1878 The North Australian Hotel, later known as the Central Hotel, was built as a single storey structure by Denis O’Brien, who arrived from Cooktown with his wife Teresa Finlay and daughter when Port Douglas was a tent town. O’Brien also built the Exchange Hotel in Mossman in 1896. The number of licensed hotels in the district was 21 – 18 in town and three near the Bump Rd.
Out of a total of maybe as high as 23 pubs in Port Douglas’ heyday, only four were still trading: the Exchange, owned by F.D.A. (Frederic Detlep Andreas) Carstens of Copenhagen (opposite the Central Hotel), the North Australian, owned by Bridget Tait, (to become the Central in 1919), the Caledonian owned by Robert McLean on the corner of Warner and Wharf streets, and the Court House Hotel owned by Annie Rose formerly Buchanan.
March 16: A cyclone devastated Port Douglas and surrounding countryside, the second “blow” within five weeks. Within 24 hours, 16 inches of rain fell. Only seven out of 57 houses were left standing with 100 persons left homeless. There was similar damage at Mossman. Mrs Bridget Tait’s North Australian Hotel was rebuilt as a two-storey hotel. Some of it survives today as the Central Hotel. Bridget ran the hotel with four of her daughters (Liz, Ag, Mag and Ethel) for many years, having come from Irvinebank and Montalbion.
The North Australian hotel was renamed the Central.
March 9: The Licensed Victuallers Licence for the Central Hotel was suspended during the War and lifted on February 22, 1945. Elizabeth Tait held the licence from 1927 until 1945 when it passed to Rachael Mary Frost.
September 3 Ken Shirley was the licensee of the Central Hotel from 1964 until April 8, 1966. Ken’s wife Bille had purchased the hotel before Ken discovered the Poseidon nickel mine in 1969 in WA which created a stock market boom.
Mocka’s Pies, made to his mother Belle’s secret recipe, was established by Maurice ‘Mocka’ Cheyne in the Central Hotel. In 1973 they moved over the road to the Rainbow Café in Macrossan St. The pies were very popular and were franchised in Melbourne and the Gold Coast. Census population was Douglas 4072. Port Douglas 377.
Former US President Bill Clinton was in the bar of the Central Hotel at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11.
Central Hotel had permission from Douglas Shire Council to remove its motel units. It recently renovated its kitchen and will relocate its gaming room from ground floor into two existing motel rooms. Owners are the Hilrok Hotel Group.
The Central Hotel turns 140 this year, though October 6 isn’t its historical date.
Timeline complied by Pam Willis Burden and Noel Weare from the Douglas Shire Historical Society.