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New generation has chance to feel the forest

Intergenerational connections grow as environmental knowledge is shared and enjoyed.
Intergenerational connections grow as environmental knowledge is shared and enjoyed.

TO UNIVERSITY research students the rainforest regeneration of O'Reilly's property, in Lamington National Park is something to behold.

"It's highly valued as dairy land that has gone back to rainforest without any replanting," Shane O'Reilly said.

At 55-years-old, Shane is the third European generation to live on the land.

He speaks in a relaxed tone and notes that the Rainforest Retreat, though now boasting architecturally designed unit, day spa and 25m infinity edge poll is still an unpretentious place.

"The staff are good, the guests are friendly - it's a relaxed, communal feel," he said.

The first O'Reilly settled there in 1911, four years later the Lamington Park was declared a state forest.

In 1994, World Heritage status was bestowed on Lamington in recognition of its high biodiversity, and the fact it contains a living museum of the evolutionary steps taken in the development of Australia's modern day flora.

It now includes 20,200 hectares of varying forest types, from temperate Antarctic Beech forest high on the border ranges through the sub-tropical rainforests, to the dry eucalypt forest of the northern escarpment.

Shane O'Reilly.
Shane O'Reilly. Adam Head

O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat, in the Gold Coast hinterland, has been a family owned and operated business since first opening in 1926.

After devoting more than 40 years to the business, the second generation family members, including 84-year-old Big Pete O'Reilly who built the Australia's first tree-top walk 30 years ago and still spends a day a week on the property, retired in "the late 1990s, and so charged the third generation with the responsibility of carrying on the business into the new millennium.

Fortunately, this is a family who had foresight and goodwill to care both for themselves and the land.

As Shane O'Reilly tells it, when he returned to the property in 1989 after working in an international hotel, his parents and uncle and aunt who ran the property, were ready to retire.

"They were in their mid-50s, worked all their lives, they had a lovely asset but no money. They had put all their money back into the property," Shane said.

"They could have sold, but they didn't want to.

"They were happy there."

With that in mind, he put together a retirement strategy for them and by the mid 1990s they were ready to retire.

Shane spent an idyllic childhood on the land before heading to boarding school.

His intimate knowledge of the land and family photographs allow him to follow the dramatic growth, landscape changes and weather patterns across a century.

His two children, not yet teenagers, are enjoying a similar childhood and whether they follow in his footsteps is up to them.

But why wouldn't they.

Shane has said each generation has added their own direction to the retreat, for instance Big Pete O'Reilly's birdwatching excursion is this year celebrating a 40th anniversary.

While Shane talks about the eco rangers project that provides conservation awareness and time out for the parents.

"It gets kids away from their iPad," he said.

Nearly one thousand metres above sea level, Lamington National Park is made up of two secions Green Mountains and Binna Burra. Green Mountains section is located on the western side of the Lamington Plateau, and wraps around O'Reilly's Rainforest. It is place where all generations have lived, played and learned about the best things in life.

Topics:  lamington national park o'reilly's rainforest retreat


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