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Palm Cove History

With the pristine palm-fringed coastlines, beachfront collection of five star Resorts and tourists visiting from all around the world, the history of Palm Cove can often be overlooked.

When booking a holiday to the famous seaside village, heritage and history are generally the furthest things from people’s minds; instead luxury Palm Cove Accommodation, stunning beaches and the famous Great Barrier Reef receive much more attention.

Many visitors would be pleasantly shocked to find out the Palm Cove region is more than just a beautiful tourist destination, and that it is actually rich with historical significance dating back thousands of years ago.

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Palm Cove In the Beginning

The aborigines are said to be the original inhabitants of Palm Cove as they are with the rest of Australia and their existence, some say, dates back to over 60,000 years. There is also information suggesting that the Chinese walked the shores of the Cape York Peninsula over 3000 years ago followed by the Japanese who landed ashore in the 1940s. Captain Cook is thought to have made a brief stop in Palm Cove to replenish his water supply in Sweet Creek that runs between Angsana Resort and the site for the new Royal Palm Cove before running his ship aground at Cape Tribulation.

The most celebrated discovery however, was by G.E. Dalrymple’s Northeast Coast Expedition of 1873 when Sub Insp. F. Thompson, Sub Insp. R. Johnstone and Walter Hill touched base on the sandy shores of Palm Cove. The welcoming reception they received was not what they had expected. The indigenous people, obviously not too enthusiastic about their new visitors, opened a reckless attack on G.E. Dalrymple’s crew which ultimately led to one of the largest documented beachfront invasions in Australian history.

In more recent history, the eldest individual owner of what is now known as Palm Cove was Archdeacon Campbell. Archdeacon Campbell was a rector at St. Johns Church of England in Cairns and had a pension for agronomics that led him to test and experiment suitable crops for the region. It is unknown whether Archdeacon Campbell or the St. Johns Church was truly the first owner of Palm Cove but it is assumed that it was he who planted the several exotic palm trees that distinctively mark the much photographed tourist beach still today.

The 200 acre land was purchased from Archdeacon Campbell just before WW1 in 1918 by Albert Veivers and family for 200 pounds. At this time there were no roads that led to Palm Cove and the only way to get there was on horseback or by foot. Albert Veivers’ wife, Elizabeth Matthison, a business women of her time, was confident that when a road was built the property values in Palm Cove would skyrocket; although she in time proved to be correct, Elizabeth Matthison never lived to see that day as she was killed in a tragic fire when her dress caught aflame on her wood stove.

At this time, Palm Cove was loosely called ‘Double Island’ or ‘Palm Beach’ by the Veivers family and it wouldn’t realise its formal name ‘Palm Cove’ until the mid 1950s. The first structure on the beach was built just after 1918 and was a bush timber and bark structure 200 metres back from the beach where The Grand Mercure Rockford Apartments sit today. Eventually a corrugated iron roof was added to the structure and it was transformed into a beach hut that members of the Veivers family would come to enjoy. The Veivers family were spread throughout the Cairns region with many residing in Kuranda, Speewah, Redlynch and Oak Forests and the journey to Palm Cove was often cumbersome. There were three main tracks that manipulated the land from the Tablelands descending down the Macalister Range to Clifton Beach and Palm Cove.

The land at Palm Cove at the time was mostly home to cattle and horse paddocks with the initial goal of commercially raising and selling stock. This plan proved unsuccessful as the livestock began ‘mysteriously’ disappearing while the crocodiles’ bellies began swelling. In the mid forties Bert Veivers sold his Oaks Forest home and permanently moved to Palm Cove, he subdivided the property and sold it to family members for a mere 20 pounds a lot, all inclusive. Bert Veivers’ residence was on the corner of Veivers Road and Williams Esplanade in a substantial, low blocked timber dwelling that he shared with his de-facto partner and two children. Unfortunately Bert did not get to enjoy his new beachfront house for long because he died in 1946 at the age of 67; speculation is that his great love for rum may have been the main contributor to his untimely passing.

Life for the Veivers family continued on after Bert died and the sons of Bert, who were keen horsemen, moved their annual Sports Carnival, held every year at their residence in Oak Forests, to Palm Cove. People came from far and wide to attend this New Year’s Day celebration which featured woodchops and foot races. Rodeo grounds were established in Palm Cove in between what is now Cedar Road and the beachfront in Palm Cove, and the Facilities staged some of the largest rodeos in Queensland’s history. The Sports Carnival had two successful years in Palm Cove before tensions in the Pacific arose and troops commenced deployment to Borneo.

