Those great days and nights
The phrase ‘larger than life’ has been loosely touted about often, but when it comes to Wonga Beach resident Rod Miller it really does apply.
There’s not much Rod hasn’t achieved – champion marksman, karate instructor, pilot, commercial fisherman, roo shooter, motor mechanic – the list goes on.
Possibly ‘energetic entrepreneur’ is the best stamp for him because, when it comes to the Douglas Shire, he is probably known best as the man who started the first night club in Port Douglas.
The Cairns High boy successfully pursued a motor mechanics apprenticeship but soon saw that the world had much more to offer than tinkering with engines. He did a few years’ stint as a body guard for some of the then celebrities, both here and overseas, which gave him a taste for the high life.
His influence in Port Douglas began in the mid 80s when he started Silvers Nightclub which he said originally catered mainly for the hundreds of Sheraton Mirage staff.
“With about 350 staff between 18 and 30 years of age at the newly opened Sheraton, and you had to be single to work there, I saw the opportunity and went for it,” Rod said.
They were heady days for Port Douglas with Christopher Skase investing many millions of dollars into his development.
With the promotion of the Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas Resort, the destination soon became firmly entrenched on the international tourism scene which of course added to the success of Silvers Nightclub.
The list of celebrities who frequented the nightclub is impressive indeed, and Rod has photos to confirm its popularity with the glitterati.
“We had to close the doors four to five nights a week because it was a full house,” he said, “and on Sundays we would open at 6pm and by 6.30pm we had to shut the doors because we were at capacity.
“At one stage we were the largest retail outlet for Moet & Chandon vintage champagne in the country, going through 10 to 18 cases a week,” he said, “and is was $100 a bottle back then.”
Rod recalls with great affection many local characters who were his patrons - names like Bel Mocka, Olga Kingsley, Henry Christiansen and Steve Stonier to name a few.
And of course, Christopher Skase featured in several of the stories of Silvers Nightclub.
“Christopher would have private parties at Silvers and at the end of the night, tip each of my staff $300,” Rod said.
There were limited entertainment venues in Port at this stage, with the restaurant and cabaret Pier 319 being one of the other successful ones.
“Pier 319 was run by Les Bass, who was truly a most colourful and fabulous character.
“We had a good run right up to the pilots’ strike in ’89, but I was lucky,” Rod said, “as I had sold my nightclub just six weeks earlier and stayed on as manager.
“The pilots’ strike affected everyone in the area whether you were a nightclub manager, a gardener – everyone had a sad story.”
By 1990, the flights had resumed, and Rod Miller opened his next nightclub, Tide Tavern, which he ran for 5 years.
Bands would play well into the early hours and some of the well-known patrons would get up and perform.
“We had people like Bon Jovi up one night, John Farnham, and probably the most memorable was Guns N’ Roses who were staying in Port, and they came in nine nights in a row and performed free of charge.
“I remember when the whole crew of the then hit TV series, 21 Jump Street came to Port, including a very young Johnny Depp, and they paid me $1000 to work behind the bar for the night,” he said.
“Port was really alive in the 80s and the 90s with movies like Thin Red Line, Sniper and The Phantom being filmed around town,” Rod said, “and there would be cars going down Macrossan Street with props like human dummies with blood all over them hanging out the boot.
“We would have crayfish races and Henry Christiansen, a local character and fisherman would bring them in, the staff would number them with liquid paper and the patrons would bet on them.
“The winner would get their cray cooked and presented to them for dinner.
“Our bar at Tide Tavern was named Henry’s Bar after him – and one of my sons is too.”
In the mid-90s, Rod sold the tavern, had a break then went fishing for coral trout. He had a chance meeting with a Chinese entrepreneur on a flight, made a connection, built commercial fishing boats and became an importer/exporter.
Rod and his wife Michelle, who is a Biochemist, have been involved in developing biofuel at the Mossman Mill and started a venture at Lockhart River, using renewable plantation trees to produce biofuel.
Rod’s association with the Nynpul Kuntinhumpu people of Lockhart River is very dear to him, being Godfather to many and providing a half-way house for new mothers and their babies who have travelled to Douglas Shire.
“I now teach Chainsaw Operations certificate courses and Disaster Recovery,” he said, “and it takes me all over Queensland.”
Rod Miller is a generous man, with a wonderful litany of remarkable stories. He talks of the colourful characters of yesteryear in Port, however he remains a bright and colourful character himself, still in our midst ‘larger than life’.
Rod Miller’s done a lot in his time, having been around for the glory days of Port Douglas in its infancy. He was a stand out figure in those colourful days, which he talks about with Moya Stevens
Rod Miller at home in Wonga Beach. Inset: back in the day, hanging out with Guns ‘n Roses