Love of Binna Burra Cultural Landscape Inspires Community

Wildfire Devastation of Iconic Australian Lodge Inspires Solidarity

At a time when the world's tourism seems to be going down in flames, the story of Binna Burra Lodge in Australia offers inspiration and hope. Binna Burra Lodge also provides powerful lessons in the meaning of the term "cultural landscape" and how that designation is inextricably interwoven with the phenomenon of community.

Binna Burra Lodge is an eco resort set 2,624 feet above sea level in the sub-tropical rainforest of Lamington National Park. Founded in 1933, the Lodge is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register, as the Binna Burra Cultural Landscape.

Binna Burra cultural landscape in Australia.
Binna Burra cultural landscape in Australia.

Cultural landscape is defined by the World Heritage Committee as those that "represent the combined works of nature and of man". To qualify for this designation, even a place of stunning beauty like Binna Burra needs to somehow serve as a medium through which we humans connect.

Binna Burra earned the designation based on its significance in Queensland's natural and cultural history; because of its aesthetic value and the art and literature the area has inspired; and because of its association with someone important to the region's history.

On Sept. 8 of 2019, the iconic Binna Burra Lodge was destroyed by wildfires. Almost a year to the day, Binna Burra is now about to re-open.

The devastation of the Sept. 9 bushfire at Binna Burra Lodge
The devastation of the Sept. 9 bushfire at Binna Burra Lodge. Photo: Greenpeace Australia

The Lodge’s dramatic recovery from a heartbreaking and seemingly insurmountable disaster occurred in no small part due to the legion of people who came to Binna Burra to experience the spectacular landscape. In making that initial visit, visitors got more than they expected: they forged a bond not only with the place, but with its history, its people, and with each other.

The unique features of Binna Burra the place–its topography, vegetation, wildlife and climate–created the Binna Burra community. It is a privilege to share with you the voices of 11 members of that community, who each offer their perspective on why and how Binna Burra came into their lives–and become a part of their identity.

In describing their personal relationship to Binna Burra, the fire and recovery, this cross-section of people also paint a picture of what it means to be part of a cultural landscape, and part of a community. In the process, they offer their definition of another term: solidarity tourism.

Read on for moving testimony about the power of place to create community. As you do, consider whether there is a place that has this special kind of meaning for you. If so, I invite you to pay it forward by sharing a comment at the bottom of this page.

I also invite you to reach out today to that magical destination that you've never forgotten. Communities of tourism destinations have suffered amidst COVID-19. Even if you can’t travel now, you can find a way to express solidarity tourism for the cultural landscape that is in your heart, and has become a part of your identity.

And, now, meet some of the people who are a part of the Binna Burra community. Let them share with you in their own words how their love of this powerful place brought them together, and was the catalyst for the solidarity to bring it back from the ashes.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY| FAMILY

  Tony Groom, Co-Founder's Son and Former Binna Burra Lodge Board Chairman  

Tony Groom. Photo: Brad Cox
Tony Groom. Photo: Brad Cox

Binna Burra and Lamington are not that physically remote, just 90 minutes from Brisbane or 45 minutes from the Gold Coast by freeway. However, the feeling of remoteness comes as soon as you walk into the rainforest. You can spend all day walking one of the beautifully made hiking tracks and not see anyone all day. At night, the lights of Brisbane and the Gold Coast can be seen but they are far enough away to accentuate the feeling of remoteness. The silence of the velvety night and the mountain top location certainly add to that.

My father, Arthur Groom, and his business partner Romeo Lahey established Binna Burra Lodge in the 1930’s in a pioneering effort that leaves me gob-smacked to this day. They had no money so they formed a public, unlisted company and sold shares to friends or anyone else romantic enough to be caught up in this fanciful scheme in the middle of the Depression. The road ended four miles from the lodge so they found a timber expert who taught them how to use a broad axe and adze and they built the accommodation cabins from giant tallow-wood and stringy bark trees growing on site. It’s the loss of these that upset me most as they cannot be replaced.

They bought two farm houses from Canungra, 25 km away, dismantled them, transported them by truck to the end of the road, then carried them piece by piece up the almost vertical "goat track" to reassemble them as the "temporary" dining room and kitchen. The magnificent new dining room and kitchen building was built in the 70's but the old farm houses remained as the reception, lounge and shop till they were destroyed by the fire.

Arthur and Romeo established Binna Burra as an "eco resort" long before the words were coined. The inscription on my father's monument at the park entrance says it all "To a man who understood and loved the bush and found his happiness in sharing it with others." Together they formed the Queensland National Parks Association with Romeo as president and Arthur as secretary and it has continued as the state's premier conservation organisation. This environmental focus has never changed except for the seven years of mis-management in the late 1950's. The lodge continued as a pioneer in environmental education (before those words were used also) with innovative self guiding walks (using a tape recorder), slide shows, the Environmental Study Centre, vacation schools in natural history etc. In many ways, the world and other accommodation places have caught up to Binna Burra.

I was born in 1939 and lived in a cottage that dad built at the other end of the mountain, again using tallow-wood slabs and shingles. Thankfully, this building was not destroyed in the fire. My mother was a shy city girl, daughter of a Methodist minister, who visited the lodge on holiday and fell in love with the handsome, charismatic Arthur. I don't know how she coped in the very basic cottage with its outside pit toilet, a hole in the wall for a future fireplace through which a cow walked and ate all her dresses, the occasional tiger snake in her undies drawer. Plus, a husband who was so tied up with running the lodge and training 10,000 soldiers from the nearby Army Camp on how to survive in New Guinea that I have very few memories of him being with us.

