Paronella Park

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Key Facts

• Paronella Park is a multiple award winning, heritage listed tourist attraction that first opened to the public in 1935
• The hydro-electric scheme has recently been fully restored

Project Data

Location: Mena Creek, QLD, Australia
Year Completed: 2009


The hydroelectric scheme at Paronella Park was first installed and operated in the early 1930s. It formed an integral part of José Paronella’s creation, now an important tourist destination in Far North Queensland. The system harnessed the natural flow of Mena Creek Falls and converted it to useable electricity which was in turn used to illuminate the Park and provide power for the operation of a restaurant, ballroom and movie theatre.

The system used an aqueduct from the top of the falls across to an inlet pit. The water then fell 30 feet to run the turbine, an English model with variable pitch inlet valves to control the flow. This was directly coupled to an ex-army stock DC generator that Paronella acquired cheaply. Engineers from the South Johnstone Sugar Mill helped to design and install the system.

Following José Paronella’s death in 1948, the hydroelectric system fell into a state of disrepair – along with much of Paronella Park. In April 2008, work began on restoring the system to working order. German based company, Heidemann Hydro, was commissioned to oversee the project. The turbine was removed from its housing and sent to Germany for refurbishment. Larger, re-usable sections of the system were grit blasted, while other components were manufactured and replaced. The restored system was sent back to Australia, and reinstalled in October 2009. It was officially ‘switched on’ in November 2009, producing and exporting power back into the grid.


Initial planning was undertaken in-house by Paronella Park. This included costing estimates, permissions and restrictions relating to the Park’s heritage listing, potential candidates to undertake the work etc. Once a decision was made to appoint Heidemann Hydro as project co-ordinator, Tilman Heidemann worked closely with Paronella Park through each stage of the refurbishment.

Advice and approvals were sought from Ergon Energy, Department of Environment and Resource Management, and the Queensland Heritage Council.


Special considerations had to be made as the project involved both a Heritage listed property (Paronella Park), and a natural waterway system (Mena Creek). Permissions and Approvals to work in these environments were sought from the relevant departments. Work was conducted both on-site (within the hydroelectric station building), and in the workshops of Heidemann Hydro in Germany.


Very early in the process a decision was made to stay true to the original design, and ensure the refurbished hydroelectric system was as close to the original system as was possible given current standards. The end result is a system that is almost identical to the one operating at Paronella Park in 1933, down to the original blue paint job.

The original Boving & Co London Francis Bulb Turbine, turbine housing, impeller and governor are all original, or recreations of original parts. The existing generator was deemed beyond repair, and a replacement was used.


Staying true to the founder of Paronella Park’s original vision and ethos, recycled materials were used where possible. Where sections of the system needed to be replaced, they were recreated using the original plans.

To conform to current standards, a variety of modern additions were required. These include a mounting rig that complies with current workplace health and safety standards, and speed, voltage and overload controls for the generator.


The completed and operating system has a dramatic impact on Paronella Park’s carbon footprint. In 2012/13 the hydro electric generator produced 83,260kWh, resulting in 83 Tonnes of CO2 emissions being offset. Paronella Park’s total carbon emissions for that period were 75 Tonnes.


No significant alterations were made to the natural water flow of Mena Creek to complete this project. One stipulation made by the Department of Environment and Resource Management was that the hydro system must be shut down, and the water allowed to run naturally, should there be a dramatic decrease in water flow.


This project satisfies a number of key criteria for us. It is historically important, environmentally sound, and makes economic sense. In many ways, it is the “heartbeat” of Paronella Park, and bringing it back to life after all these years is a step towards recreating the original vision of the Park’s founder.


Base building architect/ designer: Engineer – Tilman Heidemann
Other main contractors: Jason Aquilina Electrical