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Road Trip: Far North Queensland, Part 3

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Hylton Wright at the bar of the Exchange Hotel, Mossman, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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A sugar cane train passes the Exchange Hotel, Mossman, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

The pubs of Port Douglas and Mossman

By MICK ROBERTS ©

WHEN the mill is open, pub business booms in the sugar cane town of Mossman.

We spoke with two publicans and a few local drinkers as part of our road trip to Far North Queensland, which took us from Cairns along the Captain Cook Highway to the bustling tourist town of Port Douglas where we visited two pubs before heading onto Mossman.

Port Douglas, 67km north of Cairns, offers two wonderful historic pubs, The Court House and Central Hotels.

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Central Hotel, Port Douglas, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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Central Hotel, Port Douglas, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

Typical Queenslander style pubs, with large shady balconies, they both have the unusual exoskeleton design, where outside timber joists are exposed over tongue and groove weatherboards.

Both pubs, established in the 1870s, thrive on supplying meals to the travelling public; their bistros are always busy, offering reasonably priced food to hordes of tourists.

These two pubs are a must for pub lovers visiting the region.

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Court House Hotel, Port Douglas, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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Court House Hotel, Port Douglas, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

After enjoying a beer, we travel the 30 minutes from Port Douglas to Mossman where we visit two of the sugar cane town’s three remaining pubs.

Until recently Mossman had four pubs. Sadly the historic Royal was reduced to ashes in a huge blaze in 2011. I last lent by elbow on the bar of this beaut Queenslander pub back in 1996, and it was gut wrenching to see a vacant lot where this magnificent landmark once traded.

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The Royal Hotel, Mossman 1996. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

Today you can find three pubs pouring the frothy stuff in Mossman – The Exchange, The Post Office and The Mossman.

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Mossman Hotel, Mossman Queensland, established in 1894 and rebuilt in 1955. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection 

Glen Henry made the move from western Sydney to Far North Queensland with his wife 16 years ago, and has been manager at the Post Office Hotel for the past two and half years.

“I was a duty manager at the Mossman Bowls and Golf Club before taking over at the pub,” Glen said between servings in what is a busy drive-through bottle shop at the side of the historic pub.

“I’m not good with names, but I know most people by their orders,” he said.

“That bloke always has a pot of ‘Gold’ with a dash of lemonade, while this bloke always has a rum and coke.”

The Post Office Hotel opened to service the workers of the nearby sugar cane mill, the most northerly in Australia, which opened in 1897.

Drinkers at the pub were made-up of mill workers and cane cutters, who included kanakas and Chinese at the turn of the century.

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Post Office Hotel, Mossman Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

The current Post Office Hotel replaced the original, which was destroyed by fire in 1931. The Cairns Post described the opening of the pub on June 6 1932:

The Post Office Hotel was opened on Tuesday night. From 7 to 8 the licensee (Mr. J. R. Dawson) dispensed free drinks to the public. The new hotel is a fine concrete building, and was erected by Mr. Page; the architects were Hill and Taylor, of Cairns, and the contractor Mr. J. J. Riley. The building has been elaborately furnished throughout with maple and oak suites. On the ground floor the dining rooms, bar, and lounge, are situated. Upstairs, there are a large number of single and double rooms, a lounge, and ladies’ and gentlemen’s bathrooms. The septic system is installed. A separate building houses the hotel staff. The rooms are lofty and spacious, and the stories, are connected with an oak stairway. Altogether the building and furnishing is a credit to the town.

The pub continues to rely on the nearby sugar mill, with its tram line passing the front door of the pub, to the present day.

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Post Office Hotel manager, Glen Henry with ‘Plug’ (left) and Peter Cleary. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

“Where else could you jump on the back of a sugar cane train and get a ride to the front door of your pub,” Glen said.

“When the mills open, everyone’s got money in their pocket, and business is good,” Glen said.

“The pub’s busiest two weeks are when the cane cutting season stops. There’s always plenty of money in peoples’ pockets from around June through to the end of the season in October or November.

“If the mill ever closed, the town would be buggered.”

Business was good when we dropped by the Post Office Hotel. The public bar was busy with mill workers, tradies, and a few old timers, sitting and standing at the bar.

Sugar mill retirees, Peter Cleary, 68, and his mate, ‘Plug’ also 68, call the Post Office their local.

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Plug’ and Peter Cleary at the bar of the Post Office Hotel, Mossman Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

“It’s the mill workers’ pub,” Peter said.

“Me and Plug both went to school in Mossman and did our apprenticeships at the mill.

“We’ve been drinking here for decades. It’s a real down to earth pub… That’s why we prefer drinking here.”

Down the road, and within five minutes stroll, can be found the largest pub in Mossman. The Exchange Hotel is currently owned by Kenny Marshman.

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Exchange Hotel, Mossman, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

Kenny has been in the hotel game for decades, previously running a number of hotels in Melbourne before taking the reins of the Exchange Hotel four years ago.

“We’ve spent a lot of money on the place,” Kenny said.

“We have completely refurbished the hotel.”

The Exchange Hotel is the second timber hotel to stand on the prominent site at the corner of Front and Mill streets. The first was built by Denis O’Brien, who also built the North Australian Hotel (now the Central) in Port Douglas in 1878.

The second was built in 1934-35 to replace the first Exchange, which was badly damaged by a cyclone in March 1934.

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Exchange Hotel, Mossman, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

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Hylton Wright at the bar of the Exchange Hotel, Mossman, Queensland. Picture: Mick Roberts Collection

The second Exchange Hotel was designed to appeal to a tourist clientele. Tourism to the district increased after the opening of the Cook Highway in 1933, with road trips to Mossman and the town of Daintree among the local attractions promoted to visitors to far north Queensland.

Sitting at the bar quietly downing a beer, 76-year-old Hylton Wright told me he had been a local at the Exchange Hotel for the past four years.

A retired Hunter Valley coal miner, Hylton made the journey from NSW to Newell Beach, about four kilometres north of Mossman, in 2014.

“I just got sick and tired of the cold,” Hylton said.

“I’m here every Tuesday and Thursday for a beer and a meal. I especially enjoy the smorgasbord. The pub provides good service and good company, so I keep coming back.”

The next leg of our Far North Queensland Road Trip takes us more than 250km north to Cooktown, where we visit a few historic pubs along the way and again get to meet the interesting folk from a unique part of the world.

Read the story here: The frontier pubs of Cooktown

© Copyright 2019 Mick Roberts

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Categories: Queensland hotels, review, Reviews, Road Trips

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1 reply

  1. There’s nothing quite as pretty as the Qld pubs with their ‘bones on the outside’.

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