Arthur Groom's four children outside the Binna Burra manager's cottage, circa 1953. Tony is in the center. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge
Arthur Groom's four children outside the Binna Burra manager's cottage, circa 1953. Tony is in the center. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge

The lodge ran with small profits until 1953 when my father died of a coronary occlusion at the age of 49. (His heart condition prevented him from enlisting in WW2 so he made up for that by working out a system of trial and error on how to test rainforest plants for eating.) For seven years it was managed by various people who didn't understand my father's dream - "give the guests a hot shower, a good meal and a comfortable bed and let the park work its magic." The accent was taken off the park and the lodge became insolvent.

At the AGM in 1960, the directors said it had to be closed down, the shareholders refused to accept that and someone suggested I return to the lodge to manage it. I was 21, uneducated and knew nothing about management but I did know why the lodge was there. Three days later, my mother and I moved from Brisbane back to the lodge. There was one guest in the house that weekend and she said she wouldn’t go home till I promised to take her for a walk the next day.

We had to ignore the short-comings of the lodge and the need for renovations and maintenance but immediately took people on walks in the National Park. With a staff of only nine, the lodge returned to profitability in six months. Some innovative marketing including "special interest weeks" and vacation schools for adults resulted in the boom years of the 1970s - 80s when new buildings were erected including bedrooms with their own bathroom - a luxury at the time - and a liquor license (my father would have rolled over in his grave.)

The company bought Carnarvon Lodge in accordance with Arthur's dream of accommodation facilities around the Scenic Rim--a name he coined--and other National Parks. (The original name of the company was "Queensland Holiday Resorts Ltd.) The lodge was doing so well that I roped my older brother in to help and he introduced more adventurous hikes. As far as I know, he was the first person in the world to take abseiling from its original purpose of descending a mountain to a sport in itself and a way of reaching remote areas of Lamington (such as the Coomera Crevice.)

After six years with only one holiday break, I took time off to spend a year in Antarctica and my younger brother filled in. For some years we ran a rotating management with 2 brothers on and one off. After I returned from Antarctica I married Connie Gartside, one of our most frequent visitors, and she also became the "hostess" at the lodge. Her warmth and calm, caring attitude (she was a trained nurse) resulted in hundreds more people becoming Binna Burra devotees.

In 1973 I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to North America to study National Park visitor facilities. Ideas resulting from this included the Lamington Natural History Association (which has staffed the visitor centre ever since); the Environmental Study Centre which provided innovative camps for school groups for 25 years; the Senses Trail for visually handicapped people; the Scenic Rim Association which pursued my father's dream of a chain of National Parks around the rim; and, finally, interNATIONAL PARKtours which has taken people on group tours of National Parks around the world since 1975 and is now run by my daughter Lisa. The first tour was sponsored by the lodge and I tried to interest the board at the time in expanding our activities to include these tours. They declined so Connie and I left our management roles and set up our own tour company. I remained as chairman of the Binna Burra company for some years.

My two children, David and Lisa, now in their 50’s, travelled extensively but both came “home” to the mountain and live three and four km away. David is a full time artist and interprets the mountain scenery onto paper and Lisa runs the tour company.

From the 6th to 10th September, my daughter Lisa and I were leading a group tour in Girraween National Park near Stanthorpe in south east Queensland. While driving there Lisa received a phone call from her daughter with the words "we have to evacuate the house." These improbable words were hard to take seriously; bushfire has never been a major problem in this area as it has in places like Victoria with it's hot, dry windy summers.

For the next two days we were virtually cut off with no power (the power station in the nearest town of Stanthorpe was damaged by bushfire), no mobile phone and no internet. Our only communication was via the ABC (our national, free to air broadcaster) via a tiny old transistor radio. The information coming through was patchy, confusing and there were mistakes. We first heard that "9 houses on Binna Burra had been burnt." That was corrected to "Beechmont" and included Lisa's street. The next day we heard that almost all of Binna Burra Lodge was unbelievably destroyed. At one stage, Lisa and I were sitting on the steps of the Girraween Lodge, both crying, and the new owner of the lodge came out with tea and biscuits.

A Bushfire south of Canungra approaching Lamington National Park on Friday, September 6. Photo: ABC News: David Higgins
A Bushfire south of Canungra approaching Lamington National Park on Friday, September 6. Photo: ABC News: David Higgins

My son David's house, adjacent to the National Park, would also have burnt if the National Parks and Rural Fire Service had not managed to do a fuel reduction burn about 3 weeks before the fire. They have been waiting to do similar burns around Binna Burra Lodge for ten years but they need very specific conditions and climate change has resulted in conditions too dangerous. Many of David's paintings were in the Lodge and were lost in the fire.

My daughter Lisa's house would definitely have burned, with the seven other houses in her street, but Suzanne Noakes, Steve's wife, a member of the Rural Fire Service, spent a whole night at the house with a hose and fire retardant and saved it from a torching tree beside the house.

Two of my grand-children were working at the lodge at the time of the fire. They are the fourth generation to work for the lodge - unusual in Australia. Lisa was a director for some years.

At first I thought everything would be rebuilt--maybe better than ever. After we returned home we found that Binna Burra was woefully under-insured--no company would take them on--and the small payout would cover virtually nothing. That was the worst day for me as it dawned on me that the Lodge could never be replaced as it was.

