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Tue 31 Mar

Thursday 22 March 2012

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Port Douglas DNA under threat

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Gary Hunt speaking at the recent Melbourne Business School Consultation launch

Architect and long time local Gary Hunt sent this letter through to The Newsport for publication to open the debate about what he  sees is a very disturbing issue -  “Port Douglas – and the rest of the old Shire is reaching a crisis point where it’s very DNA is under threat”.

His full unedited letter reads as follows –

The essence of what makes this part of the world unique is being drastically stripped away by a small number of Council officers numb to the values that this community holds dear.

There is a major disconnect between elected representatives and the bureaucracy responsible for our part of the world.

The CEO, local Council Manager and a few other staff continue to condone the destructive vandalism of the coconut trees on Four Mile Beach in the name of “revegetation” and “community has already been consulted”.

What absolute rubbish.  And destruction totally in contravention of local planning policy.

This same executive also oversaw the debacle on Front Street Mossman.

And arguably one of the most appalling examples of urban design imaginable being the “revamped” Esplanade in Port Douglas.  A dysfunctional, ugly monument to a complete misunderstanding of the laid-back Douglas lifestyle.

Also they presided over the ugliness of a bright fence snaking its way up the headland on Island Point visible from miles out to sea in complete contravention of the visual amenity drivers in our still current Town Plan.

We have witnessed the manipulation of the so-called “community consultation” process resulting in a lagoon a tenth the size of the Sheraton pool set in an ugly urban spiders web of paths wedged between a church, licensed premises and what will become the busy entry road into the village.

How absurd.

I challenge the Council to close off the carpark area where the “ puddle “ is being built to see what impact it will have on the Sunday markets.

I am sure they won’t because the backlash would be deafening.

What can we do about this chasm between local values and fortunately just some isolated parts of the Council ?

When the amalgamation occurred I took the view it was better to work with the Council rather than fight it.  Work from within to ensure the best outcome for Douglas.

It has cost me thousands of dollars in lost income being on Council Boards and even Cairns-centric committees but I have now come to the realisation that under the current regime Port Douglas will just become another suburb of Cairns at great expense to ALL ratepayers. The homogenisation of what was once a unique and sometimes delightfully flawed place that fed the soul.

Interestingly – as a side bar comment – our local architectural, master planning and interior design practice has not received one cent in professional fees from this Council.  But they have spent a small fortune on consultancy fees from southern “experts” in our backyard.  This is not a whinge but emblematic of an attitude.

An attitude that I hear from so many other local providers commentating that they cannot get a foot in the door with this Council.

The case for de-amalgamation has become more potent as anger in the community grows.  The coconut tree debacle is the straw that broke the elephant’s back.

As a ratepayer could the CEO please answer the following questions?

1.      How much is Council charging the Douglas Division for travel costs, staff charges and equipment movements from Cairns to the ex Douglas Shire?

2.      How much has Council been charged for consultant fees for projects in our Shire?

3.      Can you provide a full breakdown on costs...internal and external.... for the Port Douglas Waterfront since amalgamation? How much did the landscape guide cost.. ..internal and external  ?

4.      Why has the Waterfront Management Committee in Port Douglas not had a meeting since August last year yet Council decisions continue to be made on outcomes on the waterfront?

5.      When is the Council going to apply for a replacement of the coconut trees that they removed without wide community consultation and in contravention of the Council’s own planning policy? ( We need local community input on the reconstitution of this area now that it has been irrevocably damaged....driven by locals and not the vandals )

I suspect that these requests are futile and a reply – if any – will just be the usual spin and avoidance. Talk instead to local Council staff from the old Shire that have witnessed the relocation of heavy machinery to Cairns and the expense of bringing it back up when a job needs to be done...as just one example.  Their frustration is palpable.

My personal opinion is that we need a new Council executive that can connect with the community rather than dictate to it with the arrogance that has been the hallmark to date.

