LOOK­ING BACK: SUE RAE

As one of the first real es­tate agents in Port Dou­glas, Sue Rae has clearly put her stamp on the town, as Pam Wil­lis Bur­den ex­plains

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

Peo­ple don’t know that and that an­noys me so much, when they talk badly about Skase be­cause he stopped Port Dou­glas from be­com­ing just a mess of hor­ri­ble lit­tle houses

Sue Rae

Born in Eng­land, Sue trav­elled over­land to Aus­tralia and af­ter work­ing in Thredbo and Tas­ma­nia, she ar­rived in Port Dou­glas in 1977 to take over the lease of the Co­conut Grove Mo­tel un­der the im­pres­sion that oc­cu­pancy was 99%. She soon dis­cov­ered it was only 19% for the 15 rooms, so she and her hus­band made the restau­rant and Jun­gle Bar their money-spin­ner. Cane farm­ers from Moss­man loved drink­ing there and en­joyed pop­u­lar dishes of the day in­clud­ing prawn cock­tails and Chicken Kiev. When Sue de­vised the sig­na­ture dish Grove Chicken – prawns stuffed into a chicken breast and deep fried – it was an in­stant suc­cess.

“You never knew peo­ple’s sur­names, it was just nick­names or first names. Like Kenny Chemist, and Kenny Fruit who ran the fruit and veg­gie shop which was op­po­site where Coles is now. When I got quite busy in real es­tate I was called St­ing Ray.

“Peo­ple think Car­ni­vale started in the 80s or 90s, but we had our first Car­ni­vale back in ’78 when the pop group Sky­hooks came, and we had 4,000 peo­ple here in a fenced lot in Warner Street. We had fancy dress com­pe­ti­tions and bi­cy­cle races on the beach and we called it Play Day. Diane Ci­lento and Tony Schaf­fer were judges and Daryl Greer, the lo­cal so­lic­i­tor, was dressed as Car­men Mi­randa.

“We only had a few shops, one of which was a big hard­ware shop, which is quite amaz­ing be­cause now we don’t have a hard­ware shop here. The Na­tional Bank which was then called CBC, used to come once or twice a week, and set up on the end of the fish and chip counter and that was how you’d do your bank­ing. The old post of­fice had the tim­ber desk and holes in the floor and was run by One-Eyed Bob.”

In the early 1980s Sue sold the lease at Co­conut Grove and re­turned to the pro­fes­sion she fol­lowed in Eng­land, real es­tate.

There were only 300 peo­ple liv­ing in Port and two other es­tate agents, Rosie and Bruce Den­shire, and Dave Thomp­son who worked for Ge­orge Quaid. Sue worked from home and joined Quaid’s agency when Dave left.

Sue bought a small piece of land where the Iron Bar is now, and built a pretty Mediter­ranean style arcade of shops, the first new ones to be built in Port Dou­glas.

She opened her real es­tate of­fice there and as a draw­card, ar­ranged with the new post­mistress Enid Paris to re­lo­cate the post of­fice. In the arcade, there was also a dress shop, a del­i­catessen and Dr Doug Quarry’s surgery. By this time, 1983, Sue es­ti­mates Port’s pop­u­la­tion had grown to about 1500 peo­ple.

In an ar­ti­cle about the de­vel­op­ment of Port Dou­glas in Busi­ness Re­view Weekly, Sue was quoted as say­ing “I didn’t come here to get rich quickly, it just hap­pened.”

Af­ter Sue sold the arcade in 1989 a TAB was in­stalled but was not suc­cess­ful and it was de­mol­ished to build the Iron Bar.

The town was grow­ing and the post of­fice wanted to ex­pand, so in 1989 Sue again col­lab­o­rated with Enid and built Macrossan Cen­tre which still houses the post of­fice. Later she changed the build­ing’s name to Lak­shmi af­ter the In­dian god of wealth and pros­per­ity.

Around 1983, Sue teamed up with Alan Cham­ber­lain and they built the first strata-ti­tled units, Las Pal­mas in Sand Street which still stand. She also bought the run-down house next door and re­stored it to be­come a grace­ful Queens­lan­der.

Sue lived in Sand Street for 38 years and went to the beach daily. Stingers were not a big prob­lem. “In those days they used to say don’t swim be­tween Christ­mas and Easter”, but she doesn’t re­mem­ber any­body ever be­ing stung.

The real es­tate busi­ness was steady. “In 1982 or ’83 I re­mem­ber I sold about six blocks of land to fish­er­men all in Ti Tree Street for $4000 or $5000. Prawn fish­ing was a very lu­cra­tive busi­ness. They’d make a lot of money and they’d own a lot of prop­erty.”

