For the love of abandoned places

Abandoned places fascinate me.

The memories left behind, the traces of people and objects long gone. The promise of discovery, of finding something once precious that has been forgotten. 

The sadness.

Often, they’re places no one wants anymore. But sometimes there are people with the passion, the dedication and the money to keep these buildings and their history alive.

Below are my top 3 favourite abandoned places, now restored, in my home state of Queensland.

In their own way, each of these quite different places influenced how I created the Dirt Circus Leaguers’ home: an abandoned resort they call The Barracks.

The ghosts of skaters past: Skate Arena

Street art in old skate arena building
Street art from the old skate arena at the start of renovations.

From cinema to skating rink and back to cinema sums up the history of this site in the inner-city Brisbane suburb of Red Hill.

Skate Arena was a great, if slightly dodgy, place to hang out in the mid-1990s. It was run by a crusty old bloke who was a bit grudging about the kids and parents who went there to roller skate, roller blade or play inline hockey.

It was cheap and lots of fun, even if the skates-for-hire were a bit on the smelly side.

On Boxing Day 2002, the place burnt down.

For years the building was neglected and unloved by almost everyone except the graffiti and street artists who used it to hone and display their skills.

Then new owners renovated it into a cinema complex, bringing the building back full-circle to its original use as a local picture theatre (it was built in 1920).

They held an open day in March 2019 to showcase the building’s transformation and the amazing street art it contains. It re-opened as a cinema complex at the end of that year.

They’ve kept as much of the original building and graffiti as possible, which is a huge win for Brisbane’s street art history.

Energy buzz: The Powerhouse

A photo from the 2017 history of street art exhibition is displayed on the street art preserved on Powerhouse walls

Street art and graffiti is also a feature of Powerhouse, a former power station on the banks of the Brisbane River, New Farm Park.

After the electricity company moved, on the building was abandoned for many years before the local council restored it.

Like the Red Hill Cinemas, the restoration preserved some of the graffiti and street art painted on the original brick walls. They also kept some old powerhouse machinery.

The Powerhouse is now used for live shows, art exhibitions and conferences, and back in 2017 they held an exhibition telling some of the history of street art in Brisbane.

A Spanish obsession: Paronella Park, Mena Creek, far north Queensland

Original building from Paronella Park, Mena Creek
Originally this section of Paronella Park had an ice cream parlour. Sadly, the building is now too unstable for visitors to climb the stairs.

My favourite abandoned place to visit was created in an era well before street art existed.

Paronella Park is an amazing place built by hand by one obsessed Spanish man, Jose Paronella. It’s set in the lush green forests of Mena Creek, a small town in far north Queensland.

I first went there in the mid-80s when it was pretty neglected. The buildings and gardens had barely survived a series of cyclones and floods. But in the 1990s new owners took over and began to restore the site.

Paronella Park is an abandoned fairy-tale palace, complete with castle and burnt-out ballroom. Jose Paronella built most of it himself out of poured concrete, with the dream of it becoming a reception centre and pleasure gardens.

It was hugely popular in the 1940s and 50s, with many locals choosing the ballroom as their wedding venue.

Today the ruins of Paronella’s dream are visited by thousands of tourists who wander through the gardens dotted with small creeks and waterfalls, though not many people swim in the swimming hole because of the crocodiles.

It’s a place where the ruins make magic seem even more possible.

The appeal of abandoned places

I’m not the only one who loves abandoned places.

There are plenty of great books on the subject, as well as pro-skater Rick McCrank’s fantastic TV series Abandoned.

If you love abandoned places, it’s a must watch.

So what’s your favourite abandoned place?

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