Mossman born and bred
Mossman born and bred, John Anich has been a vital part of the Mossman community for decades and his passion for the place continues in his retirement, as
Opening his first pharmacy in the mid 1960s, John Anich has played an integral part in the lives of many residents of the Douglas Shire for many years, and those who have met him know he is very serious about many local issues.
It appears however, that when John was younger, he had a trickster side to him that belies the compassionate and responsible character many have grown to admire.
Born in 1933 to Croatian immigrant parents, Tony and Ema Anich, John spent his early days attending school at the small Cassowary Primary School where he and his mates played dreadful tricks on the teacher, Miss Cooper.
“Once we hid Miss Cooper’s cane and we all ended up having to sweep the school until the cane was produced,” John laughed, “although the culprit was never named.”
Some longstanding local families were involved with the school at that time and John remembers mates from the Vico, Fasano, Grepo, Gavranich, Sciacca, Berzinski, Bunn, Maugery and Rossi families.
“We had a culvert near the school and when it rained a lot, the water would flood over the road and we would all be sent home,” he said.
“So one day we organised some sheets of iron to block the culvert and as soon as there was a little rain, the road started to flood, and we all got to go home early.”
Miss Cooper, a very young woman at the time, took it all in her stride, and John still keeps in contact with her.
As there was no high school in the area at the time, John went to the boarding school, St Augustine’s, in Cairns where John’s penchant for tricks continued.
“I used to sneak out at night, climb the mango trees out the front of the principal’s office, gather up the mangoes into a bucket, and lower it down to a fellow student.
“There was a row of these trees and as I chose to climb the one closest to the pincipal’s office, it was the only one he never checked when he heard noises and saw all the mangoes in our room.
“It wasn’t until he was leaving Cairns that we told him how we got the mangoes and he was amused by it.”
John enjoyed boarding school because he “didn’t have to get up early to do farm work and then walk three miles to school”.
He very successfully completed his Senior Certificate and became apprenticed to a chemist in Cairns, as was the training process in those days.
“I worked there for 12 months and never got paid,” he said, “and I didn’t learn much as I was sent out on deliveries all the time – I was even sent to the local brothel!”
By 1954, John was called up for National Service which then comprised several months’ training. At his interview in Brisbane, he was not accepted due to a foot problem.
“I didn’t want to return to the chemist in Cairns so I got a job with Shell Co testing aviation fuel.”
After two years in Brisbane, John returned to Mossman. He and his brother Tony bought a farm at Finlayvale where they cleared more land, providing 170 hectares for cane.
“I learned how to clear land with dynamite and people would come to watch to show,” John laughed.
Life in Mossman was very different then, with dances held at least weekly, a cinema and lots of sports clubs and theatrical opportunities. John performed in several, singing in Brigadoon and West Side Story. John loves dancing so it wasn’t long before he was partnering Annette Power to the Catholic Debutante Ball.
“Annette was teaching at the new Mossman High School and she tells me the fact I wasn’t a big drinker appealed to her – plus I liked to dance,” he said.
By the late ’50s, the University of Queensland started a Pharmacy course and, after marrying Annette in 1961, John completed the course and they returned to Mossman.
In March 1965 John and Annette opened their chemist shop in Mossman which turned out to be a resounding success.
John was keen to provide excellent service to the community and made himself available to dispense medicine 24 hours a day.
“People would call me after hours and I always put myself in their shoes and responded to their request,” he said, “even when a woman rang me one Saturday afternoon after the shop was closed saying she had the wrong colour lipstick and she had to attend a wedding!”
John and Annette juggled running a shop, providing prescription services to Port Douglas and after hour services while raising five children – Peter, Michael, Stephen, Marie Louise and Geoffrey.
A bout of a serious illness, Guillian-Barre Syndrome, put John out of action for many months in the late ’80s and when he returned to full-time work 12 months later, he would often be found serving in the shop minus his shoes and in just socks as he had painful tingling in his feet, a condition which still affects him today.
John was devoted to his customers and his community. He has been a long term member of the Mossman Rotary Club and has been involved in many fundraising activities for various clubs and associations around the town.
“It is a shame that many young people left the area when the future of the sugar mill was under a cloud,” he said, “and organisations such as Rotary are still suffering from lack of members.”
John bought his brother’s half of the farm and still owns it, leasing it out to tenants. John and but sold the shop in 1997 however John continued working there until his ultimate retirement in 2010.
He loves spending time maintaining the farm and enjoys the chance to improve the land and the river.
“I seem to be busy all the time with the farm, Rotary, making jams and talking to people when I go to collect the mail,” he said. “One thing I would love to see come to fruition is the Mossman Botanic Gardens,” he said, being involved in the committee.
“Mossman is a nice place to live and a great place to retire.”
John’s devotion to the community was recognised in 1995 when he was named the Douglas Shire Citizen of the Year and the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2003.
John Anich with another batch of his renowned jam. Inset above: John and Annette on their 25th wedding anniversary in 1986. Above right: Cassowary school in 1944