Port Douglas is a small coastal town with a current population of approximately 4000 permanent residents. It is sometimes seen to attract celebrities drawn to its sleepy charm and discretion. It was during the 1980s that Port Douglas was discovered as a popular destination for Australians to spend winter months and visit the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest and other northern tropics attractions.
Originally established in 1877 due to its close proximity to the Hodgkinson Goldfields it was named Port Douglas after the 7th Premier of Queensland, John Douglas. John Douglas was in office for just under two years from 1877 until 1879. He later died on Thursday Island, north of Cape York.
In 1876 James Mulligan discovered gold fields on the Hodgkinson River in Central Far North Queensland.
Consequently, during the Gold Rush of the late 1800’s the town expanded with industry and lodgings. Port Douglas accommodation options were growing and during this time and by 1882 14 hotels were established to accommodate the town’s population boom. During this time Port Douglas overtook Cairns as the main port for gold mining fields.
The easy route from the Goldfields to Port Douglas’s protected port made Port Douglas an important place for receiving and transporting supplies. During the peak of the Gold Rush Port Douglas’s population was recorded at 12000. The population later dwindled with a State Government decision to build an all weather railway link from the Hodgkinson Goldfield to the larger port of Cairns.
This bypassing of Port Douglas led residents to turn to other forms of income. With tick fever impacting cattle herds Sugar Cane became the primary produce. Large quantities of Sugar Cane was shipped out of Port Douglas and sent south until the opening of a cane crushing mill in Mossman (a small town North of Port Douglas) once again dwindled the population of the town as development was focused elsewhere. A major tropical cyclone in 1911 (during which 16 inches of rain fell in 24 hours) caused further damage to the town’s infrastructure and by 1914 the population of Port Douglas had fallen to 250 people.
Port Douglas continued to be a small fishing village and minor port to ship sugar from Mossman until 1958. It looked to become another doomed gold mining town, a left over relic of a past era.
The 1980’s became a major turning point for Port Douglas as investors identified the potential of Port Douglas’s position in a growing tourism area. Port Douglas became identified as a holiday resort destination for the rich and famous. This thinking was aided by the notorious Christopher Skase who gained notoriety through his fraudulent business practices. Although Skase’s questionable business deals caught up with him he is credited with building the modern face of Port Douglas in the 1980s.
Port Douglas today is a laid back village conveniently located between two world heritage areas, The Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest.