HINTERLAND THEME PARK:
The recently renamed Country Paradise Parkland site on the Nerang Beaudesert Road in Queensland has been host to a number of commercial and tourist based ventures and activities over the years. This History page will present a thumbnail sketch of these enterprises since the 1960’s beginning with Mr. Ken Fogarty and family who took up residence at the Park around the late sixties or early seventies.
A few images from this time frame have been made available to the editor by Mr. Bill Birmingham who worked at the park, then known as “The Palms”. He saw a number of owners come and go during his time there. The descriptive text following is an extract from 1981 advertising material printed in the “Gold Coast Bulletin” newspaper courtesy of the GCCC Local Studies Library. John Wilson, who owned most of the show animals, was the show manager at this time and Bill worked as his assistant.
The Palms Quarter Horse and Falabella Stud farm:
This magnificent property of about 50 acres with its relaxing atmosphere of sweeping lawns, swaying palm trees and exotic bougainvillea was developed privately over the past ten years by Mr. Ken Fogarty for the breeding, training and caring of quarter horses and thoroughbreds. Because of his deep love of horses, a herd of Falabellas, originally from the Argentine and the smallest breed of horses in the world, was purchased. He has since turned his stud farm into a tourist facility to make it available for all to see.
The new old fashioned bakehouse has been added where homemade dampers, jams, pickles, sauces etc., may be seen in the making. In the Hall of Fame, built along the lines of yesteryear, with wide shady cobblestone verandas you will find an interesting collection of magnificent historical photographs. On the gallery level is a video theatrette where visitors may glimpse themselves enjoying the attractions. There are demonstrations of horses in actual training. See the strong and gentle giants, the Clydesdales, as they haul the wagons for the children’s hay rides and performing other work of days gone by.
Around 1985 the site was sold by the Fogarty family to brothers Don and Vern McClaren hence the change in site naming to “McClarens” however this ownership was short lived as it changed hands once again in 1989 with the brothers returning to their core business of constructing boat harbours according to Bill. During this period of ownership, an equestrian style restaurant was established known as ‘McLaren Countryside’ and the manager was a fellow named Derek Ransome. The second item included courtesy of the GCCC Local Studies Library.
Terra Mater [Mother Earth]:
This text segment and some supporting images are courtesy of Mrs Kerri Alderson who was a long term employee at the site after it was sold by the McClarens. Terra Mater came about as a result of an investment from a Japanese Company looking to move into the Gold Coast property market in the mid to late 1980's. It came at a time when many Japanese were investing in the Gold Coast. The ANA hotel, the Gold Coast International Hotel and many other Hotels were being purchased and built. Kerri commented that at the time there was some angst from the community about the Japanese buying up all our land. Especially in working class Nerang where you were lucky to even see a Japanese person in those days! Mr Ron Tilley was the connection between the Japanese mother company and Terra Mater. He had his own money invested in the project, and spoke fluent Japanese.
Ron set about expanding the property [also known as McClarens] into a tourist facility to give the public and especially the Japanese tourists a fun Aussie Farm experience. The farm was expanded, bullocks were purchased, sheep were purchased, a shearer was employed, horses were bought and trained for trail riding. A souvenir shop was set up, selling boomerangs, wool garments, kangaroo skins and a particularly good seller was Lanolin cream!
Ron then put in a major effort to market these Farm Tours to the Wholesalers in Japan and pretty soon we had bus loads arriving every morning for a genuine Aussie Farm experience. There would now be many photos in Japanese homes showing a toothy grinned Aussie shearer giving a thumbs up sign to the camera! Terra Mater continued to offer locals a beautiful wedding experience. The pretty chapel experienced a re-fit and many couples enjoyed their perfect day there. The Property also hosted a new trend of offering Western style weddings to the Japanese honeymooners. This proved quite lucrative as the couples wanted the whole experience right down to little flower girls and a portfolio of photographs.
Terra Mater continued to operate for several years under Ron Tilley's guidance and to his credit opened up a lot of dialogue about foreign investment and the good that can come of it. The world stock market crash in late 1987 and the subsequent few years after made things very difficult for Terra Mater to continue operating efficiently. The international tourist numbers dropped right off and even the domestic tourism market constricted. Ron tried to hold on without the assistance of the Japanese company but eventually in the early 1990's things fell apart and the banks came in and operated the facility on a skeleton staff with very little money available for upgrades and repairs. The facility continued to operate intermittently I believe until the Church purchased the property."
Churches of Christ Queensland:
It appears that the Church took possession in 1993 and were operational in 1994. At some stage the site name became Paradise Country per the attached logo. The descriptive notes in this section have been edited from a small number of Church annual reports. Both this material and the supporting images have been supplied courtesy of the Church with the assistance of their official archivist Jonathon.
The original reason for the purchase of the property was the need for land for aged care development in the Nerang area. "The theme park with 40 acres offered further opportunities. The theme park was about farm tours and ‘Australiana’ with a restaurant and function areas. The program included horse rides, sheep shearing in a sheep show, sheep dogs at work, milking cows, horse drawn vehicle rides, campfire with billy tea and scones and an Australian souvenir shop etc.
Rezoning had been applied for so that the aged care development could proceed and a business plan had been developed for the site which would see the use of the facility expanded, looking especially to the Asian tourist market. There would be a need to make some investment in the Theme Park to assist in maximising its returns. In what is believed to be its second year of operation 30,000 visitors were recorded as visiting the site which was a 100% increase on the previous year. It also became the home for a number of care services and the Nerang Church of Christ. In addition to the farm type attractions described above, a wild life range was established for kangaroos, emus, wallabies and peacocks.
The Gold Coast Skill Centre entered into an agreement to utilise a portion of the property for retraining programs for unemployed people. Two such programs were underway at the time of the report assisting 50 long term unemployed persons. With the rezoning through Council the age care facility was to be built in 1995.
Progress was maintained for a number of years and by 2001 they were recording a 6 digit figure in yearly attendance numbers. Site management was very proactive in the field of Tourism with one of their Directors being a member of the Australian Tourist Commission’s, Asia Industry Advisory Council etc. By this time the Outback Restaurant at Paradise country was expanded to accommodate 800 guests and site staff numbers increased to 85. It appears that the bombing of the World Trade centre in 2001 and the subsequent effects on overseas arrivals influenced the decision to divest themselves of the Theme Park operation. With a change in priorities etc. the Church sold the Paradise Country business operation to Warner Brothers in April 2003 with the property leased to them until 2004.
This Paradise Country entity continued to operate as a themed attraction at Nerang for an agreed number of months whilst a new location was prepared. It was then moved to Warner’s primary location at Oxenford on the Gold Coast where it remains in operation at the time of writing. It was not long after this phase that the land was sold to the City Council by the Church. This brings us to the present and the establishment of Country Paradise Parklands owned by the community.