Or watch the inevitability of de-amalgamation.

Gary Hunt

Ex member Iconic Panel Douglas Shire and Port Douglas Waterfront Management Committee 


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Mim Hayward, , 26-03-12 00:57:
David, 24-3.. Our DNA is disappearing fast with the CRC, in fact I believe that we have only got about 10% of it left, thanks to them. The argument you have about locals or tourist really isn't the issue.. Our Port Douglas used to always look, looked after, which is why tourists came. It was stunning..and THIS is what Cairns has never been able to deal with. We DON'T have to compete for the tourists, as we are naturally beautiful..Cairns isn't! People wanted to come here as our old council worked the gardening, de-nutting etc., etc into the budget. Ok, it was disfunctional, but they got the place to look stunning, as they knew this is what the tourists came to see..and, the catch 22 is, the locals could survive, as the tourists came to see us.. NOW we have no say as to what gets done, or what doesn't (it is more likely the latter, sadly) So, no, it has nothing to do with what the locals or the tourists want, it's about the people of Port wanting OUR rates to pay for looking after OUR 'suburb' of Cairns, but sadly, under CRC, it never will be looked after properly, as they just can't be bothered to spend the extra money, all the way up here. Look at the oil palms on the main street, STILL, they haven't been touched, it's only been way over a year now..just disgusting.. Gary Hunt's letter is just spelling out what I would say 90% of locals here wanted to say along time ago. We have had to put up with this debacle for long enough now, and it is SO upsetting to see what has become of Port under their (CRC) watch..upsetting, and it makes me SO angry. As for the comment from the Mayor..crikey..'tried to meet our aspirations'??? Fascinating..
Thankyou Gary for having the strength to stand up for us, again..
WE need to stand together now, more than ever.. De-amalgamation, here we come..woohoo!!! Let's get Port back to looking stunning and beautiful..THEN, is when we get the tourists back..for sure. THEN is when Port gets back on the map that we have slipped off thanks to the CRC!!!!!
Keith Pitt, , 25-03-12 22:42:
Mossman and Port Douglas need to re-amalgamate before we can ask the Government to de-amalgamate. This community has been divided for too many years. I used to get sick of hearing you so called locals (originally from outside the former Douglas Shire), whinge and moan about the old council and how you wanted your own shire separate from Mossman. Not very community oriented. It is this attitude as well as certain members of the DSC that has destroyed this region. Not to mention the over development. The tourism has been slowly diminishing over the past 8 or so years, yet developers continued to build new resorts. Who for? When my partner and I managed a resort around 9 years ago, the company could not meet the returns expected by the owners. I would hate to see the revenue short fall for owners today.
Like Helen, I was born and bred in this area and it was the small town charm of a seaside village, that was not more than 10 minutes drive from the World Heritage listed Daintree Rainforest, that people wanted to see. If we continue to build what we "think" may improve tourism, we may find that we are creating what people are leaving at home. Stop the development and leave Port alone. If there is anything that needs doing, it should be only revamping without addition. A lagoon, is not our answer. Mossman Gorge is a stones throw away and this natural beauty should be our draw card, not a concrete lagoon.
susan , , 25-03-12 17:00:
Good stuff Gary. We simply have to de-amalgamate. It will never be satisfactory just having a representative in Cairns. The last DSC was dysfunctional I believe primarily because of one member who deliberately stood for election with the attitude of "stirring the bastards up" . That what he did and we all suffered. It may be tough for a while but I think with the right team with clear vision, common and business sense and common goals we can bring this town back and even beyond its former greatness. I believe that we can make this town not only the most desirable to visit but also the most desirable to live in.Susan
Sue Batters, , 25-03-12 13:12:
Great Letter Gary. As an owner of properties in Port Douglas for over 15 years purchased because we love Port Douglas and all it stood for. I have been keeping abreast of the recent activity to 'revitalise' Port Douglas and have to say that the entire process is flawed. It's not that people don't want to go to Port Douglas, the issue starts way back at the cost of airfares. Like any other 'brand' and that's what a tourist destination is,a brand, it needs to be treated at such. When I saw that CRC had cut the coconut tree's down, I was in dismay that part of any tourists tropical dream is intertwined with the romance of the destination. The offerings that Port Douglas and surrounding areas are second to none. The entire social media approach of the local tourism sites are horrible. Once this area can create a model for tourism - then the town cannot grow and develop.
The council, the PD Tourism Board, all need to go. To see a national treasure such as Port Douglas struggling to survive is a travesty.
Positive Progress is needed where the whole issues need to be audited properly.
Everyone is loosing.
Most of all the business people of the town....the very heart and soul of what brings people to PD
Victoria Hunt, , 24-03-12 22:48:
Is deamalgamation the answer to solving ports problems,? I remember the previous council with fondness but they were dysfunctional and riddled with factions.

