The First Peoples of the Douglas region are the Kuku Yalanji whose country extends from the Mowbray River in the South to Cooktown in the North and Palmer River in the West. From the Mowbray River, south to Cairns are the traditional homelands of the Yirrganydji people. The Kuku Yalanji and Yirrganydji are rainforest people whose connection to the region extends back 50,000 years to be among the earliest human occupations in Australia.
European habitation in the Douglas Shire began in the 1870s as George Elphinstone Dalrymple led the first extensive exploration of the region. Dalrymple thought the country “surrounded by a panorama of great beauty … a perfect picture of rich tropical country”.
Within the decade gold miners supplied from Port Douglas, timber cutters logging the much-prized red cedar, and farmers of cattle, vegetables, maize and sugar had all begun to make their mark.
Farming expanded along the coastal belt as extensive areas of lowland rainforest were cleared and settlements were established throughout the area.
Cultural diversity has been integral to the history of the Douglas Shire. According to the 1886 census almost two-thirds of the district’s population was of Chinese heritage.
By the 1890s the Douglas sugar cane industry was dependent for its survival upon Chinese and South Sea Islander (Kanaka) labour. In the 1900s these populations grew and were joined by Hindu, Punjabi and Japanese migrants.
The Shire of Douglas existed as a local government entity from 1880 until 2008 when it was amalgamated with Cairns City to create the Cairns Regional Council.
The merger was not popular with the community and lobbying from a local action group led the Queensland Minister for Local Government to grant residents a poll on 9 March 2013 in which a majority of electors (57.61%) voted in favour of de-amalgamation.
The Douglas Shire Council commenced operation for the second time on 1 January 2014 with a new Mayor and four new non-divisional Councillors.