Fire can’t destroy what’s alive in spirit

I AM seven years old riding a horse called King, picking our way through a muddy rainforest trail festooned with hanging vines, and I cannot believe my luck.

I am eight years old and lying on a single bed, listening to my family's soft snores around me. We are sleeping under the one, shingled roof, and I feel like Laura Ingalls in Little House on the Prairie.

I am nine years old and at my first bush dance, streamers slung across the hall's roof and below it, I see my mother in my father's arms, her face flushed and happy, music in her feet.

I am 10 years old and I am running across an emerald lawn to the dining hall, and it is my turn to ring the dinner bell.

I pick it up and swing proudly, and watch the diners emerge from their tallowwood cabins, hungry from hiking and mountain air.

I am 11, 12, 13, 14 … and Binna Burra Lodge rises up through my childhood as surely as the mists that roll into Mt Roberts in Queensland's Lamington National Park.

Binna Burra Mountain Lodge’s much loved open fire.
Binna Burra Mountain Lodge’s much loved open fire.

Binna Burra Lodge, which has sat atop Mt Roberts since 1933, was destroyed at the weekend, swallowed up by the bushfires that have roared through this state.

And for those hundreds of thousands of Queenslanders who have stayed at Binna Burra for generations, and know its nooks and crannies - the secret reading room at the top of the stairs, the cosy fire in the recreation hall perfect for playing Monopoly beside, the glorious expanse of lawn, dotted, if you get up early enough, by pademelons - it is a loss that feels personal.

Because that's the thing about Binna Burra Lodge - it was, and has always been, so much more than a collection of scattered buildings on top of the ridge at Beechmont.

An original lodge at Binna Burra.
An original lodge at Binna Burra.

It is, to begin with, the story of Arthur Groom and his business partner, Romeo Lahey, one an ex jackaroo, the other a timber engineer, and both men nature lovers to their hiking boots. Together, they decided to build a place where people could experience the glory of the Lamington Plateau.

It was surrounded on three sides by national park, it had no road in and no electricity, but these two men were of the "if you build it they will come" persuasion - and so we did.

And if you are one of those who did, you will know, as I do, how the place gets under your skin.

Binna Burra Lodge is a Queensland icon.
Binna Burra Lodge is a Queensland icon.

How if you close your eyes you can see the Lodge, appearing through the mist like some latter day Brigadoon, after that long, curling, drive up the mountain.

You will know how you become a part of the Binna Burra family, part of its history - and very much a part of, as Tony Groom, one of Arthur Groom's three sons, says "its spirit".

The Groom "boys", Tony, Donn and Richard are all in their late seventies or early eighties now, men who grew up at the Lodge, with their playground the 48,000 acres that surround it. Arthur's sons, are, as you imagine, devastated by the loss of their childhood home, but they are also, as Richard, 79, told me, "full of gratitude".

Binna Burra Mountain lodge burnt by bushfire — Photo supplied Channel 7
Binna Burra Mountain lodge burnt by bushfire — Photo supplied Channel 7

"We've had so many well wishes, people sharing their own stories of Binna Burra with us, staff who worked with us over the years, adults who came with their parents and now bring their own kids, and that gives us a lot of comfort", Richard said.

"But we would like people to know that Binna Burra is still very much alive in spirit.

"The spirit of the place, the spirit of sharing stories and, and welcoming travellers and being together is what Binna Burra has always been about, and always will be".

There are already plans rising from the ashes, new stories curling from through the smoke - today there will be a meeting in Beechmont with the Groom brothers, staff and directors to talk about rebuilding.

Binna Burra Mountain lodge after it was burned by bushfire. Photo Supplied: ABC
Binna Burra Mountain lodge after it was burned by bushfire. Photo Supplied: ABC

"It won't be the same - the dining room, the hall, cabin numbers 1 to 12 are gone and we just have to accept that - but at the same time, it won't have changed at all", Richard smiles.

"I think my brother Tony put it best years ago when he said 'Binna Burra to me is more than home. It is more than a lifetime commitment. It is a feeling. A spirit. A way of life. It is also the sum of all of those who have worked there, or stayed there as a guest'."

The last time I went to Binna Burra was August last year. I took my children and showed them the place of my childhood.

I also went searching for my own name in the visitors books, kept faithfully through the decades.

Arthur Groom, one of the founders of Binna Burra Lodge.
Arthur Groom, one of the founders of Binna Burra Lodge.

They were - for they are now gone too - volumes of pages where visitors would write their name and their thoughts on the place, and after a few hours of searching I found mine.

Beside my name, and in a child's looping letters I had written: "This is my special place".

It still is.



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