The months since 8th September have been a roller coaster journey for me, my family, the 70 staff of Binna Burra, the residents on Beechmont and now so many more thousands of people in NSW and Victoria as they cope with vast losses of wildlife, habitat destruction and 35 human lives. There is no doubt for most of us that these are climate change fires, that this is the new norm and that things will be much worse in the future. The Coronavirus, collapsing economy, and resulting huge drop in the travel industry are perhaps the last straws which for me and maybe others have resulted in the most depressing week since the fires.

"Perhaps a part of "solidarity tourism" is that this disaster has resulted in thousands of people realising that they may have taken things for granted and it has given them a greater appreciation of what is at stake with climate change." ~ Tony Groom

For me the Binna Burra community is thousands of people all over the world for whom Binna Burra is far more than physical buildings. On the most basic level, it was a place to sleep and eat while visiting Lamington National Park with all it's natural attractions. For many it was the place they went to in difficult times, where they could restore themselves in the adjacent National Park or recover from the loss of a partner or loved one. For some it was the place to go to for important occasions - anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, family reunions, no doubt a conception or two and, for many, a place for their ashes to be scattered.

As an example, Ted Hutton lived in New York but came to Binna Burra for many years in the 1980’s for two weeks every year. When he died his ashes were sent to Binna Burra for spreading in Lamington National Park. They stayed on a shelf in my laundry for quite a while until they were finally scattered in the Antarctic Beech grove at Tullawallal – to join many others that I know of who are there.

Binna Burra was also a community for the 70 plus local Beechmont people who worked there. This community has been temporarily broken but I'm sure it will be restored.

There has been a huge, unprecedented response from the public from all over the world and from all levels of government, with offers to help with replanting trees, building work and of course, supporting the business once it is open again. Perhaps a part of "solidarity tourism" is that this disaster has resulted in thousands of people realising that they may have taken things for granted and it has given them a greater appreciation of what is at stake with climate change.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY| STEWARD

Steve Noakes, Chairman, Binna Burra Lodge Board of Directors

Steve Noakes, Binna Burra Lodge Board Chairperson, in a moment of grief after the fire.
Steve Noakes, Binna Burra Lodge Board Chairperson, in a moment of grief after the fire.

My first awareness of Binna Burra was about 50 years ago when my high school camp visited. About 40 years ago, I included Binna Burra in some tour itineraries I was operating. For the past 20 years I have been an active shareholder and now serve as Chairperson of the Board of Directors.

Binna Burra emerged in the Great Depression of the early 1930’s as a way for people to gain access to and appreciate the relatively new concept of national parks in the state of Queensland, Australia. Many of the ‘movers and shakers’ who proposed the nature-based enterprise had served in the Great War (WW1) and had gained a new appreciation of the environment as a place for healing after wartime trauma. They also had to deal with the Spanish Flu and then the depression years. But through all that turmoil they remained focused on forming the National Parks Association of Queensland and then, a few years later in 1933, Binna Burra Lodge.

Stewardship, protection and increasing public awareness about environmental issues – especially sub-tropical rainforests – is in the DNA of Binna Burra. Over two decades ago, Binna Burra Lodge introduced into the Asia Pacific region the internationally accredited sustainable tourism certification systems. Binna Burra continues to be at the leading-edge of the way tourism can, and should, contribute to sustainable development objectives. As the predominant employer in the small local community, many generations of school leavers have had their first work experience at Binna Burra; in many cases their parents have also worked at Binna Burra. Now, post the bushfire, most of the staff we are re-employing have local family connections.

I had been tracking the bushfires in our area for a month leading up to the devastation at Binna Burra. On the day the management called for the evacuation of all guests and staff (on the Friday afternoon before the Sunday fire) I was in Jakarta, Indonesia. I had received messages about my own home under bushfire threat, as well as the lodge. I immediately organised to fly back to Australia overnight and arrived back at our very busy local volunteer fire shed on the Saturday afternoon--when the bushfires were already causing impacts on local houses on my street.

I received advice from the emergency services just before day-break on the Sunday morning that Binna Burra had gone up in flames as the bushfires continued to rage into the Lamington National Park. It was not easy to get exact information on the damage caused by the bushfires. There was some footage from TV helicopters but because the smoke was still intense, it was difficult to discern what was left. It took about 24 hours to get a more accurate picture of what had been destroyed. Road access was cut for a few days due to tree falls and rock slides.

Binna Burra Road damaged by bushfire on September 8. Photo: Qld Department of Transport and Main Roads
Binna Burra Road damaged by bushfire on September 8. Photo: Qld Department of Transport and Main Roads

Because of the way Emergency Services do communications I collaborated with our State and Local government officials to coordinate public announcements around 9 am on the Sunday morning, and then I faced a media barrage all that day and the next. At the same time, we had to deal with the questions and concerns of our 65 staff and many thousands of forward bookings from future guests - all wanting to know what the bushfire meant for their own personal situation. Our core management leadership team stepped in and did a great job during a very difficult time. My job was to keep a consistent central message about what had happened, pause to reflect and come to terms with the losses and then how we could identify opportunities out of our adversity.

A place like Binna Burra has an extensive and deep emotional connection with those who have experienced the location and for those who have felt the loss through media and personal stories.

"Stewardship, protection and increasing public awareness about environmental issues--especially sub-tropical rainforests--is in the DNA of Binna Burra." ~ Steve Noakes

The Binna Burra ‘community’ stretches across the past century of generations not only in Australia, but internationally. As an example, this month I received an email from a resident of Washington DC who had in the past donated funds to build a memorial bench for a friend who had a deep and special connection to Binna Burra and had passed away some decades ago. The message on the solid timber bench read:

In memory of (name removed), inspirational teacher and dear friend.

