Sunday, 8 April 2007

Frederik's & Mary's romance: El Questro in 2002

The last issue of Billed Bladet has brought forward some new information about Frederik's and Mary's romance which we have not known details of before. We have known for some years that Frederik and Mary had a holiday at El Questro in the Kimberley region of Western Australia and we have known Frederik was involved in some fire-fighting effort too. But the timeline of exactly what happened when has not always been known because this was a period when Frederik and Mary were still "flying under the radar", despite the best efforts of the tabloids at the time.

However, Billed Bladet’s Anders Nielsen has, after all this time, confirmed the date of Crown Prince Frederik's and Mary’s holiday at El Questro Wilderness Park as late October 2002, just before Mary was a bridesmaid for one of her Sydney friends, Kylie Matthews (a guest at Mary's wedding), on 2 November 2002.

At the time the tabloids were keenly following the whereabouts of the couple and as an example from the time, Billed Bladet recounts its own reporting of the period after Mary had begun working at Navison/Microsoft in Denmark: both went to Brazil, Frederik went on alone to New York and Mary returned to Denmark. And now we know from the story about El Questro that Frederik and Mary were in Australia in October and November of 2002. By this time Mary had been in Europe (France then Denmark) for nearly a year. In 2001 Frederik was photographed leaving Sydney in November and Anna Johannesen of Billed Bladet 'found' Mary outside her Darlinghurst office building on 12 November 2002. Mary left Sydney for Europe on 22 December 2002. They did not visit Australia in the October/November period in 2003 of course, because then is when they became 'an official couple' and engaged on 8 October 2003.

Is it still possible that Billed Bladet will find out where Frederik and Mary were in 2001? This is when they obviously decided to take their relationship 'to the next level', because it was after this visit together that Mary submitted her resignation to Chris Meehan at Belle Property Group and left for Europe shortly afterwards. (thanks potter!)

Mary and Frederik in Australia in 2002, at Kylie Matthews' wedding and at the Melbourne Cup. They had been at El Questro before visiting Sydney and Melbourne (and Hobart?):

From Billed Bladet (no.13, 29 March 2007) - Mary's and Frederik’s secret paradise:

“Your Crown Prince and his girlfriend were here before they were officially engaged,” says Buddy.

He is sitting under the sign which says “Buddy’s rest”, wearing dark blue jeans, a pink and newly ironed shirt and a pale Akubra hat. The big square built man is half Aboriginal and an institution here – some would use the expression 'an attraction'. Buddy Tyson was a rodeo champion at El Questro in the 60’s, until the unlucky combination of accidents and too far to go to the hospital ended the fun. Later he worked as a cowboy and bull catcher at El Questro, but he has also done his bit to turn the old cattle station into a dazzling holiday hotel in the super-luxury class.

We hang out at the end of the day, each with a can of beer, outside the store and bar The Swinging Arm at El Questro Station Township – a small, blessed place in the vast outback of Western Australia.

“Yep,” says the park ranger Pete Brown.

“I drove Fred and Mary from our little landing strip out to The Homestead. None of us had any idea who they were – that happened only months later, when [we] saw a picture of them in a magazine. He signed himself in as Fred Jensen,” grins Buddy.

“We were aware they were something special because they constantly dragged two expressionless men around. The men clearly were uncomfortable the day Frederik and Mary went for a helicopter ride and they couldn’t be in the same helicopter. They demanded a helicopter to be at the disposal of the bodyguards, but we couldn’t get that….”

“That was in the last week of October 2002 and we were starting to shut down for the season…. On one of the days Fred and Mary were here, a thunderstorm swept across, and lightning ignited some shrubbery nearby and started a minor bushfire, which we kept an eye on. Normally those sort of fires extinguish themselves, but after a couple of days it got closer to The Homestead and we called them and warned them. When we got there ourselves the staff were in full swing – even the Crown Prince walked around with a garden hose, from which only a measly squirt of water came out. But we managed to extinguish the fire….”

The seed of El Questro was laid when a couple of men built a shed out of boards and called it Spurling’s Pocket back in 1903. Just three years later they handed over the humble cattle station to others, who couldn’t pay the mortgages themselves after three years. To breed cattle in the arid and sparsely vegetated wasteland* was a tough and uncertain business and the cattle station changed owners many times throughout the years. Neighbouring properties Wild Dog and Moonlight Valley were added to Spurling’s Pocket [over time].

Only in 1958 did the estate get the name El Questro. The Spanish sounding name makes no sense, but it is said that the owner – inspired by [US] western magazines – invented the name in a state of intoxication.

El Questro kept changing owners until a young enthusiastic married couple took over the derelict buildings in 1991 and began the creation of a dream of offering paying guests a comfortable oasis in the middle of the nature sceneries of the wilderness.

El Questro’s derelict main building, the homestead, was located not near the cattle station. but three kilometres at the end of the dirt road – on the outermost cliff top of Chamberlain Gorge, with a picturesque view over the gorge where the rivers Pentecost and Chamberlain meet.

