Big Pete's Home in the Trees

25 years after building the world's first canopy walk in the rainforest of Lamington National Park

Simon Mustoe

Simon Mustoe

Writer, photographer and founder of Wildiaries

They call him ‘Big Pete’. A sprightly 80-year old, he thinks nothing of ascending the ladder to a viewing platform 35 metres above the ground. He chuckles as he reminisces on how it was built; how he climbed to the top, strapping the structure to the beautiful majestic tree with his bare hands. “It’s been 25 years” he says “... and in all that time, we haven’t had a tree down over the treetop walkway”.

Each timber has a name, an inscription of the person / people who bought into the project. It was designed and built by friends and, simply as a challenge to do something new and inspiring. Peter says, the hardest thing was sinking the massive poles into the ground, then trying to position them parallel, way above their heads.

We stand staring over the tree tops, admiring the view across ancient Gondwanan rainforest. A large-billed Scrubwren fossicks for insects under leafy lichens and the harsh screech of a Paradise Riflebird rings out from an invisible perch among dense canopy foliage.

Peter grew up here. His family settled the land over a hundred years ago, setting up one of the world’s earliest ‘ecotourism’ operations - a rainforest guesthouse that was taking customers as early as the 1920s. The treetop walk, Pete thinks, may have been the first ever built. It was Pete’s idea. He wanted to give people the chance to see what he’d been doing as a child, climbing trees in the forest to reach the sunlit world above the dark forest floor.

The jewel in the crown of O’Reillys and literally emblazoned across its logo in charcoal black and fiery gold, is the Regent’s Bowerbird. As if their colours weren’t enough, during summer, males arrive en masse, setting up ‘bowers’ woven from sticks. These temporary show-houses help demonstrate their strength and prowess as a mate. Females look on nonchalantly and after choosing a suitable partner, the bower becomes redundant.

Regent Bowerbird
Regent Bowerbird O'Reilly's, photo Simon Mustoe

Regent Bowerbirds, Satin Bowerbirds, Wonga Pigeons, Logrunners, Crimson Rosellas ... the variety, colour and repertoire of the birds that make their home at O’Reilly’s is breath-taking.

Wherever there are birds, which is everywhere, and wherever there are people (which is also everywhere), there are bird tables. It’s a fundamental of human existence, a basic human right, to share our time and space with the most exquisite, delicate and mysterious of creatures. It’s a time-out from the labours of living and the most hardened people cannot fail to be moved. This is why the family home-cum-guesthouse of the O’Reilly’s maintains as its centre-piece, a bird table.

While many who strive for greatness will leave nothing to memory when they’re gone, Peter’s legacy will endure, built on the wisdom of a lifetime and the history and love of a family. To some, his achievements may have been modest but it’s what they represent that makes Peter such a warm and comforting character.

As Peter feeds the birds a few sultanas at breakfast, we’re reminded of the beauty of nature that surrounds us. It’s just enough of a glimpse into their lives to remind us to stop from time to time. Just to learn about, observe and respect nature can fulfill a lifetime of needs.

About the Author
Simon Mustoe

Simon Mustoe

Writer, photographer and founder of Wildiaries

Simon is CEO of DeluxeLife. He is also an ardent conservationist and has been studying and observing wildlife for over 40 years. He's written a book called Wildlife in the Balance. He loves taking his worldwide travel experience to help people discover new and exciting places to visit,as well as contributing to science and conservation.

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