"It was in Australia that I gained my first impressions of the beauty of the world, and it was the Bush that taught me." -Tom Roberts

The person in Washington DC was aware that the bench had been destroyed in the bushfires of 2019, and kindly offered to fund a replacement bench as part of the bushfire recovery. Such stories of connection to place and people are very common elements of the Binna Burra story.

About five months after the bushfire we were able to operate a small local community cafe we called the Binna Burra Kitchen and it was remarkable to see the number of people who came up to the mountain cafe just to show support for Binna Burra.

It will have been a full 12 months since the bushfires before the road is accessible and we welcome people back into Binna Burra. We anticipate there will be a lot of interest from our core local domestic market to come back and see Binna Burra. Of course, that demand is now compounded by COVID related issues and here in our State of Queensland, travel is effectively restricted to intra-state travel, so we hope to be able to pick up some of that demand also.

Trainee conservationists helped revegetate Binna Burra by planting thousands of trees. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge
Trainee conservationists helped revegetate Binna Burra by planting thousands of trees. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge

For a full year we have had no trading activity on site, so it's been pretty remarkable we have even been able to stay afloat as a business. Now that we are re-opening, Binna Burra can continue to redevelop for the next 100 years of giving people access to the World Heritage Listed Lamington National Park here in Australia.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY  | COLLABORATOR AND VOLUNTEER

David Murphy, Retired Headmaster & Volunteer Firefighter

Solidarity tourism to me means supporting tourism ventures in your local area, so yes we support Binna Burra but it also means supporting places like Dream World on the Gold Coast & restaurants, clubs etc. Our family has a very strong desire to support Binna Burra as it is a vital part of our local community & provides many employment opportunities to many of our past pupils and members of our community.

My association with Binna Burra dates back to 1984 when I was appointed Principal of the local School, Beechmont State School. As a school we combined with Binna Burra Lodge and National Parks on so many occasions over the years, it is hard to remember them all.Our School Choir performed at Binna Burra's Christmas in July for so many years, I would be hesitant to say since when but it certainly has become a Binna Burra/Beechmont School tradition.

We have had a number of school camps at Binna Burra staying at Groom's cottage & utilising the Binna Burra Tea House for our meals & Binna Burra Staff for activities. We also utilised the Lodge activities & national park tracks every second year to celebrate 'Beechmont Day' to remember the opening of our school, way back when!  Our family always brought visitors to Binna Burra for walks & meals at the Tea House over the years.

"Our family has a very strong desire to support Binna Burra as it is a vital part of our local community & provides many employment opportunities..." ~ David Murphy

I was also one of the Fire Fighters at Binna Burra when the Tea House burnt down in the 2000's as well as fighting the devastating fires last year. Following the fires last year, I was tasked to Binna Burra on many occasions to monitor the flare ups (of which there were many) to save the existing infrastructure & services. As a volunteer Rural Firefighter, it was important to me to protect what was left at Binna Burra. Also our family has since Binna Burra took over the cafe at the 'Old School' visited at least once a week for lunch or breakfast simply to support Binna Burra as it is important that they are able to rebuild & trade again. We just want to support that vision that they have.

Solidarity tourism to me means supporting tourism ventures in your local area. We support Binna Burra but it also means supporting places like Dream World on the Gold Coast & restaurants, clubs etc. Our family has a very strong desire to support Binna Burra as it is a vital part of our local community & provides many employment opportunities to many of our past pupils and members of our community.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY | BUSINESS LEADER

Ian Pritchard, Binna Burra Lodge Board Member 

Ian Pritchard (in black) leads a rescue of a large metal wheel that was originally laid horizontally on the western side of the Lodge site. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge
Ian Pritchard (in black) leads a rescue of a large metal wheel that was originally laid horizontally on the western side of the Lodge site. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge

Binna Burra is approximately a 30 minute drive from the Gold Coast which is Australia’s 6th largest city, and also which for many years has been Australia’s fastest growing city. Binna Burra has thus become a piece of wilderness oasis to which escape to from the more populated areas of Gold Coast and Brisbane.

I first “discovered” Binna in 1990 not long after I had arrived in Australia and was immediately captivated by its rustic charm and heritage atmosphere. I even spent part of my honeymoon there in a tent! In the subsequent years, I was a regular visitor and over the years have walked many of the walking trails in the surrounding National Park. In recent years I was appointed as a director on the board of Binna Burra Lodge, then in August 2019 I was appointed as the interim managing director – just two week before the fire which devastated the Lodge.

The fire which eventually impacted upon Binna Burra had been burning for several days to the north of the Lodge. Friday 6th September started as any other day apart smoke in the air many miles to the north. Throughout the day, the wind which was coming from the north was building strength, and was visibly getting closer to the Lodge. Several of our staff who were on duty that day were sent home as their own homes were under threat.

"I see solidarity tourism as a useful concept for disaster-affected businesses to collectively have a voice and to collaborate in recovery initiatives and effort." ~ Ian Pritchard

That weekend was due to be the busiest of the weekend with several large groups booked in. Not only were we physically monitoring the fire and the weather, but I was constantly monitoring the QFES (Queensland Fire and Emergency Services) website for updates on the progress of the fire. By mid-afternoon we made the decision to put the guests who had already checked in on standby and told them to be ready to evacuate, and at this stage, the winds were quite ferocious and thick clouds of smoke were getting ever closer to the lodge.

