Port Douglas & Mossman

While Jack & Newell are most enduringly associated with
Herberton, on the Atherton Tablelands,
the firm’s early success was also due to its business interests in Port Douglas.

In 1880, the very same year Willie Jack opened his first store in Herberton, he and mining partner John Newell also opened their own wharf at Port Douglas.

At the time, Port Douglas was just three years old in European terms, but it was already a busy trade centre. Port’s rapid growth was due its position as the coastal terminus for the ‘Bump Road’ – the first viable transport corridor linking the busy mining fields of the Tablelands with 'down south’ buyers and suppliers, via coastal shipping.

Originally an Aboriginal trail, the Bump Road ran from Port Douglas to Rifle Creek, near Mt Molloy. Until the opening of the first section of the Cairns to Kuranda Railway in 1891, most Tableland goods were moved over the wharves at Port and hauled over the Bump Track by teams of bullocks, mules or horses.

John Newell and William Jack were especially reliant on regular transportation. As tin miners and retailers based on the Tablelands, they needed to get their tin OUT and their retail supplies IN.

A base in Port Douglas was a business necessity.

Over the Bump Track

Mossman resident Walter Mullavey was born in Port Douglas in 1914, and has lived his whole life in the Douglas Shire.

He says his grandfather joined the Palmer River gold rush back in the 1870s, and went
mining with John Newell for a time, before returning to his family trade as a bullocky.

Then in the early 1880s, John Newell needed someone to get his tin down to the coast.

CLICK to listen to Walter Mullavey --- or simply read the text below

" John Newell found tin in Herberton and he had the tin but he had to get it to Port Douglas to ship it out. Therefore he got in touch with my grandfather to come and he started with two bullock teams working in Herberton bringing tin to Port Douglas.

He said to my grandfather, ...it is hopeless you coming one way empty, you can take my tin down and bring goods back up and I’ll start stores all the way along, from Port Douglas to Herberton... and that’s what he did.
And that’s what my grandfather had, goods from Port Douglas up to Herberton and tin back to Port Douglas. "

CLICK to listen to more of Walter Mullavey --- talking about the carting business in the 1880s

The 1908 Beche-De-Mer Royal Commission

In 1908 the Queensland Parliament established a Royal Commission to:

“Inquire into the Working of the Pearl-shell and Beche-de-mer Industries and Report regarding the Best Means of Securing the following objects, namely: --- (1) The Working of the Pearl-oyster Beds in such a manner as to avoid depletion, and to make the industry regular and permanent; (2) The Scientific cultivation of Pearl-oysters and the probabilities of success in that direction; and (3) The possibilities of encouraging White Divers with a view to their gradual substitution for Aliens in that capacity; and regarding any other matters or things relevant to the working of the Pearl-shell and Beche-de-mer Industries’’

Beche-de-mer, also known as sea cucumber, trepang or sand fish, lives amidst coral reefs in warm, shallow waters like those of tropical North Australia. In the late 19th Century, they were much in demand in China and South East Asia, for cooking and medicinal purposes.

On Saturday, 11 July 1908, Mr R.P. Tunnie, the Manager of Jack & Newell in Port Douglas, gave evidence to the Pearl-shell and Beche-de-mer Royal Commission.

He told Commissioners Captain J. Mackay and Mr G.H. Bennett that the firm supplied the fishermen going out to the reefs and also traded Beche-de-mer.

His evidence provides an intriguing insight into the early coastal business of the firm and also of the character of Far North at that time.

Read the Royal Commission Transcript

The Rise of Mossman

The Queensland Government’s decision in 1885 to choose Cairns as the terminus for a rail link
between the Tablelands and the coast was really the death knell for Port Douglas as the
Far North’s coastal hub.

By 1891 the railway had reached Myola, near Kuranda, and by 1893 it had reached Mareeba. Freight to and from the Tablelands was soon redirected to Cairns, reducing Port Douglas’ wharf business to local trade.

Fortunately for Jack & Newell, sugar cane was finally proving commercially viable around Mossman, 15 kilometers to the north west. In 1897, the Mossman Sugar Mill crushed its first cane. The crop would soon take over from dairying, rice and fruit growing as the mainstay of the district’s economy.

Jack & Newell moved with the times. By 1901 they had opened a general store in Mossman, and set about supplying the needs of a growing sugar town.

CLICK to see what Jack and Newell were advertising in 1901.

CLICK to see the interior of Jack and Newell in Mossman, c 1920.

Carrying Cane Farmers
Jack & Newell’s business strategy was to recognize the cycles of the local economy and match
their billing practices accordingly.

In the case of their Mossman store, that meant accommodating the annualized payment system of the cane industry.

When Walter Mullavey’s family were cane farming in Mossman in the 1920s, farmers had to wait for two years to receive their final payments for a cane crop. In the meantime, they still needed to feed their families and service their farms, which is where Jack & Newell came in.

Just as they did on the Tablelands for tin miners, Jack and Newell in Mossman allowed cane farmers to book up goods and pay for them when they received their cane payments.

