The day Port Douglas lost a battle with the weather


Karlie Brady


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WINDY: Wreckage of timber houses and buildings in Port Douglas after 1911 cyclone. Image: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

We are well into the wet season and the constant rain, summer storms and the threat of cyclones looming is something we’ve become used to living in tropical north Queensland.

In recent years, the town has been lucky enough to escape any major cyclone damage, with modern buildings better equipped to withstand weather events.

However, in 1911 the region was not so fortunate, hit by an event that would change the town forever.

On 16 March, 1911, a tropical cyclone blew through the Douglas Shire causing extensive damage, devastating the region and dropping 406mm of rain in just 24 hours.

A newspaper excerpt from the Brisbane Courier at the time of the event reports that the cyclone “was of extraordinary intensity” and “few buildings remain.”

In Port Douglas many residents sheltered in the Government Bond store to ride out the storm as it was believed to be a strong structure. 

However, it was no match for the strength of the cyclone with the occupants fleeing from the shaking building moments before it collapsed.

Two people were killed in accidents during the severe storm including councillor Andrew Jack, who died when a stack of timber fell on him at his farm in Killaloe.

The second fatality was Timothy Joseph O’Brien who was helping his mother and sister from their falling house when he was struck on the back of the neck by a piece of wood.

Two others were also critically injured by flying debris during the storm.

Port Douglas was virtually wiped out with about seven buildings left standing in the aftermath, leaving more than 100 people without a home.

Similar damage occurred in Mossman including damage to the Exchange hotel and the Mossman butcher shop.

Port Douglas sustained so much damage that the town pre-1911 and post-1911 would look very different.

Many of the buildings were never rebuilt due to the towns uncertain future, as industry continued to decline due to the Mareeba to Cairns train line, most trade bypassed Port Douglas in favour of Cairns.

The population of Mossman overtook that of Port Douglas as the sugar industry took off and the business centre moved from Port Douglas to Mossman.

Port Douglas reverted back to a sleepy fishing village with a bleak outlook for many years until the 1970’s and 80’s when tourists began to discover the hidden beauty of the region.

The town boomed again, this time bigger than ever with new buildings and developments.

It was the start of a new era for Port Douglas with a new look and a new purpose for the almost forgotten town.

Special thanks to the Douglas Shire Historical Society and the State Library of Queensland for the information supplied. 


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