At approximately 4:20 p.m. I received an automated text alerting me to an update to the QFES bulletin. The bulletin was advising areas south of the fire (including Binna Burra) to evacuate. We immediately commenced evacuation of guests and then staff. By 6:10 p.m. the last person left the site. During the evacuation, our primary concern was for guest and staff safety. As we locked up and left the site, we all hoped that we would have a lodge to come back to, and I don’t think anybody really thought the lodge was under serious threat. We were later informed that the road was closed two hours later due to fallen trees.

The Binna Burra and Beechmont community is a close one, and Binna Burra Lodge was always regarded as the “beacon on the hill” which has attracted generations of visitors to the region from  both local areas and also from further afield.

The Golden Hour' at Binna Burra's Coomera Terrace. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge
The Golden Hour at Binna Burra's Coomera Terrace. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge

As the erstwhile largest employer in the Beechmont area, Binna Burra Lodge has also maintained strong links with the local community, local suppliers and other tourism operators, so Binna Burra Lodge’s closure had had a significant impact on the local economy and on the number of visits to the area. I see solidarity tourism as a useful concept for disaster-affected businesses to collectively have a voice and to collaborate in recovery initiatives and effort.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY | COLLEAGUE

Candice Stone, Nature & Adventure Guide

Nature and adventure guide Candice Stone in her element.
Nature and adventure guide Candice Stone in her element.

It's so hard to put into words how I first felt working in Lamington National Park. I was always an 'outdoorsy' type but as a 25-year-old 'city-girl', I think I was still very disconnected from nature and wasn't aware of just how much a wilderness area like Lamington National Park would draw me in. I soon found many others who shared the same experience and love for the land. Family, culture, and history are three things I believe made Binna Burra such a special place for many.

Binna Burra is absolutely a cultural landscape. Arthur Groom’s passion and connection to nature and his adventurous spirit lead to the beginning of Binna Burra and I believe that spirit has really stuck around. I’ve always been inspired by the Groom family, from Arthur himself, to Michael who lived for climbing the world's most dangerous mountains, and Lisa who runs remote hiking tours all over the globe. It was always said that Binna Burra Lodge was a ‘place for the weary hiker to rest their head’, and the national park was a playground of wonder and adventure. The day was meant for exploring, to get muddy shoes and fall over slippery rocks, to abseil the 90m cliff and face fears; the night was returning to the comforts of the lodge, and to chat with like-minded folk from all over the globe.

I have great respect for the indigenous, the Yugambeh tribes who called the land home a great many years ago. They lived in harmony with their environment and had a deep connection not only to the land but to each other. It was through learning about the Australian indigenous culture that opened my eyes to a richness of life that can be experienced when stories are kept and shared. It was incredible being a part of that.

I’ve met some incredible people at the lodge, from pharmacists who bred leeches for a living, to Molecular Scientists researching Sequoia trees. I’ve compared deadly spiders with South American entomologists and I still have a wonderful pen pal from Sweden who’s a wonderful writer and naturalist and occasionally sends me photos of deer eating the birdseed in his backyard.

The famous naturalist John Muir says it all, “The mountains are calling and I must go and work on while I can, studying incessantly.” You’d have to be crazy not to be drawn to such a landscape that is a Gondwana world heritage listed rainforest grown from the remains of an ancient volcano.

"Family, culture, and history are three things I believe made Binna Burra such a special place for many." ~ Candice Stone

Thankfully my partner and I received no physical damage from the fires but I think everyone living within the Scenic Rim and surrounds were affected on an emotional level. I remember sitting on the floor of our house with my partner refreshing our phones every 2 minutes, watching the evacuation alerts, and the firefighters' updates. For me, the hardest part during the hours it happened was not being able to do anything.

It was in not knowing if my friends and co-workers were affected. It was in not knowing which sections of the national park and of the lodge itself had been impacted.

Eucalyptus forest often burns, it needs to for seed germination, but with such an intense fire I started thinking, has it burnt through rainforest, and how much?

How much wildlife won’t be lucky enough to escape?

Will the rainforest be able to regenerate after such intense heat? How often will we see this happen in the future in a changing climate?

There was a lot of fear the fire had even reached Tullawallal, a grove of 2,000-year-old Antarctic Beech Trees (Nothofagus moorei), thankfully the fire ended up being a fair distance from them.

Wildfires spreading across the Binna Burra cultural landscape. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge
Wildfires spreading across the Binna Burra cultural landscape. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge

A neighbor from Beechmont has been heavily involved in the rebuild of the ‘glamping- style’ safari tents. It’s great to see many of the locals have found work through the lodge. During my two and a half years working at the lodge, many of my co-workers were also locals from the mountain. Some had families who were the original occupants of Beechmont and had remained for generations. Many of the lodge guests had an interest in Beechmont and surrounding suburbs and it was great to have some of the older locals there to share their history. There are also plans for more sustainable and fire-resistant materials for the rebuild of the cabin accommodation. There is a fantastic, passionate team leading the direction of the rebuild. I'm very optimistic that the Binna Burra spirit will remain.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY | PARTNER

David Ball, Councillor for the National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ)

David relaxing with a cup of coffee at his cabin at Binna Burra at the end of a long day walking the 17.4-km Coomera Circuit.
David relaxing with a cup of coffee at his cabin at Binna Burra at the end of a long day walking the 17.4-km Coomera Circuit.

I am a Councillor for the National Parks Association of Queensland (NPAQ), and have been on Council for about 3.5 years. I am NPAQ’s nominee on the Binna Burra Reconstruction Council, which was set up by Steve Noakes as an advisory group to the Binna Burra Board following the bushfires.

