The Kamslers : A Cairns tale
It's a tale of resilience and destiny, of adventure and a family dynasty.
This year the Kamsler family celebrates 30 years in the Pacific International Hotel but their story goes back a lot further than that.
Paul Kamsler (senior) came to Australia with his brother George and his parents from Vienna to Sydney in 1938.
As a young man, he brought his bride, Dina, to Cairns in 1950 in search of a new life and adventure.
Today Paul, resilient as ever, is in his chairman's chair, and in good spirits, even though he has recently had a heart attack.
Still the patriarch, and the chairman of the hotel, he recalls the start of his love affair with Cairns all those years ago and his many adventures - one of the highlights he says was "chasing crocodiles".
"I did wild things," he says, with a smile, recalling the many different fields he experimented in before settling on tourism.
"I recruited crews in the Torres Strait and made a success of pearling when everyone said it couldn't be done," he says about a pattern that seems to have persisted in his life.
At the time Cairns was seen largely by the world as a quaint country town, and the playground of wealthy big game fishermen.
Paul built a fleet of pearl luggers that operated between the Torres Strait and Mackay.
Paul Kamsler Jnr, co-general manager and executive director of The Pacific International, shows me a photograph of one such boat, The Tiare, explaining that the family has highlighted more of their history and the history of Cairns with their recent refurbishment.
The business of pearl shell fishing continued until the industry collapsed due to the invention of plastic, which was used instead of mother-of-pearl for buttons.
The next big venture for Paul and Dina was in crocodile skins.
The couple furnished crocodile hunters, usually new migrants, with equipment, and they brought back the skins of crocodiles.
"They shot the crocs, skinned them, preserved them in salt, and handed them over to Mum," Paul Kamsler Junior says.
"I remember Mum had a large table and always unravelled the crocodile skin, which was folded and wrapped, and she would scrape off the salt and clean it, and then re-salt it and roll it to be exported to France or Italy."
He laughs when I ask if they smelled, saying he's not sure which smelled worse, the crocodile skins or the hunters who brought them to the house.
That industry too ended when crocodiles became protected, but the biggest break for the family was yet to come.
It came in the form of a contract from the Queensland Government to salvage a railway line that ran between Cooktown and Laura.
Paul Kamsler Jnr says winning the contract was pure luck as the other contender failed to deliver their offer to Brisbane on time due to bad weather.
The Queensland Government were obliged, therefore, to award the contract to the Kamslers, despite their offer being significantly less.
"We profited from that and were able to move into tourism," Paul says.
The walls of the hotel are decorated with photos of Paul Kamsler Snr throughout his life, and those who were part of it, including famous people like Lee Marvin, his favourite guest.
"Lee Marvin came on numerous occasions," Paul Snr says.
The family built The Islander Inn and bought the site of two old hotels in 1978, The Strand Hotel and The Pacific, which were side by side on the Esplanade, where the Pacific International now stands.
The Pacific International opened softly in 1982, with the official opening conducted by the-then Queensland premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1983.
Building the hotel was a strike into the unknown, a risk for the family, and a seeming annoyance to some Cairns locals."
There was a letter to the editor (of The Cairns Post) written by a Cairns identity who said this mausoleum would never last, and that Cairns was a place with just humid rainforest and reef," Paul Kamsler Jnr says.
"Now it's our 30th birthday and we have survived various hurdles through the years; getting the hotel across the line when there was no significant international market, and right through to the pilot's dispute (1989), recessions, SARS and bird flu."
Naming the hotel The Pacific International, he says, was a way of differentiating between the traditional pub type of hotel and a classier venue.
The history of famous international visitors dropping by has continued since the old Strand Hotel and Pacific Hotel days, when the likes of movie star Errol Flynn and author Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness) stayed.
"Errol Flynn was in Cairns and left in a hurry," Paul Jnr says.
"It was rumoured he was attempting to collect a parcel of opium.He went on to New Guinea."
"He wrote three books and talks about Cairns in them."
In more recent years the hotel has been host to Queen Elizabeth II, who visited in 1956, and for whom a special menu was prepared.
And people of note keep on coming.
"I sat at lunch with Tom Cruise," Paul Kamsler Junior says.
"It was around the time of his movie, Risky Business."
Paul describes being in a family business as challenging because of personalities but says family businesses are the backbone of the country and his family has always found a way through.
"We might be in the same building but it is like a little city," he says.
"We might not see each other from one end of the day to the other," he says.
"It's like a home with 200 bedrooms and we have up to 400 friends over."
Mark Kamsler and Paul Jnr are joint general managers and executive directors of the hotel, yet it seems Paul Kamsler Snr, who is 89, is still the driving force of the family dynasty, although he attributes the family's success to his wife Dina.
"My brother and I and Dad have been actively working together for about 40 years and 30 years in the hotel," Paul Jnr says."
"He's (Paul Snr) the chair, the patriarch, the mentor and a great man."
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Paul Kamsler : Head of the Kamsler hotel dynasty
Power of the Kamslers : Paul Kamsler (jnr) Paul Kamsler (snr) and Mark Kamsler