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A Real Estate History of Port Douglas

By Kaz Stanaway

When  gold was discovered  in the Far North Queensland in the late 1870,s  the State Government moved quickly to establish the ports/towns necessary to accommodate the outflow of gold and the inflow of supplies, traders and prospectors.  As a result  the settlement  of Port Douglas was surveyed between  June/ October 1877 by Frederick Horatio Warner who I presume, left his legacy by choosing “Warner “ as the name for one of the new streets in the town – which still exists today. After various names the Queensland Government settled on PORT DOUGLAS and the typical “gold rush” town was up & running.

Some 171 town lots offered for sale in April 1878 at a going rate of 25.00 pounds per acre. Smaller lots were available including the site on the corner of Wharf and Macrossan Sts which sold for Six Pounds, fourteen shillings and four pence halfpenny. A hotel was built on this site which eventually became known as the Court House Hotel.  The town experienced its first real estate boom. By 1879 there were around  21 hotels, banks, government services offices and numerous traders and two newspapers. The population was numbered in the thousand’s and real estate transactions at this time would have been numerous and speculative. This period of expansion lasted until 1885 when the decision to locate the  railway into the interior from Cairns, abruptly put a halt to the development of Port Douglas. Over time the town declined  to the point where by 1901 there were only 4 pubs in town and  331 residents.

Events moved slowly. In 1960 the population of Port Douglas was around 100 people.   In 1984 the Cairns International Airport was opened and the region  experienced the advent of modern tourism. For Port Douglas, the opening of the Sheraton Hotel in 1987  (developed by Christopher Skase) really focused attention on this little known tropical hideaway and the town experienced its second real estate boom.  The writer is aware of transactions made during this time where land sold for 5 to 10 times the paying price within a matter of years. Numerous  smaller resorts and holiday accommodation complexes were built in the late ‘80’s  and again in the mid 1990’s. Generally these units and apartments were available for sale on a strata title basis and sales were brisk for the most part with southern buyers securing a slice of the paradise  that Port Douglas  had become. Celebrity spotting was becoming a past time in Port. This was accentuated by the filming of a number of movies  in the locale such as  “Travelling North”, “Sniper”, “The Thin Red Line”,  Paradise Road” and “Fool’s Gold”,  along with a  couple of TV series.

Notable developers during the last 30 years have been lead by John Morris who has been involved in many projects including the current Ramada Hotel, the current QT Resort,  the Reef Park subdivision  to name a few. John was usually working in association with the  Noli’s,  a local cane farming family. Narelle Wearne and her late husband made their mark with the creation of Club Tropical  which opened in 1989. The Mackay family developed a number of  ‘golden triangle” holiday accommodation including Beach Terraces, Beach Villas and The Portsea.  Bernt Berentsen was typical of many by building  Villa san Michele and Reef Club in the 1990’s. The Piat family have been active in Port since the 80’s  and their signature building, located on the corner of Davidson & Macrossan Sts., includes  Zinc  and Finz Restaurants  Steve Thomas developed his first property in Warner St in 1994 and continues to embark on new projects as we write. His Niramaya Signature Villas are due for imminent release.

Prominent real estate agents in ‘80’s/90’s who have moved on/retired were the Hawaiian shirted/ bare footed agent, David Thomas, who  allegedly did not possess a car and had the prospective buyers drive him around  – he sold plenty! Others include Sno Morrish who sold many Sheraton Mirage Villas and John Cooper who did likewise and ran an office from Wharf St. Sue Ray also earned a solid reputation as a top agent during the 80’s and 90’ and Peter Mcleod  was also well known at that time and came back again in early 2000’s for another stint

During the last 30 years Investors who bought low and sold high have obviously done well and this mantra continues to be the guiding light to real estate investors – particularly in  tourist regions like Port Douglas and surrounds. Currently the market has turned to reflect a more positive attitude and the 2014 year will prove to be active and  upbeat for both real estate buyers and sellers.

Alan Crossman  |  12 March 2014

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