Big Riders for Palestine climb Kombumerri country

There is only one way to “improve” a national park and this is to leave it absolutely alone.’ – Romeo Lahey

At Meanjin (Brisbane) International airport you can inspect the plane that Kingsford Smith flew across the Pacific in the 1920s. That plane does not look much different from the Stinson that crashed in the Green Mountains in Yugambeh country in March, 1937 – three engines, three propellors. Realising a boyhood dream, two Big Riders for Palestine climbed Green Mountain yesterday only to discover a Stinson replica of the famous wreck, rebuilt atop the rainforest near O’Reilly’s Guest House. Graeme rode like Alberto Contador up the last hill. And this for someone afraid of heights. A fire had been through and the forest looked like a Canberra autumn in a Queensland spring – flame trees, eucalypts, jacarandas, vines and lantana all mixed in a once green now dry country.

Big riders for Palestine arrive at the Stinson on Green Mountain 30 Oct 2019

Ian rode like a paper boy zig zagging the last brutal 6 km at the end of a 937 metre 25 kilometre climb. Till then the climb had been gradual. The lower road had been constructed to carry logs by cart initially, and then by truck. Near the summit was the old O’Reilly dairy farm and guest house so it mattered less that the final bit was steep. At the top the riders came across this blue stubby nosed Stinson passenger plane. In 1937 a plane like it had carried people to their death in stormy Green Mountains.

Ancient Green Mountain rain forest

It was Bernard O’Reilly who realised what must have happened to the plane lost in fog, mist and rain. He calculated that the Stinson’s pilot must have tried to reach Lismore airstrip to the south.

Relying solely upon his own ingenuity plus some hard boiled eggs given to him by his wife, Viola, for protein, Bernard set out on a grueling track, travelling only in the coolness of the night, through forest, razorback and steep ravine. The story goes that he mistook a flame tree for a burnt patch of scrub thinking ‘that’s where the Stinson went down’. Partly by chance after two and a half days walk he found two surviving members of that fateful trip.

Bernard discovers two survivors of the Stinson crash

Bernard’s resolve to follow a compass line from where the Stinson was last heard overhead toward the southern airstrip brought him over 11 or 12 mountains probably each 1,000 metres high through dense jungle. He trekked 26 kilometres over 2 days, the two Big Riders for Palestine did the same distance in 2 hours up modern roads. Bernard found the missing plane with two of the occupants still alive. The big riders had found the Stinson as well.

Anything is Possible.

Graeme and Ian who participated in the 2019 Big Ride for Palestine from Brisbane to Byron shire this year decided to climb Green Mountain setting out from a cattle grid near Canungra. Riding 25 km up gradients that at times were 23% arrived at the top to see this reconstruction and to remember Bernard O’Reillys’ wonderful feat with one of the staff. They worked out that the wooden props on the plane must have been put on backwards. Three powerful 9 cylinder engines were typical of planes of that era. If you go to the front of Brisbane’s International Airport you will see such a plane that carried three aviators across the Pacific.

Green Mountains is a wonderful place, full of birds, quolls, blue wrens jumping near wheels of the historic aeroplane, colourful male animal, more subtle female, and crimson parrots attempting to steal our lunch. Thanks to the work of Romeo Lahey, the son of a local sawmill owner, in the district, this area was declared Lamington National Park in 1915 only a few years after the first, the Royal National Park near Sydney, and of course Yellowstone.

I wonder if Bernard fully understood that he walked on Kombumerri country all those years ago. First Nations people speaking ancient Yugambeh dialect lived and travelled the same route practicing their own bush-craft for millenia … living in harmony with the land for the thousands of years prior to the Stinson flight overhead.

Ian Curr
October 2019

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