Lo­cal coun­cil steeped in his­tory

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - 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

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