Jack & Newell’s established a presence in Cairns in 1893, around the same time as the Cairns to
Mareeba rail link was opened.

By 1897 they had a forwarding and shipping agency and in 1899 they acquired premises adjacent to the Cairns wharves.

It is not clear whether Jack & Newell’s Cairns operation began as a retail outlet or not, but
what is apparent is that their agency business soon overwhelmed any retail endeavours in the coastal city.

In its early years the Cairns agency would have been kept busy supplying the firm’s expansive retail operations on the Atherton Tablelands, but as the business subsequently contracted, Jack & Newell in Cairns became a general forwarding agency.

Any businesses or sales representatives who needed goods collected from the wharves or railway, and then stored or delivered could pay Jack & Newell in Cairns to do so.

Over the years the Jack & Newell’s agencies included Castrol Oils, William Adams steel merchants, TNT trucking, Kraft foods, PMU and Nestles.

The Cairns business operated profitably through until the mid 1970s, when it was sold as part of a redevelopment of the Wharf St area.

In 2004, the 14 storey ‘Jack & Newell’ apartment building was opened on the site of Jack and Newell’s Cairns business.

Early days

In the early days of Jack & Newell in Cairns, the business was not only forwarding supplies up to
the Tablelands, it was also sending minerals south for sale.

Dave Headrick worked at Jack & Newell in Cairns around the turn of the century, and paints a wonderful picture of business in this era.

“Down on the wharf Jack & Newell had wolfram that was stored for about five years. It came from James Gully at Wolfram Camp. They had stuck to a man there and had to take the wolfram over at about £14 or £15 a ton. I had to go over it once a year with a gang of men and sew it up where the rats had been at it, and re-weigh it. Anyway, wolfram went up £26 a ton so they sold the whole lot of about 300 tons. Two months later it was £70 a ton, when
wolfram took a sharp rise.

E.B. Torpy had a silver-lead show at Chillagoe – Crooked Creek mine. He used to process the concentrates there and send it down. A boat called the “Holfel” used to come from Maryborough, 4 or 500 tons, every month or so. Wolfram, bismuth and molybdenite used to come from Wolfram Camp and we used to handle it all for Lempriere. Every week there were 3 or 400 bags of tin going out. Those were from outside places – Mt Garnet, the Tate and others.”
- Cairns Historical Society Bulletin #25, 26th February 1961

Facade facade!

It is still possible to see the original facade of Jack & Newell’s Cairns office at the base of the
Jack & Newell apartment building in Wharf St.

Or is it?

In fact, the heritage building proudly embossed with Jack & Newell & Co 1893 was actually the office of another shipping agency, Fearnley & Co Ltd, until 1939.

Jack & Newell’s registered business was originally the lot next door, however in 1939 they
bought out Fearnley & Co and proceeded to render the building, obliterating the original
embossed names of “Fearnley & Co and Bartlams Ltd” and replacing it with their own name.

The date 1893 refers to the establishment of Jack & Newell in Cairns, not Jack & Newell’s business at this Wharf St address.

Jack & Newell’s original premises were demolished prior to the construction of the Jack & Newell apartment building.

The QLD Environmental Protection Agency has written a detailed significance assessment of the former Jack & Newell building

Amidst the Barbary Coast

Jack & Newell’s Cairns agency and warehouse was set amidst a notorious drinking area of
Cairns, known as the Barbary Coast.

Pauline Clarke began work at Jack & Newell in Wharf St in 1961, and remembers …

“on the corner of Wharf and Abbott St was the Great Barrier Reef Hotel which still stands,
and then looking from the wharf toward Jack & Newell beside the driveway on the left was the Oceanic Hotel and then beside it on the corner of Wharf and Lake St was the Royal Hotel … I also recall the Criterion and the Australian, I think it was called. Because of the waterside workers, the hotels did a good trade.”

Singer songwriter Andy ‘Sugarcane’ Collins had a baptism of fire, playing the Barbary Coast in the 70s …

“… in the wild stretch of waterfront pubs, boozing and brawling were given equal opportunity. You either learnt how to fight or play well enough to please the fishermen, canecutters, miners, bikers and all manner of desperado who drifted around the north when Cairns was a sugarcane town and the end of the road on the east coast of Australia.”