NPAQ was founded in 1930 by Romeo Lahey and Arthur Groom, who went on to establish a camp ground at Mt Roberts (Binna Burra) in 1933 so that bush walkers in Lamington National Park could stay there, as it was a long journey from Brisbane with no defined road at the end. Binna Burra is set on private land adjacent to the northern access of Lamington National Park, which itself is the biggest and most accessible National Park near the populated areas of South East Queensland. Romeo Lahey and Arthur Groom were key identities in the establishment of a number of early National Parks in Queensland.

Many members of NPAQ bought shares in the original company (Queensland Holiday Resorts Pty Ltd), set up to establish more permanent accommodation on the mountain. To this day, many Binna Burra shareholders are also NPAQ members. NPAQ is also a shareholder in Binna Burra Lodge Pty Ltd. I myself hold shares in Binna Burra, passed on to me by my late father who was also a long-standing NPAQ member.

NPAQ has a policy on Eco-Tourism which (among other things) promotes tourism facilities adjacent to rather than within National Parks, and activities within National Parks that minimise disturbance to the natural environment. Binna Burra meets our criteria for eco-tourism ventures, and so provided an example that we could use when engaging with the government on how we felt sound eco-tourism principles could be met, in accordance with our policy. There are other examples, but Binna Burra was a well known one that people could readily identify with.

Steve approached NPAQ seeking a representative on the Reconstruction Council, as NPAQ had interests in both Binna Burra itself, and Lamington National Park. I was nominated by the NPAQ Council to participate on behalf of the organisation. We have actively engaged in meetings of the Council, and responded to requests for input on the nature and features of the future Binna Burra Lodge. We have also made submissions to the government on behalf of Binna Burra through our established contacts and working relationships, and have offered to do so as required in future.

"However I think that solidarity tourism will play a bigger role over time...The rapidly diminishing unspoilt world will, I believe, awaken more people to this type of tourism." ~ David Ball

NPAQ will promote the re-opening of Binna Burra through our monthly “Neck of the Woods” newsletter/email. NPAQ has offered to assist with promotion of relevant messages from Binna Burra when required.NPAQ Council has agreed to a collaborative partnership with Binna Burra Lodge in the longer term, as Steve Noakes has identified several opportunities where he believes that association with NPAQ can assist. For NPAQ, the broadening of support for National Parks will help us to achieve our Objectives.

Steve was invited to speak at one of NPAQ’s quarterly members’ meetings recently. His talk was not only well-received, but the meeting was one of our best attended for some time, reflecting the level of interest in the recovery of Binna Burra. This is a personal opinion, rather than an official position of NPAQ but based on my own definition/understanding, I think of the support of Binna Burra as solidarity tourism. We each have different goals/objectives organisationally, but we share a common desired outcome - an increase in the appreciation of nature and national parks, and support of the local community.

While Binna Burra is nominally a for-profit organisation, its success leads to an increase in visitation to national parks, and hopefully an increased understanding and appreciation of the need to increase the national park estate. Binna Burra is doing this in a way that meets our eco-tourism policies, so there is no conflict that we can see in achieving the outcome. Further, they are a key part of the Beechmont community, and intend to deepen their relationship with the local First Nations people in redeveloping the Lodge and related activities.

I believe that working with the local community, First Nations people, and other organisations (such as the National Trust and NPAQ) creates an interconnectedness and solidarity that achieves goals and objectives aligned with each participant, and an outcome that is beneficial to all. For me, it is the interconnectedness (each working in partnership with the other, and relying on the other to do their part) in order to achieve a common greater outcome that defines Solidarity Tourism.

Coomera Circuit in the mist inspires a sense of connection with Nature. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge
Coomera Circuit in the mist inspires a sense of connection with Nature. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge

Again, a personal opinion, rather than an official position. I think that there will be two main streams of tourism, of which this will be one. I think there will always be a place/demand for conventional tourism: theme parks, resorts, shopping, bars. However I think that solidarity tourism will play a bigger role over time.

As issues such as climate change and changes to travel patterns become more prominent, tourism operators will be forced to work more closely together rather than in competition in order to attract custom, particularly where there is nature or the natural environment involved. There will need to be more complementary services, rather than competitive, and being able to show how they fit in with a broader local community, acknowledging its history and the social and cultural patterns that came before, will become more attractive to “nature” or “eco” tourists. The rapidly diminishing unspoilt world will, I believe, awaken more people to this type of tourism.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY | SHAREHOLDERS

Heather Pearce, Long-time Binna Burra Shareholder

Heather Pearce enjoys the view from a lookout at Split Rock in Lamington National Park.
Heather Pearce enjoys the view from a lookout at Split Rock in Lamington National Park.

My parents met in Binna Burra in 1960. They didn’t come back again until I was 11 years old as they were afraid that it would have changed from when they had been there previously. However, they were extremely pleased to find that Binna Burra still had the same friendly atmosphere as it had when they first met there.

I “took to it like a duck to water” to use Mum’s expression and we all loved walking in the surrounding rainforest. As my Father had to take three week’s leave at Christmas time, we used to come up to Binna Burra for three weeks over the holidays. Gradually, the length of our stay reduced a bit, and my parents eventually stopped making the long trip from Sydney as they grew older.