Port needs a representation that is listened to, supported and valued by a council that is sympathetic to its unique identity and understands its differences to Cairns.

Sorry Val, in my opinion you and your Council have never displayed any sensitivity towards Ports issues, nor protected the jewel in the crown you refer to, or loyalty to your voters. I have witnessed only disdain.
Jeff Gale, , 24-03-12 16:52:
Jakob's bit got me lost once or twice as I was reading it but he did make a very good point. We must, as a community, unite or de-amalgamation will generate little or no change to what we have.

We messed up a couple of years ago with a disfunctional council that encouraged the State to amalgamate us with Cairns in the first place. If we do end up with de-amalgamation (which I hope is the result) then lets make sure we, as a community, have some clear and defined aims and objectives for the future otherwise we will end up doing more damage than good.
Helen Steley, , 24-03-12 13:30:
As Treasurer of Douglas Netball Association, I was surprised to read that we (DNA) were under threat, knowing that our membership registration numbers were ever increasing. It was not until I read the article that my concern was calmed but I definitely agree. Our DNA is not under threat, but totally disintergrated. Being a true local(born here), I am saddened at how the deamalgamation has ruined our lifestyle and our shire. We used to have a beautful town and village, well maintained services and facilities but now it looks like the forgotten ghetto.If a club wants something done such as mowing, it has to ring up and complain and wait so too bad if it isn't done in time.In some cases, you have to pay to have it done or do it yourself??? Whilst the former DSC had issues, they were still able to ensure that our shire was maintained to an acceptabe level and our financial status was "in the black" well and truly depite comments to the contrary from CRC. All I can say is, please eveyone respond with your vote today and at the local election!!!!
Garry Deutsher, , 24-03-12 11:47:
Gary Hunt has balls alright, and his letter made so much sense. Being away from my first love - Port D...I hear comments from past visitors to FNQ, and often I'm asked what's happening to the soul and spirit of Port Douglas?
These travelers simply don't want the area to materialize into Byron, Noosa or Gold Coast.
We must keep the area well away from the non-believers. Their input isnt positive and why the hell would anyone living in Port want to become a Cairns suburb?
Gary, your style, contribution and passion is well known. You my friend are a true leader in the area.
David , , 24-03-12 08:45:
What is Port's "true" DNA? This is complex, because the town has two very distinct voices. The voice of the locals- living in their idyllic seaside village, and the voice of tourism- by far it's biggest income earner. Often these two voices have very different wishes...tourism wants whatever it needs to attract tourist numbers, whereas locals often want more of "their" village to remain how it used to be. Occasionally, both sides are united. Often, however, they aren't...
Glenn , , 23-03-12 23:18:
Totally 100% agree with you Gary, your vision and wisdom is regarded. but l can only feel that Port Douglas- Mossman areas must re-amalgamate in order to regain it's identity, we need leaders with vision and passion and lots of clout to make it so, BUT, have we learnt our lessons yet about bickering in the school yard, swearing at each other, can we all start to pull as one?. Surely by now everyone has a gripe about CRC throughout our shire, OUR SHIRE...lets hope on Saturday we get our friendly mouthpieces into office and hold them to thier word. Then we can start booting out the crappy leaders we currently have to put up with. We could also have John Sullivan or so as our gardening guru to help restore our missing Flora. Give our locals & tradies work, we could sneak down to cccccairns and start regathering our equipment they "mis-appropriated". Get the Lagoon underway and do some serious marketing to fill our great Accom houses,... or am l dreaming???
Coral , , 23-03-12 23:06:
Great letter Gary. The very reason people come to Port has been eroded over past years, but the worst is yet to come if Douglas does not get its own council. I do not understand why the original plan for the waterfront was not adopted after so much time effort and money was spent, to get it right. Keep up the fight.
John Sullivan, , 23-03-12 22:28:
I have worked with Gary for several years now and while not aggreeing with him all the time, have developed an enormeous respect for his forward thinking and balanced approach. I have sat on the Urban Design Advisory Board for Cairns Regional Council with him for the last three years (voluntarily), and like him thought that if we'd had no voice in amalgamation, then maybe by working with Council we could make a difference and maintain the values I moved to the Douglas Shire for. HOW WRONG WERE WE!!!!
Having now seen the total lack of accountability of some of the general staff to our elected representatives, I can only give my full an absolute support to what Gary has written. Well said Gary and many thanks!
Jakob Shubel, , 23-03-12 19:50:
Bear with me on this one. I went to a seminar at Sheraton sponsored by government on how to rejuvenate Ports economy. It started with touchy-feely demonstration stuff and it did not take me long to realize that the object was not only to get the last drop of blood from the stone but stone also. I walked out after lunch. Not to mention that I ended up by having diarrhea afterwards.