Working in Jack & Newell’s office may have been Pauline Clarke’s first job out of school, but she says she wasn’t too bothered by the drinkers in the area …

Listen to Paulene Clark --- or simply read the text below

“There’d be drunks but I mean they really weren’t anything to contend with. I s’pose because I was young I sort of steered clear of them because I know when I used to carry the wages from the bank, because we banked at the ANZ in Spence St, and I always carried an umbrella with a spike on the end .. they must have thought I thought it was going to rain every day or something! Because all the shops were sheltered, you never walked in the sun much .. and you still carried it in bank bag, not like now you’d put it in something else but in those days it was just carried in the bank bag .. no, obviously it was safe otherwise I wouldn’t have been allowed to do it.”

Packing sugar

As Andy Collins remembers, Cairns was once a sugar town with an industrial port where up
to 1200 waterside workers were employed during the sugar season.

Until the mid 60s, sugar was packed into hessian sacks at the mills, and then transported to
the wharves by rail, where it was transferred into the holds of ships by wharf labourers.

Jack & Newell in Cairns had the contract with CSR to supply and clean the sugar bags, which included importing the hessian bags from India, clearing customs, and then distributing them
to CSR mills prior to the start of the crush.

As the crush got underway, Jack & Newell would collect the used bags from the wharf and
bring them back to their own sugar shed off Wharf St, where they were turned inside out and vacuumed of any remaining sugar, repaired if necessary, stacked and taken back to the mills to be reused.

According to Pauline Clarke, during the sugar season up to 15 men would be employed by Jack & Newell just to keep up with the volume of work …

“Once the season finished well that was the end of the workers, and then they were just all stood down. They were all sorts of nationalities too – I s’pose anyone that could a job basically, because those were the days of cane cutters too, so there was always people around looking for jobs.”

Cairns was getting busy

Jack & Newell in Cairnswas a busy office and agency, right through the 1970's.

Every day there were trucks coming and going to and from the wharves and the railway;
Jack & Newell storemen packing and dispatching orders; local garages picking up oils from Jack & Newell’s Castrol store; travelling sales reps dropping by with orders; and agents calling in to pay accounts.

But Jack & Newell wasn’t the only busy shipping and forwarding agency in the Cairns wharf district.

Right through the 60s, numerous firms operated within what was a lively and active port area,
as Pauline Clarke recalls …

Listen to Pauline Clarke --- or simply read the text below

“Well Burns Phillip they were in Abbot St, although their warehouse used to go through to Lake St. Samuel Allens was on the corner of Hartley and Lake St and then Adelaide Steam Ship was on the corner of Spence and Lake St. Howard Smith had an agency which was beside where the Cairns Post office is in Abbott St now but because we were forwarding agents and I had to sort of get all the shipping documents in order so we could collect any goods from the wharf, Id have to take them from our office to the Harbour Board whose office was on the corner across from Samuel Allens it was an old Queenslander building. They would be stamped there and I’d have to take them - mostly they were Samuel Allen ships that were in - and they would mark on the fees that were due and everything and that would have to be paid before they would stamp them, so that our drivers could then take the paperwork down to the wharf to collect the goods off the wharf.”

Whilst Jack & Newell were not by any means the largest of the forwarding agencies in Cairns, in the 1960s they employed 14 staff, plus the additional casual labour required for the sugar season. Three young women were employed just to manage the phones, the payroll and the paperwork!

But as Cairns moved into the 1970s, economic activity moved away from the industrial port. The construction of an automated bulk loading sugar terminal slashed wharf labour, while better roads shifted freight away from the port and the railway.

At the same time, tourism was growing. Waterfront activity gradually shifted to dive boats and the Port facilities followed suit.

With the changing face of Cairns, it became harder for operations like Jack & Newell to function as they had in the past, when the port was predominately a place of industrial activity and blue collar workers.

According to Rod Newell …

“we had to get out of Cairns because with parking and everything .. our trucks used to be parked across the road and they were on our backs. We eventually had to get out.”

Harbour on north side land was also proving more valuable for its amenity and views than for it value as a trading base for agencies like Jack & Newell

The land was sold, and the original sheds pulled down.

The facade and front office of the premises was retained and can still be seen today on Wharf St, at the base of the Jack & Newell apartment building.

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