LOST WORLD VALLEY
One of Queensland's best-kept secrets is surrounded by wilderness yet it's an easy drive from two major cities.
The legend of Bernard O’Reilly looms large over the Lost World Valley, a remote enclave of pastoral country and wilderness in the Scenic Rim region of southeast Queensland. The Valley straddles the upper reaches of the Albert River and its tributary, Christmas Creek, beginning in the rich dairying country around Kerry and ending in the foothills of the Border Ranges and Lamington National Parks. It seems everyone we meet in the Valley has a connection with the O’Reillys.
Bernard O’Reilly’s family became pioneer settlers in the region in 1911 when they took up selections high in the McPherson Ranges and began a never-ending battle with the rainforest to clear their land for farming.
When the remaining blocks were withdrawn to make way for the Lamington National Park, the O’Reillys opened a guesthouse and started a tradition of sharing their precious part of the world that continues to the present day. O’Reillys guesthouse is a destination par excellence for bushwalking, bird watching and wilderness exploration. Visitors can set out on treks secure in the knowledge that advice from the O’Reillys on the routes is from the experts … they’ve spent a lifetime getting to know these mountains.
That intimate knowledge, along with bush survival skills, courage and endurance , had a very public test in 1937, when Bernard O’Reilly located a wrecked Stinson aircraft 10 days after it crashed during a fierce cyclone. One of the most extensive air, land and sea searches in our history had failed to find the lost aircraft. However, Bernard, guided by his own bush nous and by his own reckoning, divine intervention, deduced that the plane had gone down out of the main search area. With two loaves of bread, a pound of butter, six onions, a billy and tea and sugar, he set off on a two-day search across rugged terrain where no European had previously ventured. When he eventually located the wreck, he found five men dead and, miraculously, two still alive. The next 48 hours were a race against the clock as Bernard made a wild dash down the mountainside to get help, then escorted the rescue party back to the site and helped with the stretchering-out operation.
Our self-contained accommodation at Cave Rock Cottages is surrounded by bush perched above Christmas Creek, which we can hear rushing by from our front veranda. There are natural spa baths in the rock pools in the creek and we delight in the picnic area Gary and Gayle Wilson constructed on the flats near a bigger swimming hole a bit further downstream. Garden gnomes hidden around the property give younger visitors a hide-and-seek challenge and there are tractor tubes for messing about in the water.
Next morning Gayle takes us upstream into the entrance to Lamington National Park and the start of the walking track up to the grave of Jim Westray, who actually survived the Stinson crash, but died on his way to get help. Seasoned bush walkers can forge on up to the actual crash site, and a memorial to the other victims, but this is no walk in the park and should only be undertaken by the fully prepared and equipped.
Next morning we head to Christmas Creek Recreation Centre, a former National Fitness youth camp, now providing budget holiday accommodation and family entertainment in the valley. En route we pause at Stinson Park, which marks the location where all the men of the Valley congregated in 1937, when they downed tools on their farms to help with blazing the trail up to the crash site and the subsequent evacuation. When Bernard finally emerged from the mountain with the rescue party his wife Viola and sister Rose rode down to meet him. Family lore has it that Viola rode straight past her now local hero husband as he had lost 16kg in the days since he left home and she didn’t recognise him. Such drama seems a world away at the Rec Centre, where local mosaic artist Kym Braithwaite is conducting children’s art classes and a gaggle of primary school aged children are up to their elbows in paint, glue, tiles and sparkles as they create rock sculpture, mosaics and other art works.
Further up the creek we visit the up-market self-catering venue, Wongari Eco Retreat where the aptly named Serenity cabin is surrounded by rainforest with 200 metres of water frontage. Laze about in a hammock, build a bonfire in the pit, birdwatch or just sit on the deck and read a book in splendid isolation on the site, which is overlooked by a spectacular bluff known as Buchanan’s Fort. The Buchanan brothers who gave the landmark their name were the first to meet Bernard on his frenzied dash out of the Valley and gave him one of their horses for the final eight miles to a house with a telephone.
On the other side of the range there’s self-catering and bed and breakfast accommodation at Cedar Glen farmstay, where fourth-generation farmer Nigel Stephens and his wife, Sabrina, welcome visitors to their home and offer farm tours, twilight 4WD tours, picnic lunches and horse riding on their property. Nigel’s great uncle Bob was a great friend of Bernard O’Reilly and it was from the 1901 homestead that the party that took the doctor up to the crash site was coordinated.
Jon and Cherrol McGhee’s Garden Hill is a little bit further up the road towards Kerry, a fascinating repository of Jon’s obsessions, which include growing heritage plants, and collecting sulkies, drays, saddlery, tools and saving historic local buildings from decay or demolition by relocating them to the property. They include Cashell’s Hut, which Jon has turned into an artist’s retreat. When Australian Country visited, local Lamington artist Dave Groom was completing a residency at the retreat, relishing the opportunity to look up at the mountains where he lives and usually looks down on the Valley. There’s artistic exploration of a different kind at Wild Lime Cooking School,where chef Kate Raymont takes classes for 14 to 20 students on a property owned by the Overell family, pioneers of tourism in the Valley. Native finger limes, Warrigul greens and olive oil from their neighbouring Worrendo olive grove are on the menu and cooking class participants and their partners can choose to stay on site or in various nearby farmhouses owned by Nathan Overall and his wife, Jodie, or his parents, Sue and Rob.
Our next stop is on the banks of the Albert River where Nathan’s sister, Sally, and her husband, Michael Undery, own Crebra farmhouse, which can accommodate 10 to 14 guests, on their dairy farm. Sally and Michael provide their guests with equipment for fishing for bass and Mary River cod from kayaks on the river. Sit quietly on the banks at dawn or dusk and you might be rewarded with a platypus sighting. There’s yet another O’Reilly connection as Michael’s grandad, Barney Ward, was one of the trail cutters who cut the stretcher track to the top of the mountain. As we sit on the banks enjoying a mug of billy tea and damper the conversation inevitably turns to the bravery and fortitude demonstrated during the rescue. Ironically, Bernard O’Reilly never received an official accolade for his efforts. Then again, he would never have expected one. But if the folk of the Lost World Valley have anything to do with it, his example of selfless courage will live on for many generations to come.
Head to Visit Scenic Rim for more information on this striking Queenland region.
Words Kirsty McKenzie
Photography Scenic Rim Tourism, Ken Brass