The new owners designed and built a new homestead and a new wing was added with six suites, where extreme luxury was part of the package for the guests.

Last but not least, they built roads to the spectacular natural scenery. Tourists began to hear about the one million acre El Questro Wilderness Park. Some drove there, others flew.

In the spring of 2005 the owners [who developed it] sold their beloved El Questro to one of Australia’s largest tour and hotel operators, Voyages, who specialise in remote luxurious holiday resorts.

The Homestead today is the pearl of El Questro. It is surrounded on three sides by well cared for green lawns and exotic trees – the fourth side is marked by the gorge where the Chamberlain River has carved its way through to the bedrock over millions of years.

The prominent guests fly here – from Sydney, Melbourne, Darwin and Perth. Here they are received by the hosts Laurie and Al, who with the help from eight employees, pamper and spoil the guests.

The main building is big and square and communal without interior walls and with a framework of visible beams supporting the roof. The huge room with panoramic windows has been divided into a bar, a library, dining area, TV and relaxation areas and also with a sunken sitting area in front of an open fireplace. Giant terracotta pots and Indonesian antiques divide and adorn the lovely space, which opens to a shady verandah.

The building materials are primarily local and natural, just as the earth colours ochre, ginger and henna seem to make the surrounding landscape continue indoors.

The largest suite has its roofed verandah built over the edge of the cliff. From the bathroom there is access to the verandah where a white enamel lion's footed bathtub offers a rare opportunity for an outdoor bath with a spectacular view over passing crocodiles in the river, deep down.

Alternatively there is a swimming pool, like an oasis within an oasis, circled by palms and a jacuzzi in a corner of the park near the cliff's edge – the perfect place to have your sparkling champagne served after a tennis match.

All activities and guided tours on El Questro (not including the helicopter) are part of the basic price, and at dinner you can opt to dine with the other guests at The Homestead, or look your sweetheart in the eyes over a romantic dinner for two on the cliff top. In the evening the gorge is lit by spotlights and the park is lit by torches, while the sky is a [dome] of stars. This is typically a place where men propose to their sweethearts. Was it here Frederik proposed to his Mary?

El Questro Wilderness Park measures 60 by 80 kilometres – that is nearly the size of Funen. Out here, where size matters, it is more than one hundred kilometres to Kununurra**, which is the nearest small town.

It is false to believe there is nothing to do in the vast outback. You can walk, drive, sail, ride and fly just for fun, or go to the many scenic areas of the park.

Most at Station Township arrive here in their own four wheel drives (4WDs) and can drive to the spectacular gorges – all have waterfalls or warm springs and fantastic vegetation. Other routes that require off-road experience go to the Cockburn Range, Pigeon Hole and Saddleback Ridge all with breathless views and unforgettable sunsets.

“Must sees” are Champagne and Zebedee Springs – a series of natural, 32°C warm springs of rainwater, which perculated down into the subterranean caves decades ago. The underground heat warms the water and sends it back to the surface under pressure. The hot, mineral-rich water sustains the lush tropical vegetation of palms, bamboo and ferns – a true Garden of Eden and the most beautiful bathroom in the world.

“Miss Donaldson wasn’t very keen on jumping into the water, but I said she would regret it if she didn’t do it,” smiles the park ranger, who was given the task to show the couple around.

“She indeed looked like she enjoyed it, but the boyfriend didn’t want to – and no, I have no pictures,” finishes Pete Brown with a big smile.

When saying goodbye, he tells that the superstar Kylie Minoque is the next famous guest coming. (By Anders Nielsen/Billed Bladet and kindly translated by Muhler)

* a very European view of the Australian landscape. The Aborigines have taught Australians none of it is wasteland.
** A little note: Kununurra is going to be one of the locations for Baz Luhrmann's next film called Australia, currently in pre-production. It will star Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman and David Wenham (Diver Dan in Sea Change, Faramir in LOTR, 300 etc.)

The El Questro Homestead:

Some of the scenery in the El Questro wildlife park:


Mary in Sydney just after being 'discovered' by Anna Johannesen of Billed Bladet in 2001, (in a cafe with a friend, outside her Darlinghurst office building and in her car) and arriving in London at Heaththrow 23 December 2001:

El Questro
El Questro Wilderness Park Bio Calendar (pass your mouse over the photos for bio calendar info)
The Kimberley - Australia's North West - 'Frederik + Mary = sant' Frederik and Mary an item (and at the Melbourne Cup) 2002

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Blogger Clare said...

Thank you for this interesting infomation. I came to know about the Danish Royals in early 2005. So I missed many of the early events, Engagement (2003), Pre - wedding events, Wedding (2004), Bith of Prince Christian (2005) ect. I throughly enjoyed the photographs and infomation you posted on the Wedding and Pre - wedding events, last year, - and hearing about their vist it El Questro in 2002, is very exciting!
I was wondering if you would some time, (I do understand you both are very busy), you could post about the Engagement and Engagement Dinner, in 2003? I would love to see some photos of that! :)


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