RANGER: Ron Turner.
RANGER: Ron Turner.

Ron has seen Sir Joh ‘walk on water’

FRIENDLY FORCE: Friends of Kinaba at the centre of their attentions. Gail Forrer

FORMER national parks district ranger Ron Turner, who once lived and breathed the Noosa Everglades, well remembers the day he saw former political firebrand Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen "walk on water".

It was in September 1978 and the holier than thou state leader, according to Ron, appeared to the large crowd, "to come down from the clouds" for the official opening of the Kinaba, or Sir Thomas Hiley, information centre.

Actually Ron, now aged 75 and retired in the Gympie area, recalls Joh's arrival there, flanked by bodyguards in the national parks boat driven by Ron's boss, was almost a big a revelation as the amazing wooden structure built out in the middle of a watery wilderness. Ron has been a recent guest of the Friends of Kinaba, a dedicated Noosa group looking to preserve this aesthetically striking structure, and is speaking today at the Noosa Park Association's Friday Forum.

Last Friday the Noosa News caught up with this living link to a large section Noosa's nature management.

"I have a 1978 photo of Joh walking along to do the deed (declare Kinaba open)," Ron said.

"It is quite a striking building. There were 80 to 100 people actually standing on 35, 200-litre drums filled with water, which the builder had built a platform on and put some pretty paper around the edge.

"I was tasked to bring the department director across on a boat - my boss had a larger boat and he brought Joh and the bodyguards.

"People went up on tour boats and Joh came up last. You had this mass of people staring at this massive, imposing building. All of a sudden Joh appeared and this ripple went around the crowd: 'Here's Joh, he's walked on water to get here!' Another thing is (they said): 'He's come down from the clouds!' "

Ron had started his job for life in 1961 with the Victorian National Parks before securing the district ranger job based out of Gympie in 1978.

"MY first job was to help peg out the new Kinaba information building, what became the Sir Thomas Hiley Information Centre.

"It was spectacular - a lovely, quiet, natural place. It was really something and I still love the place."

Not that he got to just meet and greet tourists at Kinaba - far from it.

"I had 35 national parks - my territory went from Bundaberg, to Monto to the Bunya Mountains the Glass Houses at Bribie. I travelled fast and frequently, but Cooloola was the one that got a lot of emphasis."

For two days he once travelled around with Premier Joh, who the Noosa Parks Association or NPA, had to deal with to secure Noosa National Park and stop the sand mining on the North Shore.

"He was a polished politician - like him or hate him. But I found him to be, where nature was concerned, a bit naive." Despite being a farmer, Joh reacted to common bush animals as if he was seeing them for the first.

"He was quite excited, saying, 'There's a carpet snake, there's a wallaby. Oh, this is beautiful' - it was this childish response."

Ron tried to put his stamp on his territory with the limited resources his department shelled out.

He used to bring down rubbish bags for his staff to pick up rubbish.

"I made the decision and gave the direction that we will not put rubbish bins into Harry's Hut. We got people used to taking their rubbish out. We slowly bit by bit took control - we stopped the camping in the Everglades - the narrows. They were over-used."

And Ron remembers one misguided local map which showed a walking track to Lake Cooloola.

"There was no track - it was a swamp and quite dangerous."


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