I continued coming to Binna Burra every year and had spent 43 consecutive Christmases at Binna Burra until it burnt down last year. At Christmas 2018, my 18-year old son had spent 19 Christmases at Binna Burra! My elderly Mother also started coming with us again after my Father passed away, and even as an elderly lady, she got great enjoyment from the beautiful location and people.

"We have made many friends from Binna Burra over the years, with both staff and guests and for me it will always be my second home." ~ Heather Pearce

Binna Burra has maintained the lovely, friendly, inclusive atmosphere, and continued to focus on getting guests to experience Lamington National Park. We have made many friends from Binna Burra over the years, with both staff and guests and for me it will always be my second home.

I have been a Binna Burra shareholder for many years, which has given me some accommodation discounts and has enabled me to be part of the ongoing decisions on how Binna Burra is operated, primarily though the standard AGM process. Since the fire, I have made donations to the Binna Burra GoFundMe page, and also to the location fire brigade who saved so many other properties at that time. I have also donated to one of the wildlife rescue/rehabilitation charities.

In addition to monetary donations, I have also helped the Board with a few admin-related tasks after their AGM in November and they have periodically used my services for pulling various documents or information together at various times, and I am still happy to assist them in this manner as required.

I imagine that my support would be considered as solidarity tourism. Binna Burra has a lot of very loyal and regular guests that I’m sure will continue to support Binna Burra in its future re-opening and rebuilding phases.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY | FRIEND AND VOLUNTEER

Jankees van der Have, President of the Friends of Binna Burra (FOBBs)

Jankees van der Have (2nd from left rear) and FOBBs
Jankees van der Have (2nd from left rear) and FOBBs

Between 1990 and 2004 my wife and I lived in Europe, while my in-laws lived on the Gold Coast in Queensland (where my wife grew up). So , once every other year we flew to Australia to visit my in-laws for a month. I was always happy to go, but could not possibly stay in a busy beach city for a month at the time.

Binna Burra was in the Hinterland, just 40 kms away, so every time I came to Australia, we stayed a couple of days at Binna Burra, sometimes with local friends, sometimes just the two of us. Such a wonderful place in such a beautiful national park. We often met very nice people from all over the world and enjoyed the atmosphere in the rustic ambiance of the mountain lodge. Our son has luckily developed a love for bushwalking and nature, so he has also become a great Binna Burra fan.

When we moved to Brisbane in 2004 we were just under 2 hours away from Binna Burra, so I got involved with the friends of Binna Burra (known as FOBBs). I actually attended my first volunteer weekend a month after we arrived in Australia ! FOBBs is a group of volunteers who all love Binna Burra and many have a long family history with the place. We get together four weekends a year at Binna Burra and do lots of jobs such as bush-care, managing the vegetation in Binna Burra’s campsite, weeding and reintroducing native vegetation, maintaining walking tracks on Binna Burra land and we get involved a bit of “deferred maintenance” from time to time.

We have not only developed friendships with other paying guests at Binna Burra, but we have developed a great group of friends in the fellow-volunteers. Just the fact that this commercial lodge has a group of dedicated volunteers is an indication by itself that Binna Burra is not your average resort.

"If you have a meaningful personal relationship with that place you probably have an even stronger drive to support it, but it can be based on reading about the place in the local paper." ~ Jankees van der Have

As a guest, Binna Burra has always been very special. The concept of communal dining and evening activities in the lounge mean that you really meet many wonderful people from all over the world. As it is located in the middle of a magnificent national park, obviously the common interest for the vast majority is nature, bushwalking etc. It is such a great place to come back to after an 8-hour walk in nature! Especially in winter when there is a nice roaring fire in the lounge as soon as you enter.

Binna Burra Lodge serves as a catalyst for community among nature-lovers. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge
Binna Burra Lodge serves as a catalyst for community among nature-lovers. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge

With a place that is so dear to your heart it is terrible to see it burn down. We were in Europe when it happened and we sat and cried over breakfast on our canal boat in the South of France. Obviously, we hope to contribute physically with the work that will be needed when the place is accessible again, but a donation was the first real step we could take to support the small enterprise and that way try to be a tiny cog in the wheel of survival for Binna Burra. In other words, for us, our home-away-from-home had burned down and when you cannot do much yet, you can at least support it financially.

The concept of solidarity tourism is certainly applicable. Having done more than 50 working weekends and stayed at the lodge many more times, Binna Burra is so much part of me that for me “tourism” is not the right term. My support at the moment is definitely born out of feeling a high degree of solidarity with the organisation and its staff.

I associate the term solidarity tourism with supporting a place when it faces significant adversity. If you have a meaningful personal relationship with that place you probably have an even stronger drive to support it, but it can be based on reading about the place in the local paper. At this stage in Australia, going to visit places that have been devastated by the recent bushfires is a good example to me.

Binna Burra Community | Partner

Maree Parker, Deputy Under Treasurer, Infrastructure and Economic Resilience, Queensland Treasury

Through the Queensland Reconstruction Authority (QRA), the Queensland Government facilitates disaster recovery and resilience across the State, responding to natural disasters including flooding, bushfires and cyclones.

One of many Binna Burra buildings destroyed by wildfires in September 2019. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge
One of many Binna Burra buildings destroyed by wildfires in September 2019. Photo: Binna Burra Lodge

The Binna Burra Lodge Board and Queensland Government have worked collaboratively together since the 8 September 2019 bushfire. The blaze destroyed the heritage-listed reception building and 42 of the 43 accommodation huts in what marked a nightmare start to the Queensland and national bushfire season. The sole access road also suffered major stabilisation issues.

