Local council steeped in history
THE former Douglas Shire Council officially came into being on March 31, 1903.
But 23 years earlier it had been known and operated as the Douglas Divisional Board which was created on June 3, 1880, under the Divisional Boards Act 1879.
Port Douglas was officially proclaimed in 1877, but at that time there was no council, only the Road Board.
The Road Board was established in 1878 by the Queensland Government to advise on the needs of roads in the area, with Messrs Callaghan, Walsh, Wilson, Purdie, Farrell and Henry filling the role.
Basically, the road board’s functions were to advise the government on road needs in the area, and it administered only those funds as the government provided as no local levying was allowed.
Its most important job was maintaining the Bump Rd, a notoriously arduous and unstable route to the goldfields that crossed the ranges behind Mowbray and the only way out of the district by land.
By 1879, however, the future council was beginning to take form.
A Queensland Parliamentary Act established local government bodies, known as Divisional Boards, in various districts across the state and the leaders were titled “chairmen”.
Elections held in 1880 decided the first members of the Douglas Divisional Board were Messrs Thomas, Smith, Henry, Gray, Rutherford and Keating.
Divisional Boards were subsidised to the tune of £2 by the Queensland Government for every £1 pound they collected by rates but after five years, this subsidy dropped to £1 per £1.
From this amount, the boards looked after health, roads and local works.
They could usually afford only one salaried official, who was responsible for collecting rates, sanitary inspections, vermin destruction and overseeing the roads.
Former Douglas Shire Chairman RD Rex paid tribute to the members of the Douglas Divisional Board in 1960, explaining: “No memoirs could be complete without some worthy tribute to the pioneer members of this board which constructed streets, maintained the only land outlet, and mapped out arterial roads to tap the rich lands which would be served by Port Douglas.”
With the stroke of the bureaucratic pen and the passage of the Local Authorities Act 1902, Douglas became a shire council on March 31, 1903.
The original Douglas Shire Council comprised of chairman James Reynolds and six councillors and was administered from the sugargrowing town of Mossman.
The Reynolds family emigrated from Ireland in the 1860s and James was lucky to live long enough to be the Douglas Shire’s first mayor, being held up at gunpoint while carrying trade to the Palmer goldfields in 1874.
He later ran a pub in Kingsborough and a public house at the Cattle Creek coach change on the Port Douglas Road before selecting land on the Mowbray River.
Reynolds expanded the orchard over the years and in 1896, Mowbray Vale had 80 acres growing.
By 1890 his citrus and mango trees numbered 2400 and he also grew maize and sweet potatoes along with a herd of sound milking cattle.
Along with JJ Montgomery, John G. Robbins, John Tresize, John S.D. Crees and Andrew Jack, Reynolds petitioned to the Railway Department in 1896 on behalf of the Divisional Board to build a tramway from Port Douglas to Mossman to service the 3000 acres of cane land that depended on the development to become productive.
While this approach was rejected, the Divisional Board successfully applied to the Government the following year, with the tramway officially opened by then board chairman Andrew Jack - an inaugural Douglas Shire councillor killed in the 1911 cyclone - on August 1, 1900.
The Douglas Shire covered an area 940.8 square miles - or in today’s money, 2436.7 square kilometres - and existed as a local government entity until 2008 when residents lost the fight to keep their council independent after it amalgamated with the City of Cairns to become the Cairns Region Council.
In fact, the fight continues today - a decision to break away from the Cairns Regional Council is currently being assessed by the Boundaries Commissioner Colin Meng before being reviewed by the Local Government Minister David Crisafulli.
There were 21 mayors in total and the last mayor, before the Shire merged and became the Cairns Regional Council, was Mike Berwick, who still lives in the region today.
FIRST CAR: The first car in Mossman: a Model-T Ford owned by R. Lunn decorated for the 1919 Victory Parade
PAVING THE WAY: the Douglas Divisional Board was instrumental in establishing a tramway between Port Douglas and Mossman