Many of the settlers who followed the pioneers and gold speculators into the Port Douglas area in the late 1880s started growing their own crops of corn, fodder, fruit and vegetables, and beverage crops as they were much easier and cheaper to produce than to import from the southern cities.
Of these crops, sugar was proving to be the most viable and hopes were growing that a mill could be erected and a viable industry would establish. Miss Harriet Fanny Parker established a plantation mill on her property at Brie Brie (in Mossman). It produced only fifty tons in 1887 and then closed for good, but her efforts set the stage for the fledgling sugar industry in the Mossman-Port Douglas area.
In 1894, sugar cane farming settlers established a co-operative, mortgaged their properties to the Government and built the Mossman Central Mill, with a total of 2660 acres under cane. In 1896, the first crush produced 2965 tons of good quality sugar. The mill grew to become the first mill in Australia to crush more than 100,000 tons of cane in one season.
As Port Douglas was still the ‘central business district’ and port for the region, the Mossman Central Mill responded to the request, in conjunction with the newly established Douglas Shire, to extend the tramline from South Mossman to Port Douglas. In its first year of service, 1900, the service carried 23,000 passengers, and travelled nearly 6000 miles.
Prior to the cyclone in March 1911, Port Douglas had all the outward signs of a thriving town, a growing population which totalled 1,500 in 1900, local government offices, churches and a bank. Not to mention, 20,000 cases of Mowbray valley oranges and mandarins exported annually to the southern markets.
By 1914, however, Pugh’s Almanac shows the town population reduced to 250, and by the 1920’s even the Port Douglas Post Office was relocated to Mossman, opposite the Mill.
When the Captain Cook Highway opened in 1933, the shipping service was reduced, the hospital which occupied the site of the caravan park, was demolished, and Port Douglas was in eclipse.