW1 and were content to return to their farming area here around Mt Roberts. But they did show an appreciation of the biodiversity value of these ancient forests and in 1919, George Rankin was appointed unpaid honorary ranger at Lamington National Park under The Native Animals Protection Act 1906. 

A decade after he first tried to buy this land - and with the help of then 25 year old Arthur Groom - Romeo Lahey led the establishment of the National Parks Association of Queensland On that first NPAQ Board in 1930 was H.L. (Herbert) O’Reilly one of the founding family of our friends from over at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat.  

Representing the current leadership generation, Shane O’Reilly is here tonight and describes his Great Uncle Herb as The best axeman among the OReillys - I remember him. His block was where the Villas now stans over at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. 

In the 1930’s NPAQ led the advocacy for Mt Barney to be declared a national park. That eventually occurred in 1947 when Mount Barney National Park and Mount Lindesay National Park were gazetted as separate parks. Over thirty years later, in 1980, the two parks were amalgamated to form the current Mount Barney National Park, named after the park's highest and most imposing peak. Mt Barney and its associated peaks have been traversed by so many over the past century who had affiliations with both Binna Burra and O’Reillys - and the new kid on the block Mt Barney Lodge - founded by John and Jenny Larkin in the early 1990s. 

Tonight we also welcome Innis and Tracy Larkin as the current generation of the Larkin family who continue to deliver some of Australia’s best climbing and outdoor adventure experiences. 

Let me now make a few historical comments about where we stand tonight. 

First Nations people lived in this area for thousands of years. Known as ‘Woonoongoora’ in the Yugambeh language, these mountains are sacred and spiritual, places to be nurtured and respected Evidence of their occupation has been found in various parts of the park, including the ‘Kweebani’ (cooking) cave on the Caves Track.  

Between 1863 and 1866 surveyors Roberts and Rowland surveyed the Queensland–New South Wales state border along the highest peaks from Point Danger to Wilsons Peak, west of Mt Barney. The Border Track between Binna Burra and O’Reillys follows part of the survey party’s original route. 

In the late 1920’s, Arthur Groom had independently of Romeo Lahey spotted Mt Roberts as a great place for a guest house. Arthur was a remarkable walker. In about 1930 when he was active in establishing the NPAQ, he walked across country by moonlight from O'Reilly's to Mount Barney, selected a camp-site, talked to landowners and returned, covering seventy miles (113 km), midnight to midnight.  Parts of that walk will be experienced in the new Artur’s Trek program offered by Lisa Groom and her team at Park Tours during the Gondwana Festival. 

Arthur also worked with Romeo to get an option to purchase this land from the Rankin brothers.  The option cost One Pound for three months. The final price agreed in a letter dated 17 Dec 1932 was for twenty pound per acre. 

The first camps were held here at Binna Burra in 1932 and 1933 – largely with people connected to the new NPAQ. In 1934 a Lahey owned house from Canungra – Leighton House – was transported piece by piece on horseback up the track to Mt Roberts. Leighton House was built by the Lahey family in 1902 and during the Spanish Flu pandemic, housed patients in Canungra. 

Located where we stand tonight, it remained the lodge reception and lounge until it was burnt down in the bushfires on Sunday 8 September 2019. That was at the beginning of the terrible ‘Black Summer’ bushfires across Australia which saw over half of the 366,500 total hectares of the Gondwana World Heritage forests destroyed or damaged. 

Eighteen months ago we all lost a special place where generation of families and visitors from across the world had created memories that remain with us each today. 

Now, it’s time to look ahead to the new possibilities for this spectacular piece of land where Romeo Lahey and Arthur Groom build the first Binna Burra Lodge. 

As we plan for the second Binna Burra Lodge here at Mt Roberts, let us not forget that this environmental/social enterprise we have the responsibility to guide as its current custodians is nestled in the ancient ‘Woonoongoora’ landscape. Our current Binna Burra journey towards a Reconciliation Action Plan will more strongly recognise that the histories, stories and living knowledge of Aboriginal people and culture of this cultural landscape should be a key component to the new Binna Burra narrative and our ongoing recovery from the devastation of the bushfires of 2019.  

And we want to work in collaboration with our Queensland Gondwana World Heritage partners in the nationalstate and local government agencies as well as our local communities and tourism industry. 

Binna Burra remains committed to advance the idea of destination Scenic Rim first conceived by Arthur Groom when he dreamt of a trail which would enchain the peaks and escarpments of the Main and Macpherson Ranges. I am sure Arthur would be most pleased if he were to know that his forward-looking destination marketing term of the ‘Scenic Rim’ was now the official name of our local government council. 

This first Gondwana Festival brings locals and visitors together to recognise the areas affected by the 2019 bushfires. In subsequent years, we plan to continue this innovative festival as an annual event for our Scenic Rim region along the northern entrance to the Gondwana World Heritage Rainforest.  

We hope you will all the journey with us over the next few years! 

Thank you for being here with us tonight. 

Additional text: 

At the inaugural NPAQ Romeo Lahey Memorial Lecture held on the 14 th November 1969, the speaker, Mr R. Allen Clelland said: ‘Queensland Holiday Resorts was established on 3rd March 1934 by members of the National Parks Association for the sole purpose of giving the public access to that end of Lamington.  It was not long after that Queensland Holiday Resorts became known as Binna Burra Lodge and its connection with NPAQ is reflected in the original objectives of the company which included reference to ‘the ideals of the National Parks Association of Queensland’.  

In the early days, the approach was by car to Beechmont and then pack horses to a spot called ‘the dump’ and we camped on the creek below the site of Binna Burra Lodge. Later, when Binna Burra was established supplies were brought from ‘the dump’ to the first guest house by flying fox and the motive power was a large capstan turned by a horse driven by ‘Old Bill’. 

Now, at 91 years of age, NPAQ remains Queensland’s oldest non-governmental environmental organisation, continuing to promote the preservation, expansion and good management of national parks and other forms of protected areas in Queensland. NPAQ is also a shareholder of Binna Burra Lodge Ltd and continues to supply a small loan to support Binna Burra’s business activities. 

steve@binnaburralodge.com.au 

stevenoakes1@gmail.com 

Hon Meaghan Scanlon, Queensland Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef and Minister for Science and Youth Affairs at the official opening of the Gondwana Festival, 01 March 2021.  

L to R: Shane O’Reilly, Innes Larkin, Meaghan Scanlon, Lisa Groom, Steve Noakes