Looking at Port Douglas now it is hard to imagine that it was once a wild frontier town filled with itinerant seamen and gold prospectors. Today it is a luxury holiday resort. The Sheraton Mirage Hotel complex, with its golf course, neat rows of palm trees, huge apartments and gate security staff who scrutinise those who enter the sanctum (no wide-eyed members of the proletariat here, thank you), has spawned a wider industry in the town. The once sleepy little village which remembered its roaring days is now a major tourist resort centre with fashionable arcades, well-heeled shoppers, and a certain aloofness which despises those who cannot afford the luxury which the exclusive resorts offer.
There is a hint of unreality about Port Douglas these days. The town is awash with holiday apartments and motels with manicured lawns, blocks of units which are now called īcondominiumsī, private golf courses, lavish tennis courts, fashionably expensive restaurants and every conceivable tour of the Great Barrier Reef.
Located 67 km north of Cairns, Port Douglas was first established in 1877 when Christie Palmerston cut a road through the rainforest and down the mountain range. Palmerston was one of those fascinating characters who inhabit the early history of Queensland. Born Cristofero Palmerston Carandini in Melbourne, it is claimed that he headed for Queensland in 1873 to join the Palmer River goldrush. Itīs more likely that he came with his motherīs theatre group. Certainly his fame came with the Hodgkinson River goldrush. The track he cut from those goldfields to Port Douglas was his first but in the next decade he blazed at least four trails to the coast.
Palmerstonīs track was known affectionately as īThe Bumpī. In the early days the settlement at Port Douglas was known as Island Point, Terrigal, Port Owen and Salisbury. The latter title derived from Lord Salisbury, the British Prime Minister at the time. However this name too went by the way after a visit by government officials. The present name was bestowed in honour of John Douglas, then Queensland Premier.
Within weeks of its establishment the town was booming. There were an estimated 50 tent pubs, a bakery, a general store and rough accommodation. People poured in on their way to the diggings. By mid-1878 there were 21 permanent hotels and a local newspaper, the town had been surveyed, lots of land were for sale, and the mail was being delivered from Port Douglas to Thornborough on the goldfields. Early the following decade the town had a population of 8000 and had overtaken Cairns as the most important port on the north Queensland coast.
Just like its rise the townīs decline was rapid. The gold started to run out by about 1886 and the miners moved on to Papua and New Guinea. Cairns became the major railhead for the whole region with lines running south along the coast and inland to the mining fields. Port Douglas, however, remained the port for the sugar mill at Mossman until 1958.
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|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|