Land that Sue owned in Gar­rick Street was de­vel­oped to be­come Beach­comber Vil­las, the first ones to be sold off the plan.

“Af­ter that I was swamped with other peo­ple want­ing to do the same, so I sold the old Banana House, which was owned by Maxie Bow­den and Diana from Nau­tilus. It was just a ram­shackle thing sur­rounded by ba­nanas at the end of Macrossan Street.

“A lady from In­n­is­fail bought it and we de­signed Man­taray Apart­ments and sold all those off the plan and then we did Drift­wood next door. Then we did Her­itage Vil­las. She used ar­chi­tects and my in­put was to de­cide which at­trac­tive fea­tures we should put in, like mar­ble or brass taps or tim­ber. We didn’t need to ad­ver­tise much be­cause you had Table­lands and Cairns peo­ple buy­ing.

“Then Christopher Skase ar­rived.

He came to my of­fice and said he wanted to buy a beach house or a unit on the beach. So I took him up to the look­out and showed him the ex­pan­sive beach and he said ‘What’s hap­pen­ing to all that land from the end of Sand Street to the end of Four Mile?’ and I said ‘Ac­tu­ally the Lands Depart­ment have plans for that, they’re go­ing to cut it up into 600 square me­tre blocks’ and he just shook his head.

“Peo­ple don’t know that and that an­noys me so much, when they talk badly about Skase be­cause he stopped Port Dou­glas from be­com­ing just a mess of hor­ri­ble lit­tle houses. So he said ‘I want that’ and I said ‘Well, you want part of that for your beach house’ and he said ‘No, I want all of it’. And he got it.

“But he did buy from me. He bought the whole build­ing of the Ter­races on the Es­planade and he bought all of North Ter­races, and they were the largest sales in Port Dou­glas ever. I think one was one mil­lion and one was two mil­lion. That was 1984.

“In all my deal­ings with Christopher, he was just an ab­so­lute gen­tle­man and straight­for­ward and re­ally good to deal with. He set the stan­dard with the Sher­a­ton.”

Sue thinks he and John Mor­ris de­vel­op­ing the Reef House, or Ren­dezvous as it is now called, was a very good idea be­cause it was built for the Sher­a­ton staff.

“You’d get the peo­ple who were work­ing shift work all to­gether in that area, and they wouldn’t be dis­turb­ing other peo­ple when they came home.”

Sue didn’t use a com­puter un­til 1996. She did all her in­voices by hand and mailed the con­tracts in­ter­state. She still doesn’t have a mo­bile phone.

“I had peo­ple com­ing into my of­fice, my reg­u­lar clients who bought a lot and they’d sign a blank con­tract and say ‘Sue if you think it’s good, go ahead, any­thing up to a mil­lion dol­lars’ which was a lot of money in those days. That’s how we did busi­ness - on trust and our word. Many were Mel­bourne peo­ple, friends for life. I still have them ask­ing my ad­vice to­day about real es­tate and val­ues.”

In 1992, Sue went to In­dia to do vol­un­tary work. “I got fed up with talk­ing about money and prop­erty 24 hours a day. I thought there’s got to be some­thing more to this life. And I’d done well and it was time to give some­thing back, to do some­thing else.” She stayed in In­dia for six years.

She’d put a man­ager into her agency and sold it in 1994. She also sold Macrossan House for strata of­fices and re­grets that her flour­ish­ing palm trees and win­dow boxes of bougainvil­leas are no longer there.

“When I came back from In­dia I had the hol­i­day vil­las built, Om Kara in Sand Street. I lived in one and rented out the other two.

“I only have one left now, which I’m try­ing to sell. I feel there’s enough hol­i­day ac­com­mo­da­tion now and it’s en­croach­ing too much on the res­i­den­tial ar­eas of town.

“When I first came here, there were a lot of pole homes and peo­ple used to build in the trop­i­cal style. There’d be a hand basins made out of clam shells, and you re­ally felt you were to­tally in the trop­ics, with no air con­di­tion­ing and no fly screens.

“Now every­body wants ev­ery­thing en­closed, a house like they’ve had in Mel­bourne or a house like they have in Syd­ney, and it’s lost that trop­i­cal feel to a cer­tain ex­tent.

“But now it’s so di­verse but it’s still lovely. You can still have a won­der­ful life here.

“Wak­ing up in par­adise ev­ery day, re­ally I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t say how lucky am I, when you look at the planet and all the aw­ful places there would be to live, and you wake up here.”

Sue Rae to­day. In­set above: Fea­tured in BRW in 1988. Right: At Las Pal­mas with block­worker Frank Bills

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