The Douglas Shire Historical Society has lost a passionate advocate for local history with the passing on Thursday 11 May of its founder, Noel Weare.
Noel had an encyclopaedic knowledge and memory of former times in Port Douglas which he didn’t hesitate to share.
He founded the Society in 1994 to establish a museum in the old 1879 court house.
His aunt Betty Whiting, proprietor of the Court House Hotel, had rescued the building, which was under threat of demolition, in 1968 and transported it to sit behind her hotel. She had a dream to establish a local museum, and once she passed away in 1984, Noel took over the project.
Due to his persistent lobbying, finally in 1993 the Court House was transported back to its original site on the Police Reserve in Wharf Street.
In 1997 the museum was opened, with its exhibits dedicated to the committal trial of Ellen Thomson and John Harrison. Noel stars as the magistrate in a movie that re-enacts that trial, which is still shown to museum visitors.
Noel was relentless in his upkeep of the building, which was entered onto the Queensland Heritage List along with his other numerous nominations.
He wrote many bulletins for the Society and encouraged others to do the same. He also wrote books, Built to Survive about the history of the court house, and This Upstart Port Douglas, a history through newspaper reports.
Noel was often consulted by the Douglas Shire Council and the National Trust. He was enthusiastic about researching former local policemen, the history of the Bump Track, inland roads and railways, and hoped for the stone-pitched approach to the Sugar Wharf to be re-instated.
The Port Douglas School rolls were found at the tip and given to Noel, who organised them into a form which is easy for researchers. He has done the same with the local cemetery records.
In 2015 Noel acted fast to save Dixie’s Shed from demolition. It was swiftly removed from beside the Combined Club to a site near Rex Smeal Park in conjunction with Douglas Shire Council. Built about 1886, from 1923 Dixie kept his boat in the shed and would row out every night to light the beacons on Dickson Inlet. In time his shed became a meeting place for fishermen and boatmen to share their yarns.
Noel was active in the saving and restoration of the flag staff on Flagstaff Hill, which won a High Commendation for Conservation Works in the 2019 Queensland Heritage Awards.
He organised the preservation of a pile from the old Mowbray Diggers Bridge, now exhibited at the Craiglie Teamsters Park.
Noel won the Civic Recognition Award from the Douglas Shire Council in 2021
And Volunteer of the Year from Cairns Regional Council’s Australia Day awards of 2009.
He was recognised by the Cairns Historical Society in winning their S E Stephens Award for 2017 which recognizes an Australian historian, writer or researcher who has made a significant contribution over a number of years to dissemination of Far North Queensland history.
Without Noel, much local history would have been lost to the community. His unbounded enthusiasm and continual lobbying for the preservation of local historic buildings and places made him a significant member of the Port Douglas community, and he will be sorely missed.
Featured image credit/Douglas Shire Historical Society
Thank you to Pam Willis Burden for this tribute to Noel’s life and incredible contribution to the Douglas Shire.