El Arish, a rural town of about 230 people, is 32 km south of Innisfail and 100 km south-east of Cairns. It began as a soldier settlement sugar cane farming area in 1922, and was named after a Light Horse Supply depot in the Suez area in World War I. About 70 farms were taken up in the first instance, their cane taken for crushing at the South Johnstone mill and, after 1925, the Tully mill.
In addition to cane growing El Arish had a timber mill which went through several owners' hands and transformations, emerging as an innovative enterprise after World War II, using woods previously thought unacceptable. El Arish's population was centred around cane farming, either as small owners or as labourers. In harvesting periods the population was increased with casual cane cutters. The locality's population peaked in the 1950s, but since then the census count has declined by two-thirds. In 2004 property values increased, influenced by agents describing El Arish as Mission Beach hinterland.
El Arish has a general store, a hotel, a motel, a golf club and a primary school (1922).
On 3 February 2011, the Category 5 Cyclone Yasi passed over the Queensland coast, centred about 40 km south of El Arish. Sugar plantations and many high-set Queenslander farm houses were badly damaged, along with the post office and business premises.
The El Arish census populations have been:
Cairns Post, 8 April 2005