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Mossman, QLD

Far North Queensland town surrounded by sugar cane plantations.

Like most of the hinterland towns in Far North Queensland, Mossman leads a Cinderella-like existence. It has two significant attractions: in the sugar cane harvesting season the trains bringing sugar cane to the mill actually travel down the main street (an unforgettable sight for visitors - very "unspecial" for locals) and the Mossman Gorge is a genuinely beautiful stretch of tropical rainforest where local Aborigines can tell their tales and introduce visitors to traditional Aboriginal life. Beyond that the town has a few interesting historic buildings but it is basically a town which remains forever in the shadow of the attractive beaches along the coast and the tourist charm of Port Douglas.


Mossman is located 1,760 km north of Brisbane on the Bruce Highway. It is 78 km north of Cairns and 21 km north-west of Port Douglas.


Origin of Name

It is amusing that Mossman was named after a man named Mosman but changed because of confusion with the suburb of that name in Sydney. It was named by the explorer George Dalrymple in 1873 after Hugh Mosman whose main claim to fame is that he found gold at Charters Towers in 1872. There is a statue of Mosman and his Aboriginal servant, Jupiter, in Charters Towers.


Things to See and Do

Mossman District Hospital
This is a hospital unlike any you have ever seen. Located on Johnston Road, the Mossman District Hospital is an example of a pavilion plan hospital of the early twentieth century. Of the 78 pavilion plan hospitals and wards erected in Queensland between 1901 and 1938, only 23 were still intact by 1996. At the Mossman District Hospital, the original layout of separate, but walkway-connected, single-storeyed pavilions remains evident, despite later additions. The hospital illustrates a particular philosophy of hospital design popular in Queensland from 1900-1940. The principal pavilions built in the 1930s - the main wing and kitchen block, maternity ward, original nurses' quarters, and doctor's residence - still exist as do the 1936 nurses' quarters, the operating theatre (1940) and staff quarters (1949). The use of deep surrounding verandas is important as an example of the adaptation of pavilion ward design to a sub-tropical climate.
The buildings retain much of the attractive original exterior detailing in the Spanish Mission style and are set in lush gardens against a mountain backdrop and with early decorative concrete arches to the street entrances. It is the only public hospital in Queensland with Spanish Mission style exteriors. 

Exchange Hotel
Located at 2 Front Street, the Exchange Hotel was once the most handsome and most upmarket hotel in the town. The Queensland Heritage Register notes that: "By 1935 the Mossman Chamber of Commerce noted that the Cook Highway had been responsible for great business activity and building in Mossman, and that 'the Exchange Hotel (damaged by the cyclone last year) has been entirely rebuilt, and is now one of the largest, finest, and most up-to-date in appearance and has done much to improve the look of the town' ... On 10 April 1935 the Cairns Post noted that the Exchange Hotel bar was open, with the building being put in order to accommodate boarders, ‘and [it] will supply a long felt want during the tourist season' ...  In June that year the same newspaper commented that ‘with implicit faith in the great expansion of Mossman and the stability of this wonderfully fertile district, the owner, Mrs D. O'Brien, has had erected this really palatial hotel'. It was also claimed that the hotel was the ideal rendezvous for tourists, who could by car view ‘some of the finest scenery in Australia'.
The June 1935 article reported that the hotel had 12' (3.7 m) verandahs to the front and rear, with ladies' and gentlemen's bathrooms and showers on the rear verandah (Mill Street wing and Front Street wing respectively), along with lavatories (water closets) connected to a septic system. The remainder of the rear verandah was enclosed with casement windows, while the front verandah offered scenic views, including of the Good Shepherd, a rock formation on Mount Demi. The ground floor possessed a bar of large dimensions, with an Amatice refrigerator of ‘heroic' size in the centre, encircled by counters. There were parlours to the rear of the bar and also two small alcoves for cards. There was a ‘very roomy' downstairs lounge, separated from a coffee room by folding doors. These doors could be folded back to create a dance floor which occupied two thirds of the Mill Street frontage. A main stairway ascended to the first floor corridor from the lounge. Also on the ground floor were a dining room and kitchen opposite the coffee room (in a rear wing, since demolished, off the east end of the Mill Street wing), and a billiard room and shops (a hairdressing salon and a drapers shop according to a c1935 Licensing Inspector's report; these were located at the south end of the Front Street wing). The staff quarters were in a separate detached building (a cottage, extant in 1975 but since demolished).
There were reportedly 31 bedrooms (1940 plans of the hotel show 30) located on the first floor, which were roomy, well ventilated and lit, with a built-in corner wardrobe and corner wash basin, with running water ‘if necessary'. There was a different colour scheme in each bedroom, and a central upstairs lounge had built-in cupboards for linen. Each bedroom opened onto both a central corridor and a verandah. A power house containing a Ruston-Hornsby engine and a generator provided electric lighting and also powered a pump for well water. Lock-up garages were provided. At this time the hotel was under the care and supervision of a company - Mesdames Kenny, Nugent and Fynn. The Exchange Hotel was part of a pattern of increased hotel luxury in the 1930s. Hotel designs of this decade in Queensland employed a variety of modern styles, including Spanish Mission, Functionalist and Art Deco. Often on corner sites with features such as rounded facades, sweeping horizontal or vertical ornamentation, cantilevered awnings and hipped, tiled roofs, these new hotels offered a higher standard of accommodation and comfort for patrons and guests than older establishments." For more details check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602803.