The early to mid 1900s were marked with several famous wars and Palm Cove was an active training spot for the Australian air-force and army. The islands off the coast of Palm Cove, Double Island and Haycock Island, were used as training targets for the Australian Army. Although Double Island escaped relatively unscathed, Haycock Island received much battering from missiles and mines and the evidence of this is still present today. Years after the wars had ceased much excitement was demonstrated when mines began washing up on the crisp white beaches of Palm Cove. Although this no longer poses a threat to visitors in Palm Cove it did generate lots of publicity when it happened.

Palm Cove Building up to the Present

Now when the war had ceased, interest in Palm Cove began to generate and ratepayers began to settle in Palm Cove, albeit mostly just weekend tenants. This spurred the creation of the Progression Association with the role of developing and overseeing the newly popular Palm Cove.

They had two main issues on the agenda that needed immediate attention; the first was to find a name for this beachside community. The two names, ‘Double Island’ and ‘Palm Beach’, were rejected by the association because Double Island was the name of a hotel in Trinity Beach and Palm Beach was the name of a subdivision on the Gold Coast. ‘Palm Cove’ was the next most popular title, noticeably because of the Palm fringed beach and so Palm Cove received its name.

The second issue on the agenda was creating a permanent water supply to the area. The diligent work of several men dislodged the pipes, which had previously been used during the war in army camps, and constructed the pipes accordingly to create a permanent water supply for the residents of Palm Cove. This task proved to be an enormous success and in the 1960s the popularity of the seaside community soared as a fashionable weekend getaway.

The original Reef House was built in 1958 by a Cairns bookmaker and used as a family home. According to an article in a 1972 issue of The Bulletin, a swimming pool proprietor was allegedly heavily indebted to the bookmaker, but managed to repay his debt by offering to build 'the best swimming pool in North Queensland'. He kept his word.

About 1970 it was purchased by a syndicate and opened as a restaurant with limited Palm Cove Accommodation of three suites in the garden. In 1972, Brigadier The Hon. David Thomson, MC, RL, (later Federal Minister for Science & Technology), acquired the property and operated 'Reef House' as a private residence with visitors treated as personal guests.

Guests helped themselves to drinks from the bar, and in the true tradition of an officer's mess, signed chits on an honesty system. This still prevails today in The Sebel Reef House & Spa Brigadier's Bar. Also continuing a tradition, each evening candles are lit throughout the resort denoting Twilight Hour, an opportunity to meet with other world travellers over a complimentary glass of The Brigadier's Punch.

At present, the tradition of The Sebel Reef House & Spa continues. The General Manager takes pride in meeting as many guests as possible when they arrive and also joining others for evening drinks. It's all part of the boutique experience.

Palm Cove was taking off due to the tourism boom in the early 1980s with this region attracting developers and international tourism interests.

In 1984 the Cairns International Airport opened for business and now has ten airlines operating in excess of 180 scheduled flights each week, of which 100 are inbound arrivals. Today the Cairns International Airport welcomes over 1 million passengers each year.

1986 saw the opening of the well known Ramada Reef Resort on the site of the first Veivers residence; this was the first international hotel chain to manage a property in Palm Cove. The resort was and still is today famous for its massive above ground freeform swimming pool. During its 20 year existence the property has been managed by large international hotel chains such as Courtyard and Marriott International.

The property has now been completely renovated and rebuilt to apartment style holiday Palm Cove Accommodation and is currently managed by the Accor Group under the name of Grand Mercure Rockford Esplanade Apartments.

During the next few years investors realised the potential of Palm Cove, with four international hotel companies currently being represented in Palm Cove, being Accor Asia Pacific at Novotel Rockford Palm Cove Resort and the beachfront Grand Mercure property, the Stella Group who manage the Mantra Amphora Resort and Peppers Beach Club and Spa, the locally owned and fast growing hotel chain of Mirvac hotels and Resorts who manage the Sebel Reef House & Spa and Sea Temple Resort & Spa Palm Cove and Banyan Tree at the absolute beachfront Angsana Resort and Spa.

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