The Magic of Binna Burra Lodge

Sep 27, 2019

It is with mixed emotions that I sit down to write up this story.

On the one hand, I have been looking forward to sharing my experience on my three-day pack free walk with Life’s an Adventure in this very special part of Queensland close to where I live. Lamington National Park is only 90 minutes from my front door.

On the other hand, I am tinged with sadness, for one of the special places I stayed at on my three-day adventure has been destroyed by a bush fire that tore through the scenic rim and the Lamington National Park on the eighth of September. Literally one month after I stayed for the very first-time at Binna Burra Lodge, bushfires ravaged the area and decimated the 86-year old Binna Burra Lodge.

The before and after images of Binna Burra Lodge after the bushfires of September 8th. image credit: Binna Burra Lodge website

Devastation

The dry tinderbox conditions of the closely surrounding bush, after an unusually dry winter with very little rain and the combination of freakishly gusty winds (sadly), created ideal conditions for what started as a small flame and quickly turned into a fast-moving fiery inferno.

“Queensland has never seen fire danger ratings this high so early in spring. With dry and gusty conditions set to continue over the coming days, and little rain forecast in the coming weeks, it could still be a while before the situation – particularly in Binna Burra – is contained. Binna Burra resort has suffered serious structural damage after the blaze ripped through the 86-year-old building overnight.” Extracted from online updates

First-time for everything

Yes, it’s a little embarrassing that this was only my first time at Binna Burra Lodge. This stunning location is close to my home. And is much loved by bushwalkers, nature lovers and anyone else who sought an escape into a haven surrounded by nature and ancient rainforests.

One of the many trails in Lamington National Park

Thanks to my experience with Life’s an Adventure I discovered what thousands already knew – Binna Burra is a magical place. Two nature lovers, Arthur Groom, and his friend and business partner Romeo Lahey purchased the last freehold title of land in the National Park.

Arthur Groom (right) and Romeo Lahey (left) image credit: Binna Burra Lodge website.

Their shared vision was to build a place in nature that people could come and stay in. They dismantled an old boarding house at Canungra and by packhorse, the materials were brought up the mountain. This became the dining and recreation area for Binna Burra Lodge, which first began operation in 1933.

On the Friday night after our first day of hiking, we stayed in Binna Burra Lodge and had dinner (and breakfast the following morning) in the wood-paneled dining room, attached to the lodge’s entrance hall. The bain maries were filled with a hearty selection of tasty treats (roast meat and vegies, risotto, hot pasta dishes) to replenish the energy levels spent during our walk through parts of Lamington National Park (we walked 12 kilometres – 19,400 steps – through a rainforest, filled with eucalyptus and giant Antarctic Beech trees.)

The dining room at Binna Burra Lodge .

Nostalgic reflection

After dinner, we wandered over to the front room, adjacent to reception. I felt a special kind of magic in this history-filled space. Like so many guests before had likely done, we stood near the fireplace, glass of wine in hand and chatted.

It was early August and still chilly at night. The fire’s warmth was welcoming. I looked up at the old framed pictures hanging on the stone flu. The faces of the original founders Arthur Groom and Romeo Lahey looked down at us. In the centre of the room were a couple of glass cabinets, filled with memorabilia, crockery, old postcards. Various mementos collected over the years and stored under glass for guests to look over and feel the history about the place.

I’m looking back over the photos I took that night, to remind me of the atmosphere for when I write up my story. My eyes mist up and I feel my throat tighten. The dining room, the hall and 12 cabins are gone. Everything I marveled at that night are now ashes.  Only the memories (and the images) remain.

From the ashes they will rebuild

There is already talk in the media about the rebuilding of Binna Burra. A process that will take many years and something Queenslanders are used to having to dig deep and do. And we do.

Look at Daydream Island they have re-opened again after Cyclone Debbie tore through in 2017. It took just over two years to rebuild but they are back!

And as a Brisbane local, we’ve seen our fair share of floods. January 2011 destroyed many homes and businesses, but the city pulled together, cleaned up the mess and re-built. It wasn’t easy and the re-building of Binna Burra won’t be easy either. It will take time and a great deal of money, but there is a dedicated group of people who are ensuring this will happen.

A group of volunteers called the Friends of Binna Burra (FOBBS) established in 1984, have set up a GoFundMe Page to help with the restoration of the memorabilia, children’s playground and re-establishment of the native gardens all the guests (including me) enjoyed.

I am a Queenslander and this is what Queenslanders do, we look after each other.  Along with the rest of Australia and overseas visitors who have also experienced the Binna Burra magic – we’re waiting for this place to be open again!

The spirit of Binna Burra

Journalist Frances Whiting said in a recent Courier Mail article, Binna Burra is “my special place.” Frances spent many years as a child at Binna Burra.  “There are already plans rising from the ashes, new stories curling through the smoke,” she writes.

The Groom brothers, three sons of original owner Arthur Groom – Tony, Donn and Richard – are all alive. In their late seventies and early eighties, their love for the region they grew up in has not lessened because of this latest devastation.

79-year old Richard Groom is saddened by the loss but is philosophical.

“My brother Tony put it best when he said Binna Burra is more than home, it is more than a lifetime commitment. It is a feeling, a spirit, a way of life. It is also the sum of all those who have worked or stayed there as a guest.”

And when the dinner bell was retrieved intact from the charred ruins it was a sign.

The original dinner bell has been retrieved from the ashes. Image credit: Binna Burra Lodge.

“It’s just joyful, it’s great,” Richard Groom told 10 News First. “It’s part of the beginning.”

The historical bell believed to have come from a locomotive associated with Lahey, has been rung to call guests to meals since 1933. The finding of such a special artifact is what the Binna Burra staff and volunteers need to remind them they must re-build. The Groom brothers, directors and staff of Binna Burra Lodge have met to discuss the re-building.

But it won’t be any old re-build. The committees will be considering the changes to the eco-system. The Lodge’s Chairman Steve Noakes acknowledged their future challenges with climate change in a recent interview with ABC News Story. “We have changing patterns with rainfalls and the dryness is expanding in our case.”

A re-build will require a serious review of how the new lodge will interact with the surrounding land and the flora and fauna.

Front entrance of the Binna Burra Lodge.

The future

Yes, I have a small amount of regret I haven’t spent more time exploring this area until now. And this devastating bushfire has meant I will have to forestall my intentions to return to stay at Binna Burra Lodge. But once they’re back on their feet and open for business, I will be making a regular pilgrimage to this special part of the world.

Not that I need my arm twisted!

Huge thanks to Life’s an Adventure for getting me out and into this magical part of Queensland.

View from my Sky Lodge balcony at Binna Burra Lodge where ironically the view was obscured by smoke from burnoff as a preventive measure to bushfires.

Note:

I have written about the loss of the Binna Burra Lodge, but this is not to detract from other homes that have been lost in the Sarabah/Binna Burra areas from the bushfires. Many families have been displaced by the blaze and lost their homes. And I cannot imagine the impact the fires have had on the wildlife.

I would also like to acknowledge the incredible efforts of the fire departments, helicopter crews and SES volunteers who have tirelessly fought these blazes, desperately trying to save homes and wildlife.

This Article First Appeared on The Travel Bug Within blog and is re-published with kind permission of Jennifer Johnston.

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