St David's Anglican Church
Located at 3 Foxton Avenue and designed by Edward Taffs and Edwin Roy Orchard, St David's Anglican Church was constructed between 1912 and 1952. It replaced a previous church which was destroyed by the 1911 cyclone. The Queensland Heritage Register notes of the church that "The lengthy construction period combined with the perseverance and dedication of the local minister, Reverend Taffs, exemplifies the pattern of the development, establishment and resilience of the former Anglican Diocese of Carpentaria (1900-1996) in far northern Queensland. The church embodies its ongoing struggle to establish a presence and raise funds for building projects during the first half of the twentieth century. Also the self-reliance that many ministers and their parishioners displayed is reflected in the idiosyncratic nature of the design and materials of St David's Church at Mossman ... St David's Anglican Church is set behind an avenue of substantial, fern-clad raintrees (Samanea saman) forming an archway along part of the Captain Cook Highway (Foxton Avenue) that takes road travellers out of the centre of Mossman toward Daintree. These trees and the beautiful arbour they make, as well as the unusual use of stone and Byzantine-influenced design details in the church, make an important aesthetic contribution to the town of Mossman." For more details check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602760.

Mossman Shire Hall and Douglas Shire Council Chambers
Located at 8-14 Mill Street, the Mossman Shire Hall and Douglas Shire Council Chambers is a fascinating example of an attempt to solve unemployment during the Great Depression. In 1933 a new council had been elected with R.D. Rex as the Chairman. They decided to improve town facilities. The Queensland Heritage Register records: "In August 1934 Rex proposed that the council borrow £4,250 and use subsidies from the Queensland Government's Unemployment Relief Scheme to build a new shire hall and council offices at Mossman on a 1 acre (0.4ha) site in the centre of the town, to which council had held the title since 1903. The Unemployment Relief Scheme was part of the Forgan Smith Labour Government's strategy to support employment." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=602758.

National Bank of Australia Building
Located at 11 Mill Street, designed by prominent Queensland architect, Lange Leopold Powell, and built in 1935, the Queensland Heritage Register notes that "One of the most distinctive qualities of the building was the impressive temple-like street facade. The use of classically derived stylistic elements was a recurring theme in banking architecture in Queensland, and Australia generally, from the nineteenth century well into the middle of the twentieth century and was very popular during the 1920s and 1930s. Imposing, well-balanced designs symbolised all that banking institutions hoped to convey about the reliability and dependability of their businesses ... The facade is temple-like in its symmetrical composition comprising a number of elements of classical origin including widely spaced Doric columns between plain pilasters supporting a simplified entablature and cornice. The columns and surrounding architrave have a terrazzo finish as does the exterior and portico walls to approximately one metre above ground floor level." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601542.

Sugar Mill Tours
Historically the Mossman Sugar Mill ran tours of the mill from June through to November but currently those tours are cancelled. Check out http://www.mossag.com.au/index.html to see if the situation has changed.