Port Douglas is unique in its location, beauty and many friendly, hard working small accommodation business proprietors. They know via contact with guests to town as to guest’s reason for being here. Yet no one asks nor canvas accommodation managers for their knowledge. And if someone did, no notice would be taken because the answer is not difficult nor it is complex.

On the other hand this area is full of superanuatant, ex government employees (who wouldn’t know responsibility if they fell over it), ex 70’s druggies whose minds are blown, the lot on the dole who think Australia owes them something not to mention business people with deep pocket and no scruples.
This bunch does not have a coherent thought amongst them yet they seem to be running or ruining the future or lack of it of Port Douglas.

I don’t think that there is more dysfunctional tourist town in this world than Port Douglas. I would just love to participate in something meaningful for Port. Take it from me, quoting guests for their reasons to be here: they are here for its remoteness, reef and rain forest and friendliness of people.
The saddest thing is that it does not take visitors long to see through all the local fragmented crap flying around and they leave town with misgiving.

And I’m not talking about small businesses who are desperately trying to hold things together.

Nothing but talk and more talk full of political correctness bulldust. Is there any one here who can not only call spade a spade but know how to use one? Is there any possibility of getting Port’s act together? Is it possible to get rid of no hopers and move on with proper plan for Port’s future?
Yes it is but town needs motivator! Or god forbid start thinking as homogenous small unit with common interest at heart.

I can just hear wailing “Go for it boy, you do something about it” coming from both sides. Well, my friends, reply to your wailing would in my language; you would not understand it and it is just as well because you did not understand this article to start with, and it would be unprintable.

