In 1937 farmer Bernard O’Reilly made headlines around Australia for his rescue of survivors from an aeroplane crash in the rugged McPherson Range on the Queensland-NSW border.
Eighty-five years later the area is making world headlines as one of the best holiday destinations on the globe.
O’Reilly’s family ran a small guesthouse as an offshoot for their dairy farm but in the process started a booming hospitality industry in the area that is now known as the Scenic Rim.
Located about 90 minutes inland from the Gold Coast, the Scenic Rim was last year recognised as one of travel bible Lonely Planet’s top 10 regions to visit in 2022, alongside such iconic destinations as Burgundy in France and Vancouver Island in Canada.
At the time, Daniel Gschwind, then the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) Chief Executive, said the area had “come into its own” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There’s a bit of a silver lining from COVID that people looked closer to home to explore,” Mr Gschwind said.
“With a consumer trend towards authentic, real, personalised experiences, some destinations in the Scenic Rim are just hitting the mark.”
As Queensland tourism is set to boom in the post-COVID era, the Scenic Rim looks set to be one of the State’s most popular destinations for a long time to come.
While it might not have the vast array of accommodation options or the surf and sand of the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, the Scenic Rim offers visitors stunning views, lush tropical rainforests and bushwalking experiences with an abundance of wildlife not seen anywhere else in the world.
There are some imports too, and Summer Land Camels at Harrisville is the third biggest camel farm in the world.
Tourism started in the Scenic Rim after large parts of the area were classified as national parks and much of the astonishing countryside remains untamed.
In 1912, eight men from the O’Reilly family came to Queensland from the Blue Mountains in NSW to take up 40 hectares of cheap land in the shadow of the McPherson Range.
They cleared some of the bush with axes and saws, and started dairy farming and timber cutting, but they struggled to make their hard work pay.
Then, in 1915 Lamington National Park was established around their farm, making their property an isolated island surrounded by bush. Rather than go under, the O’Reillys decided to use the situation for their advantage and founded their Rainforest Retreat, a small, humble guesthouse in 1926.
Access to the guesthouse was an adventure in itself. Guests would generally arrive at Beaudesert by train and then travel by horse and cart to the Kerry Hotel, where they would stay the night.
The next day they were met by one of the O’Reillys with a team of horses for the ride up to the guesthouse along a dangerous path called the Stockyard Creek Track, which the O’Reilly family had carved out themselves over the Sarabah Range from Canungra.
It was a holiday only for the adventurous and it remained so even when the O’Reillys decided to expand their operation and splash out on a car to carry guests to their accommodation.
The guesthouse was thrust into the national spotlight in 1937 when an Australian National Airways aircraft disappeared nearby and all hope was abandoned for survivors.
The Stinson Model A airliner was on a flight from Brisbane to Sydney, carrying five passengers and two pilots. Both pilots and two passengers were killed in the crash. One of the surviving passengers died beside Christmas Creek while attempting to get help to the others.
Against all odds, Bernard O’Reilly found two men still alive in almost impenetrable forest and arranged their rescue.
Today, a life-size model of the big blue aircraft, and a statue of Bernard O’Reilly grace the guesthouse which has become an iconic holiday destination.
Australian actors Jack Thompson and Richard Roxborough starred in a film about the rescue of the Stinson survivors.
These days the Scenic Rim is capturing the world’s attention for its stunning natural beauty.
The famed broadcaster Sir David Attenborough has filmed some of his documentaries there, showcasing the area’s unique birdlife and animals.
The Scenic Rim now contains six national parks and many luxury get-away-from it all experiences.
Among its best-known holiday properties are O’Reillys and Binna Burra Lodge, as well as farm cabins at Hazelwood Estate in Beechmont, and the luxury glamping tents at Nightfall Camp on Christmas Creek Road at Lamington.