Other Attractions in the Area

Mossman Gorge
The Mossman Gorge Centre is located 3.5 km south-west of Mossman and the Mossman Gorge Lookout is another 3 km on the Mossman Gorge Road. Mossman Gorge is part of the Daintree River National Park. It offers visitors a series of interesting rainforest walks and a rare opportunity to understand and experience the lifestyle of the Kuku Yalanji Aboriginal people.
Access to the gorge involves parking at the Gorge Centre and catching the shuttle bus (it departs every 15 minutes between 8.00 am and 5.30 pm) to the point where there are four walks (all short) through the rainforest and beside the Mossman River.

(a) Baral Marrjanga Walk - 270 m (5–10 mins  easy) leaves from the shuttle bus stop and passes through the rainforest to a lookout over the Mossman River. There are sections of boardwalk and the walk itself is suitable for wheelchairs and prams.

(b) Lower river track - 300 m (5–10 mins easy) runs beside the Mossman River, offers several lookouts and joins the Baral Marrjanga Walk.

(c) Rex Creek bridge - 460 m (10 mins easy) is a walk off the Baral Marrjanga Walk which leads to the Rex Creek Suspension Bridge.

(d) Rainforest Circuit Track - 2.4 km return (45 mins easy) starts at the Rex Creek Suspension bridge and makes its way through the rainforest. Along the way is the Manjal Dimbi (Mount Demi) Lookout. There are useful maps of the Walking Tracks, the Gorge Centre and the Area which can be downloaded at https://www.mossmangorge.com.au/getting-there/maps.
There is also an impressive Dreamtime Gorge Walk which takes 90 minutes and leaves the Gorge Centre at 10.00 am, 11.00 am, noon, 1.00 pm and 3.00 pm. Known as the Ngadiku Dreamtime Walk it includes a traditional ‘smoking’ ceremony; inspection of traditional huts or humpies; demonstrations of traditional plant use; stories about the Kuku Yalanji's special relationship with this unique tropical environment; how to make bush soaps; ochre painting and traditional bush tea and damper. For more information check out https://www.mossmangorge.com.au/experience/dreamtime-walks.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Mossman was home to the Kuku Yalanji

* Mossman was named by the explorer George Dalrymple in 1873

* A village was established in 1876 and the town was settled by 1877. 

* In 1883 the Brie Brie sugar mill began crushing sugar cane but it only lasted for two seasons.

* In 1893 a new sugar mill was constructed with government assistance.

* The Mossman River Post Office was opened in 1895.

* In 1896 the first sugar cane plantation was established in the area.

* In 1897 the Mossman sugar mill was opened. That year saw the construction of a railway line to the port.

* A primary school was opened in 1898.

* By 1899 there were 35 farmers producing sugar cane in the district.

* In 1900 a tramway was constructed between Mossman and Port Douglas.

* A Roman Catholic church was consecrated in 1906.

* In the 1906 sugar cane season the Mossman mill crushed 100,000 tonnes of cane.

* In 1933 the shire offices moved from Port Douglas to Mossman. The Cook Highway from Cairns opened this year.

* In March, 1934 a cyclone caused considerable damage to the town.

* On 31 July, 1942 the Japanese dropped a single bomb on the town. It injured a child.

* By 1971 the Mossman Sugar Mill was using computers to process sugar cane - it was the first in the world.

* By 1994 more than 950,000 tonnes of sugar cane were being crushed by the Mossman mill.


Visitor Information

There is no Visitor Information in Mossman. Two alternatives are the Port Douglas Tourist Information Centre, Macrossan Street, tel: (07) 4099 5599 and the Gorge Visitor Centre, 212 Mossman Gorge Road, tel: (07) 4099 7000.


Useful Websites

The best sites are the ones dealing with Mossman Gorge (see above). Beyond that there is the http://www.pddt.com.au/destination/mossman which is the official site for the local area.

Got something to add?

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2 suggestions
  • Saturday markets by the rain trees

  • I saw the weekend today show on Saturday 8th May. Weatherman was in your area. He featured a gallery and spoke to a local artist. I am trying to find the name of the artist. If you know please let me know. Thanks

    maxine deambrogio