Those great days and nights

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - LOOKING BACK -

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

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