Launch of new Historical Society book

Tue 16 Feb 

Launch of new Historical Society book

By Roy Weavers

As first reported on Newsport, February 8th, the Douglas Shire Historical Society launched a new publication entitled “Raindrops and Sugar Crops – Tales from South of the Daintree” edited by Pam Willis Burden at Mossman Library yesterday at 3pm.


The launch was conducted in front of a very special invited audience by Councillor Julia Leu in the presence of Cairns Regional Council Mayor Val Schier.


This book contains edited extracts of 31 oral histories recorded with residents of Mossman, Daintree and Mowbray between 2006 and 2009. Old photos are also included. It is a sequel to the very successful “Port’s People”.


The Society provided us with details from some of the interviewees who are from extremely culturally diverse backgrounds.  Quite a few of them were present at the launch.


Those able to attend were as follows,

- Sev Andreassen who has farmed sugar cane all his life and is the 3rd generation of his family to live at Mowbray. His Norwegian grandfather transported the machinery for the Mossman Mill on the lighter Bee in 1897. Sev remembers travelling up the Bump Track to Julatten.

- Diane Cilento originated the Karnak Playhouse in the rainforest with her husband, playwright Anthony Shaffer. She tells stories of the struggle to establish the theatre and the many famous people who are attracted to perform in this unique setting.

- Joe Noli, Frank Rossignoli, Peter Rossi, Rose Gusmeroli and Alfio and Maria
are from Italian families who made a success working in various areas of the cane industry. They speak about living in a strange country with a strange language, and how their families worked hard to adapt to a new life. Joe lives on the original Cedars selection and Peter’s family bought Shannonvale from pioneer Thomson Lowe in 1923. Rose vividly remembers the bomb falling at Miallo during World War II. Later she ran the Miallo phone exchange. (Frank and Alfio are not able to be at the launch)

- John Anich’s family came from the former Yugoslavia and he became the longest serving pharmacist in Mossman. He and his wife Annette describe how the chemist shop changed, and about the history of their farm at Finlayvale.
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- Roseanne Bloomfield and Daphne Naden were raised in the Daintree Mission and Roseanne experienced the move to Mossman Gorge. She is now an artist. Daphne’s parents were traditional elders of the Kuku Yalanji.

- Annette McArthur’s grandfather started the Photo Play Theatre, Mossman’s first cinema, about 1912. He also had the first car in the district. Annette will be coming from Brisbane for the launch.

- May Smith trained as a nurse at Mossman Hospital and finally became the Matron. She investigated the Daintree Ulcer as part of her MSc studies.

- Ron Schild is the only pineapple farmer in Mossman. He is also a keen bushman who has climbed many mountains in the area.

- Lily and George Fischer, Eva Denman and Alex Lyall grew up in Daintree, children of Aboriginals who were exempted from ‘under the Act’. Their parents owned their own farms. Alex became a ringer and worked on cattle stations throughout Queensland. Lily and George’s niece Lorna Schuan is a traditional healer at Mossman Gorge.

- Val McCracken’s family came from Yugoslavia – her grandfather arrived with eight children in 1909. Val became a teacher at Miallo school then married the late Charlie, a cane farmer and bushman who revived Aboriginal walking tracks.

- Katy Spider was a housekeeper for many years travelling around the Tablelands until she came back to Mossman to foster Aboriginal children.

- Norm O’Donoghue’s grandmother was locked up for shooting a Kanaka who broke into her house while her husband was away. Luckily the man lived and Norm still has the bullet. His story of going to the dentist is horrifying.

- Roy Gibson and Raymond Buchanan were instrumental in developing Dreamtime Tours at Mossman Gorge.

- Ethel Woods and Shirley Vico are both hard working volunteers of the Mossman community. Ethel took 10 years to raise money to build the Mossman Olympic Pool, and Shirley is still working on an aged-care facility. Ethel had the only dress shop in Mossman for many years and Shirley’s grandfather was a local butcher. Shirley lives at Fairymount, one of the oldest Queenslanders in the area.

- Col Graves and Bernie Jack introduced the first computer into the Mossman Mill in 1971. They describe how it revolutionised the manufacture of raw sugar. Bernie’s grandfather Andrew, a local Councillor, was killed in the 1911 cyclone. Bernie’s wife Cathy was a Matron of Mossman Hospital. Unfortuneately the following people were unable to attend - Susie Stafford and Gregg Watson grew up on two of the oldest and largest canegrowing properties in the area. Susie’s family the Johnstons established Drumsara and the Watson and Crawford families established Brie Brie. Both families had members on
the board of the Mossman Mill and Gregg is still a Director

- Bob and Diane Crimmins recently sold the only Funeral Directors business between Cairns and Cooktown. It had been in the family for 3 generations.
And the following people were sadly too ill to attend the launch – Ian Osborne is the 3rd generation of a pioneering family in Daintree who first settled there in 1882. His grandchildren still live in Daintree. His mother was the post mistress
for many years and his family ran boats to connect Daintree with Port Douglas and Cairns before the road went through. The family ran a dairy farm which supplied the Daintree butter factory.

- Walter Mullavey’s grandfather knew explorer Christie Palmerston. Walter is the oldest person still living who was born in Port Douglas Hospital, which closed in 1930. He built boats at Mossman Junction, which is no longer navigable.

- Frank ‘Salty’ O’Rourke tells stories of being a ‘ratbag’ growing up in Mossman,
sneaking into the picture show and playing up on the train going to the Anzac Day Parade to Port Douglas.

- Gladys Pitt was evacuated to Mossman from Thursday Island during the war. She worked in the local laundry with her aunt, played basketball every weekend and then joined a travelling snake show.

- Roy Ives, who sadly passed away last June, was CEO of the Douglas Shire Council during the Bloomfield Blockade and the building of the Sheraton Mirage. His family pioneered farming at Cooya Beach.


Editors Comments - What a fantastic achievement this publication is.  To preserve the heritage of the area in this way is just wonderful and we owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pam and her team for undertaking this enormous labour of love.  Well done...