Barron Falls

Barron Falls Train Stop and Skyrail Lookout
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Our first look at the Barron Falls was when the Kuranda Scenic Train stopped for us all to enjoy the scenery.
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The train, the photo-bomber and the poser.
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The sign at the stop said: “Bama Djabuganyaji Gulam Nyina-Nyina Yinu Gudjani Galgarr.” Djabugay People Have Lived Here from Long Ago. In a time long before European civilisations plied the oceans in search of new lands, Aboriginal Australians flourished throughout this continent.
They occupied this vast and diverse country, from the mountains and forest to the coastal, beaches and islands. From generation to generation customs, laws and traditions linked the people with land and the land with people and its time and place of creation. While environments may have varied a common spiritual view of the world and its creation is present, a view which is truly uniquely Australian, grounded in the country’s many living qualities, its natural features and its people both past and present.
Amongst the tribes of the Rainforest are the Djabuganydji (Tjapukai), whose traditional country you are now located in.
The Djabugay Bama (People) remember through the stories of their ancestors a place in the past when the great Rainbow Serpent Gudji Gudji came out from the sea.
The great serpent created all the rivers, creeks and streams from Yaln.giri (Crystal Cascades) to Ngunbay (Place of the Platypus, Kuranda) and gave special names to many of the places he visited. There are those who believe that snakes, eels, and oysters are his children, and the sound of thunder is his voice.
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In July 1882, the search for a suitable railway link from the Atherton Tableland to the coast was announced and Christie Palmerston, bushman and explorer was commissioned to explore a suitable railway route. With his erstwhile Bama mate and assistant Pompo, they explored Barron Gorge and other valleys in the region.
The going was tough, but Christie and Pompo’s expert skills in locating and utilising the well established and time trodden walking pads of the Bama proved fruitful in identifying a number of possible options for the future railway. However, the railway route was still in doubt. There was a further two years of surveying and re-surveying to find a way to conquer the range.
The general finding of these attempts were reflected in Christie Palmerston’s comments in his report to the Government of the same year: “I am positive there is not a natural road over the coastal range, or anything approaching it will require skill and engineering wherever you wish to cross it”.
In March 1884, the time of the year the Djabuganydji know as Gurrabana (wet season), the Government decided in favour of the Barron Gorge route from Cairns. Working plans were completed and endorsed by Government on the 19th of September 1885. Thus, the die had been caste and the future of Cairns was now assured by the railway.
The Kuranda Scenic Railway winds its way from the coast to the Tablelands, following in the path of the mighty creation serpent, Budaadji the Carpet Snake, it brings people together, to new and different places. Railway construction began in 1886 and at one stage some fifteen hundred men were involved in the project and little townships flourished along the route servicing the men and their families.
The line officially opened from Cairns to Kuranda (Ngunbay) in June 1891, the time of the year when many Djabuganydji would descend the mountain tracks with the forth-coming coastal breezes to hunt, harvest and enjoy the many low land foods of the season.
These were hard and arduous times in our local history and many people died through disease, fever, conflict and accident.
By hand and by cart these men dug and shifted over 2.3 cubic million metres of rock and soil.
Today’s train ride has changed little in its 100 odd years in operation. Marvelled at, and enjoyed by people from around the world, it would seem appropriate to take a moment to acknowledge and remember that this place of great natural beauty, is also a place of cultural heritage significance.
A place that has seen thousands of years of Aboriginal occupation and the sweat and toil of the early settlers and their families. A place partaking in the spirit of the ancestors, their story, ever present in the land.
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The Park is crisscrossed by a series of natural and cultural corridors, some hidden and obscure. From here you can see the corridors of recent human travel formed by the Skyrail cableway and the Kuranda train line. But hidden beneath the forest canopy lie other pathways – ancient walking tracks created by the Djabugay (pronounced Jaba-guy) along the travel routes taken by their spiritual ancestors.
These same paths were used by railway, mining and logging workers and now provide the masterplan for a network of walking tracks throughout the Park. You are standing at the crossroads of an ecological highway.
Wildlife needs corridors too and the Barron Gorge National Park provides one of the most significant in the Wet Tropics.
The Black Mountain Corridor, including Barron Gorge National Park is a strip of protective forest only metres wide in some places. It provides a vital link for birds and animals between the northern and southern reaches of the Wet Tropics.
The rare southern cassowary, the spotted quoll and Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo are just a few who travel this corridor in search of food and mates.