CLICK to Listen to Walter Mullavey --- or simply read the text below

"Well you came and got whatever groceries or whatever you needed and you got an account every month, they never expected any money until the final pay for the sugar. "

" Because you plant your cane in May, June, July, it takes twelve months to grow then you cut it, and then you’ve got to wait another twelve months to get your final price…your final money … and this is where it made it hard for a lot of new farmers, especially foreigners who came in from Italy and there was a couple from Russia and Poland … and that’s how they operated. "

" Nearly everybody could get credit there, nearly anybody. "

Better Than Any Bank

Jack Crimmins was doing the accounts for Jack & Newell’s in the 1950s.

By this time Jack & Newell’s business was even more entrenched in the cane industry. Their billing practices still reflected the payment cycles of the cane industry but the firm also had made arrangements with the local Cane Growers Co-operative.

Jack Crimmins says for the most part, Jack & Newell would work with farmers having difficulty clearing their debts, and were content to wait out bad years.

But if a farmer was proving reluctant to pay their bill, Jack & Newell could arrange for payment directly from the farmer’s cane payments, before it went into the farmer’s bank account.

If a farmer walked off their farm, as many did in the history of the industry, Jack & Newell would take over the farm in lieu of the debt.

CLICK to Listen to Jack Crimmins --- or simply read the text below

"They were better than any bank, they stood them from one crushing to the next. Once the cane pay finished, well there was no more payment for the cane farms for six months. Jack and Newell would book them up for 12 months and wait for the next crushing to start. There were a couple that didn’t like to pay and they would take what they’d called a 'lien' out on their cane payments, if the cane farmer signed the paper, just like the cane cutters, and the mill would then take so much out of their mill pay and pay their bill. But that was only a couple, two or three of them.
But Jack and Newell ended up by owning a couple of cane farms because they went broke and couldn’t pay their accounts. I know they owned two cane farms when I started there.

So if I am someone who hasn’t paid my bills and Jack and Newell takes over my farm, do I get kicked off the cane farm?, does it get sold? What happened?"

"I don’t know originally how it happened how they ended up with the two cane farms, whether they got kicked off .. I think they just walked off and left the two farms and then
Jack and Newell would put on somebody to lease it .. lease it out to them. But it didn’t happen too often because they had patience. They just waited and waited for cane farmers to come good and pay their accounts and they were better than any bank, I know that for sure … they never charged any interest, the account would go on for six months and there was never any interest charged."

And do you feel that without Jack and Newell more people would have left the cane industry in this part of the world?

‘Liening’ on the cane cutters

Throughout North Queensland, sugar cane was harvested by hand, right through until the late 1950s.

Cutters would arrive in the Mossman district in time for the harvest in May, June or July, stay on the farms and work, then depart
when the cut was complete, usualy by November or December.

Jack & Newell wanted to service the cutters, but it had a problem. The cutters did not come into town during business hours, as they were working a six day a week job; and more importantly, the firm was reluctant to extend credit to itinerant workers, who could leave town without suffering the consequences of an unpaid bill – unlike the locals.

The firm developed a payment system to accommodate the needs of the cutters and the needs of their business, known as an order or a 'lien', as Jack Cummins and former Jack & Newell bookkeeper Joyce Anderson (nee Evans) explain:

CLICK to listen to Jack and Joyce’s comments   --- or simply read the text below

" Before the crushing started every year, the cane cutters would sign an order that gave the cane growers (association) permission to take their groceries out of their pay. They’d sign this order at the beginning of each crushing, and each week the accounts go up to the cane growers, the cane growers would take their account out of their pay and pay Jack & Newell. "

If I was cane cutter and I didn’t want to sign that order, could I come to Jack & Newell?

Joyce: I would say so yes
Jack: Anybody will take cash!

But was there any suggestion that if you didn’t sign the order, no work?

Jack: " No .. but there’d be no groceries because they were all coming and going in those days, you couldn’t trust them coming and going because they’d be here one week and gone the next week see, so you didn’t give them accounts. So they had to sign their order so Jack & Newell could get paid "

So it gave security to Jack and Newell, because the cane cutters were so transient?

Joyce: Yes

Flying Cash Boxes

In 1981, Jack & Newell’s in Mossman was sold to the Cane Growers Co-operative. These
days it
operates as Mossman Home
Hardware, and the interior of the premises still retains the upstairs office built by Jack & Newell.

Before the days of cash registers, Jack & Newell’s cashier worked up in the upstairs office, and staff at the retail counters would send cash and dockets up for processing via an old flying fox system.

According to Kevin Marsh, they used to put the cash in a cup and fire it like a shanghai (sling shot) to the office upstairs. At Mossman, the cashier had three separate lines coming in, one each from the drapery, hardware and grocery sections of the store.

Imagine the sight of small cups of cash whizzing overhead, on three separate lines! Retail would certainly have been a very different experience. Joyce Anderson says you had to be very organised.

Jack & Newell used this system at their Mareeba, Chillagoe and Herberton stores as well, but the practice was phased out during the 1950s, when small adding machines were developed.

Unfortunately, none of the old Jack & Newell cash carriers still exist; however if you pass Charters Towers, drop into their local museum, where you can see an operational Lampson Aerial Cash System.

More information about Port Douglas and Mossman