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History of the Gold Coast

This overview of Gold Coast history has been compiled from interviews with local history librarians, long-term residents and assistance from the Gold Coast City Council

Local aborigines referred to the Queensland south coast as "Kurrungul", a name derived from their word for endless supplies of timber, and the region was said to be a meeting place where tribes would come together (essentially on summer holidays) to fish and camp near the many creeks and estuaries between the Tweed River and Moreton Bay. You can learn more about the traditional owners of this land at the Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre

Captain Cook travelled past the Coast in 1770 and named Point Danger and Mount Warning but it wasn't until government surveyors charted the region in 1840 that the area was really brought to the attention of the European settlers. These settlers weren't really interested in the surf beaches, but were keen to chop down as much wood as their bullock teams could drag up to Brisbane for use in the Moreton Bay shipping industry.

Queen's Hotel with Cobb and Co. coach outside, Nerang 1890
Curtis Brother's water wheel powering sawmill on Cedar Creek, Tamborine Mountain 1900
View of Nerang River and settlement near Weedon's Crossing,1908

Images left to right: Queen's Hotel with Cobb and Co. coach outside, Nerang 1890; Curtis Brother's water wheel powering sawmill on Cedar Creek, Tamborine Mountain 1900; View of Nerang River and settlement near Weedon's Crossing,1908

Early Settlers

First Ambulance in Coolangatta circa 1920
The Gold Coast Hinterland's supply of cedar began drawing timber cutters to the region in large numbers in the mid 1800s and in 1865 the inland township of Nerang (named after the local aboriginal word neerang, meaning 'shovel nosed shark') was surveyed and established as a base for the industry.

The surrounding valleys and plains were quickly developed as cattle, sugar and cotton farms and by 1869 settlement had reached the mouth of the Nerang River on the Southern edge of Moreton Bay. The township of Southport was surveyed in 1875 in a location that was known as Nerang Creek Heads.

In 1885 Queensland Governor Musgrave built a holiday home on a hill just north of Southport which lead to the surrounding coastal area gaining the reputation as a resort for Brisbane's wealthy and influential. The rough bush tracks and numerous creek crossings between Brisbane and Southport made it difficult to reach without a boat, but in 1889 a railway line was extended to the town and numerous guesthouses and hotels were soon established up and down the coastline.

Image: Coolangatta's first ambulance, 1920

The Beginnings of a Tourism Industry

Sunbathers at Surfers Paradise 1966
The permanent population of the region increased slowly until 1925 when a new coastal road was built between Brisbane and Southport. That same year, Jim Cavill built the Surfers Paradise hotel 2km south of Southport in an area between the Nerang River and the beach known as Elston, and the real tourism boom began.

As automobile technology became more and more reliable in the 1930s, the number of holidaymakers travelling down the coast road from Brisbane increased. By 1935 most of the coastal strip between Southport and the New South Wales border had been developed with housing estates and hotels.

Elston residents successfully lobbied to change the name of their town to Surfers Paradise (pipping rival name Sea Glint) in 1933. The (now famous) Surfers Paradise hotel burnt down in 1936 and was quickly replaced with another much grander structure that had art deco styling and even included a zoo out the back, complete with kangaroos and other wildlife.

Post World War II - How the Gold Coast got its name.

The South Coast region was a hugely popular holiday destination for servicemen returning from World War II, and by the end of the 1940s, real estate speculators and journalists had begun calling the area 'The Gold Coast'.

The local tourism industry continued to grow into the 1950s and on October 23, 1958, the South Coast Town Council officially adopted the name 'Gold Coast Town Council'. The area was proclaimed a city less than one year later.

High Rise Development Through the 60s & 70s

Gold Coast Highway and Ferny Avenue, circa 1969
Hanlan Street towards the Esplanade, Surfers Paradise 1968
The Gold Coast Highway, Chevron Paradise Hotel, circa 1968

Images left to right: Gold Coast Highway and Ferny Avenue, circa 1969; Hanlan Street towards the Esplanade, Surfers Paradise 1968 & The Gold Coast Highway, Chevron Paradise Hotel, circa 1968

By the 1960s the Gold Coast's infrastructure had grown considerably and the local building industry was able to support the development of high-rise holiday apartments and hotels (the first of which, Kinkabool, was completed in 1959). Surfers Paradise had firmly established itself as the leading destination and the introduction of bikini clad 'Meter Maids' in 1965 to feed parking meters by the beach to prevent holiday makers from getting parking fines was a particularly popular innovation and is still around to this day.

The hi-rise boom continued in earnest during the 1970s and by the time the Gold Coast airport terminal opened in Coolangatta in 1981, the region had become Australia's most well-known family holiday destination and almost all vacant land within 10km of the coast had been developed. Japanese property investment during the 1980s made the skyline soar and the construction of modern theme parks such as Dreamworld and Sea World cemented the Gold Coast's reputation as an international tourist centre.

The Last Two Decades

Dodgy business deals and Government corruption during the late 1980s tainted the Coast's reputation as a place of business. During the 1990s property marketeering (seminars which duped interstate and overseas investors into paying premium prices for new Gold Coast property developments) did little to help the region's image either. However, by the turn of the century the Gold Coast had shrugged of its shady past and fully-embraced the real estate boom. The city is now home to one of the world's tallest residential tower (Q1), and boasts a population of more than 600,000 people, making it the sixth largest city in Australia.

The Gold Coast continues to embrace tourism which seems to have been the regions drawcard since the early ages when the local Aborigines would come to the area to meet during Summer. 

Please note this Gold Coast history is Copyright © 2024 e-CBD and may not be reproduced without permission. A similar version appears at Wikipedia, which is available under a GNU licence for free, but you must credit Wikipedia if you use it. All images are sourced from the Gold Coast City Council Library's Local Studies Collection, contact them if you would like permission to use them. If you are interested in learning more about the history of the Gold Coast, visit some of the links below.

Finding out more about Gold Coast history

Images courtesy Tourism & Events Queensland, Tourism Australia, Destination Gold Coast & Getty Images, Flickr (Queensland State Archive)

Things to do and seeOn the Gold Coast in Queensland

Theme Parks

Combo passes & packages

Free things to do

Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary


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