And Mr. Hunt, I’m on your side and forget about the communal cess pool. And something to think about: before Port can challenge local government policies Port will need to be united or forget it. In the mean time just keep on plugging along with snout in the “dirt” and eyes shut.
A bit of a cheek but if Port unites, Cairns Regional Council can be sacked, dismissed or fired from its job. Ordinary persons has to live with this why not CRC.
At present DNA can only stand for - Do Not Advance - at any cost.
Frank Frikker, , 23-03-12 19:49:
Good one Gary. We all need to speak up and loud much more. Otherwise we remain a toothless, winging tiger they can do whatever they want with.
But don't put too much hopes on de-amalgamation folks. Once the NLP is in power, our problem with will be very low on their do to list.
Linda Stevenson, , 23-03-12 18:59:
Thanks Gary for your dedication to Port Douglas. What are our alternatives for councillors at the next CRC election? It is very difficult with one councillor to vote on our behalf. Must be time for another rally for de-amalgamation be a good time just before the election, lets get the whole Douglas population there.
Mayor Val Schier, , 23-03-12 18:52:
If the LNP wins government this weekend, I will support the deamalgamation of Douglas. A change of government will give us the opportunity to re-visit amalgamations and I am committted to working with the Boundaries Commissioner to make a clean break and re-establish the Douglas Shire Council.

I have tried my best to meet the aspirations of the Douglas community and some people are happy with CRC's performance; particularly those who live north of the Daintree who now have their long-awaited bridges and crossings. However, it's clear that there is on-going dissatisfaction over issues like the removal of coconut palms, the waterfront lagoon and chlorination of the water supply.

Douglas is a very special place - I have described it as the jewel in the crown of the region - and its people are passionate with considerable pride in their history and heritage.

CRC will remain amalgamated for the upcoming election in 5 weeks and I hope to continue to represent the people of Douglas and to advocate for their de-amalgamation during teh next term of council
Scott , , 23-03-12 18:40:
Gary, I admire your passion and agree with your sentiments, the next step to de-amalgation and our own local governance is tomorrow. Lets hope we get the result we deserve. Keep up the good work, you have the support of the thinking members of the community's support.
Kate Brown, , 23-03-12 17:12:
The council seems to certainly favour decisions for Cairns and I find this upsetting & disappointing. I love the Douglas Region for many reasons and certainly Port Douglas & Daintree are a major drawcard for tourists to this region but you would think Cairns is the drawcard the way the council respond & act.
Tony Woodall, , 23-03-12 17:11:
John - Mossman people don't like the CRC either.
Peter Wood, , 23-03-12 17:05:
I agree. Cheers mate. Peter
Ann Scott - via Facebook , , 23-03-12 10:36:
Thanks Gary for sticking up for Port, again. I have said it before and I'll say it again, if Port becomes like every other town on the eastern seaboard people will stop coming. Our township is unique, let's keep it that way.
Sam Cullen, , 23-03-12 09:54:
Sorry Barry I do not agree with your perspective. One of the most beautiful views is from a boat looking back onto Rex Park. I have never agreed that a well planned rock wall view from Little Cove St Mary's would be a problem. Vision is a wonderful thing and Gary has a well earned reputation for his. Add his passion and connection to the region and I believe he should be chief consult on all projects Port Douglas until he grooms the next development visionary. Think outside the box I encourage as Rick's points are valid. A significant part of Port Douglas' identity is the way we approach design and infrastructure.
Barry , , 22-03-12 22:20:
Gee Gary, all this from someone who wants to build a lagoon inside the high tide line which will absolutely wreck the natural well photographed lagoon that's there, take your conservative propaganda somewhere else and wreck that.
Rick , , 22-03-12 12:58:
Sorry Gary but Port Douglas' DNA dissolved when it was de-amalgamated. Governance is identity! I mean just look at the stairs on the headland!

You will never silence the sound of smashing china if you keep the bull in the store!

Good luck Port Douglas!
James Elliott - via Facebook , , 22-03-12 12:29:
Awesome letter! Nice one Gary. Here's to getting some answers and positive progress!
John Drinkwater - via Facebook , , 22-03-12 12:28:
secede and reform a Port Douglas council !!
Stefan Hallin - via Facebook , , 22-03-12 12:27:
Douglas Shire mate - needs to happen soon, the whole regions DNA is rapidly going down the gurgler! Good onya Gary, keep up the fight!

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