In the wet season natural forces take control and the Barron Falls can be seen in its full splendour. For the Djabugay it brings a physical reminder of the power of Gudju:Gudju the creator being who they believed carved these spectacular chasms.
Mmmm, we think there is a bit too much fluff in these signs, but it is good there is an attempt to honour the Indigenous Peoples and their beliefs.
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The Old Power Station: The two concrete dams above Barron Falls were part of an earlier, smaller hydro-electric power station built in the early 1930’s. The old power station was located on the opposite side of the river, below the falls. Its construction was a huge undertaking as it was subject to major flooding, and was built during the Depression. This power station supplied power to Cairns and surrounds for almost three decades.
During construction, a worker’s camp was set up across the river and a trestle bridge was erected for access and transfer of food supplies. Up to 105 men worked on the project at one time. It was a formidable task; workers faced numerous rock falls and landslides as they carved their way into the mountain to accommodate the power station.
In 1963, the power station was relocated downstream to its present site near the base of the gorge and is now called the Barron Gorge Hydro, The old station is no longer accessible.
A kindly man took our picture and then it was time to board the train for Kuranda.
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During our Skyrail ride we jumped off at the Barron Gorge Lookout. More signs to read.
The haulage trolley
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The original Barron Falls Hydro-Electricity Station (1935-1963) was built under Skyrail’s Barron Falls Station near the base of the Gorge. A haulage trolley was used to transport materials and equipment down the tramline. The load was secured to the trolley and lowered by two winches powered by a diesel engine and an air compressor. A tramline, with a two-foot gauge, running to the bottom of the Gorge was used to transport workers and materials down the steep embankment to the power station. A block and tackle was used to lift the load from the trolley on to another tramline. The load was then manually pushed into a nearby tunnel where it would be hauled into the power station.
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The Flying Fox: During the life of the power station a flying fox was utilised to carry men and materials across the Barron Falls. The flying fox was introduced after three footbridges, spanning over the top of the falls, were washed away during floods. The flying fox facility changed dramatically during its use.
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Short sides were placed around the platforms to allow light materials and men to be transported. A small platform suspended from a chain block was utilised for the flying fox in the early years. A larger wooden platform with a pipe and wire fence was introduced.  Finally, an enclosed flying fox with a roof was utilised for carrying passengers.
Personnel trolley.
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These images show the Barron Falls Hydro-Electricity Station’s personnel trolley in use. The trolley was capable of seating, without restraint, up to six people. Passengers would travel up and down the steep gorge embankment to gain access to the power station. To commence an ascent the trolley passengers would ring a bell by depressing a button located under the tramline. The sounding of the bell would be heard by the trolley driver located at the top of the embankment and the passengers would be winched up the side of the Gorge. The trolley driver would activate the trolley’s ascent by releasing the foot brake and an air compressor would slowly pull-up the trolley with its passengers. During some ascents the air compressor would lose pressure and leave passengers stranded on the side of the embankment. The passengers would have to wit patiently while the air compressor built up enough pressure to allow them to recommence their journey. Who wrote this stuff.......
Looking down the Gorge.
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Views from the Lookout.
Local Indigenous Speakers Map.
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This place of great natural beauty has a unique storied past, and holds great significance to the local Aboriginal rainforest people (Djabuganydji Bama). All over Australia the Rainbow Serpent is believed to have created rivers and creeks. Here Rainbow (Gudju-Gudju), in the form of the Carpet Snake (Buda:dji or Wungul) is credited with the creation of creeks all the way from Crystal Cascades (Yaln giri) to Kuranda (Ngunbay – Place of the Platypus).
Buda:dji (carpet snake) laden with bright Miya-miya (nautilus shells) traversed the range to trade yimbi’s (dilly bags) for his shells with the Tableland Bama. On of his journeys, Buda:dji was followed by three bird men who wanted the shells for themselves. When asked, Buda:dji refused to part with them, for in his mind they belonged to the Tablelands People. The birds being greedy, ambushed Buda:dji  and with their stone axes, killed him and chopped him into pieces, throwing each piece into the bush where they became a sacred part of the landscape.
His sacred path is associated with the significance of the Gurndal-gurndal (Stoney Creek), Mayila (Robb’s Monument). Waalara (Surprise Creek) and Di:wungo (Stoney Creek Falls).
During Gurrabana (the Wet Season) when Din Din is in flood, rainbows can be seen, reminding us all of the gifts of Gudju Gudju and the destruction of Buda:dji, whose death was because of the wanton greed of others.
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Our personal guide back to the Skyrail.