As the world-renowned eco-lodge is a major employer and contributor to the local economy, and the Scenic Rim relies heavily on the tourism market, the Honourable Cameron Dick, then Minister for State Development, Manufacturing, Infrastructure and Planning (DSDMIP), phoned Steve Noakes, Chairperson of Binna Burra Lodge in the afternoon of the bushfire devastation to offer to establish the Binna Burra Lodge Recovery Taskforce. With Steve Noakes, I co-chaired the Taskforce, which is made up of the Binna Burra board, relevant state agencies and Scenic Rim Regional Council.

The Taskforce met 10 times between 13 September 2019 and 14 February 2020 to develop and deliver priority recovery actions including nearly all of the 56 displaced workers gaining new employment or being linked to training through TAFE or other courses; onsite demolition planning; removal of debris and hazardous materials; geotechnical assessments for road stabilisation and repairs; building and site heritage preservation; restoration of walking trails; provisioning and testing of utilities; site security; promoting short to medium-term promotion campaigns to bring tourists back to the region.

The Queensland Government has contributed $50,000 towards a future annual festival to celebrate the partial reopening of Binna Burra Lodge later this year, once complex road repairs are complete.

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY | PARTNER

Cara-Lee Wiese, One Light Charity Foundation

Cara-Lee conducts an interview I did with Steve on the Binna Burra location shortly after the fire that was used for fund-raising purposes
Cara-Lee conducts an interview with Steve at Binna Burra location shortly after the fire.

Binna Burra Lodge is a business network member of our major donor Bartercard. Bartercard is a business network that facilitates trading of goods and services between thousands of business members. Many of these business owners know each other and Bartercard fosters a sense of community between them. Binna Burra is a much loved Lodge where many members have enjoyed relaxing in the hinterland over many years.

When the Lodge buildings were destroyed in the fires we immediately decided to assist where we could. We have taken a much deeper interest in the Lodge and follow their rebuild progress and their amazing resilience. When Binna Burra was destroyed and Bartercard rallied for help, it was only natural and logical that many members stepped up to support where they could. We put out our campaign across our social media platforms and members started donating the same day!

"When Binna Burra was destroyed and Bartercard rallied for help, it was only natural and logical that many members stepped up to support where they could." ~ Cara-Lee Wiese

I live in the greater vicinity of Binna Burra. I camped at Binna Burra many times before the devastating fire. I was actually camping there around 6 weeks before the fire occurred! During the process of raising funds I have been able to meet the Chair of the board and others and I was very impressed with their appreciation and professionalism. I cannot wait to stay at the Sky Lodges once they reopen!

BINNA BURRA COMMUNITY  | PARTNER

Dianne Dredge, Founder, Tourism Co-Lab

Dianne Dredge leads a workshop at Binna Burra.
Dianne Dredge leads a workshop at Binna Burra.

The Tourism CoLab specialises in human-centred design approaches to regenerative and purposeful tourism, visitor economies and experiences. I have known Steve Noakes, Chairman of the Binna Burra board for over 10 years. We had worked on a capacity building conference in Fiji together, and had explored other collaborative opportunities. I have always admired Steve's generous nature and ethos, the breadth of his interests and networks, and his capacity to connect the dots.

After the bushfires in September I reached out to Steve and asked if there was anything I could do to assist in the recovery process. The Tourism CoLab is an aspiring B-corp, and our mission is to deliver purposeful, regenerative tourism in addition to eventually becoming a profitable business that builds capacity of all stakeholders in tourism. So it made sense that part of The Tourism CoLab's pro-bono work be devoted to Binna Burra’s recovery.

One of the ways the Tourism CoLab’s relationship with Binna Burra manifested was my appointment as Co-Chair of the Science Advisory Committee. Drawing from my own background in environmental planning, urban design, tourism, business, politics, placemaking and community engagement, my task is to support and inspire the development of social science research.

The CoLab supports Binna Burra in other ad hoc ways such as the facilitation of workshops, staff development and other activities. The intention is that, in the future there is a mutually beneficial project we can work on together.

"Solidarity tourism is an expression of our ethics to care for each other and an acknowledgement that our well-being, and that of the planet, is interconnected." ~ Dianne Dredge

As pro-bono tasks suitable for my skill set come up, Steve has contacted me. The challenge for Steve is to manage and build capacity when their revenue streams have been badly affected by the fire event.

At a practical level, solidarity tourism builds, supports, encourages and strengthens each others’ role, contribution and value in tourism. It is an expression of our ethics to care for each other and an acknowledgement that our well-being, and that of the planet, is interconnected.

There is also a power dimension to solidarity tourism. It is an expression of support among those who seek to do things differently, who seek to challenge the industrial tourism system and power asymmetries, and who operate to progress an alternative set of values that reflect justice and social good in tourism.

Put into perspective, solidarity is one dimension of a larger journey towards purposeful and regenerative tourism. I don't think solidarity tourism is a brand of tourism. Its not a segment. Its not a product, service or experience. It’s a practice, a set of values and a shared vision of the type of tourism we would like to see in the future.


Cultural landscapes like Binna Burra offer us a place to connect with Nature and each other. In every ecosystem, myriad communities are needed to contribute to its wellbeing. Do you have a place where you have a sense of belonging? A place for which you consider yourself to be a steward? Have you participated in "solidarity tourism"? Share your experience of being a part of a cultural landscape in the Comments!

Interested in cultural landscapes? You might enjoy these guides to the Scottish Highlands and the Azores.

Are you a lover of national parks? Check out this interview with Bonnie Gisel of Yosemite National Park!

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