14th May, 2013

Surfers Paradise Through History

Flanked by three kilometres of golden sands, Surfers Paradise is the holiday and entertainment capital of Australia and its history is filled with larger than life characters taking risks and daring to dream.

Early years

Long before Europeans arrived, the local Banjalang people frequented the area where Surfers Paradise is today, largely due to its excellent fishing grounds.

Then with white settlement, it became farmland and in the 1870s, selector James Beattie sold the land to German immigrant Johann Meyer, who built the Main Beach Hotel by the sea.

The area became a popular holiday destination over the next few decades. It was known as Elston in those days, but in 1933 Brisbane hotelier Jim Cavill, who owned the Surfers Paradise

Hotel and the land around it, lobbied successfully to have the area renamed Surfers Paradise after his own establishment.

By the mid 1930s, Surfers Paradise had several hundred houses and holiday flats and blocks of land were selling for as much as £1000, when 10 years before they were practically being given away at £25.

Four decades of growth

From there, Surfers began to grow steadily, with its first hi-rise going up in 1959, the same year the Gold Coast received its name, and a number of iconic buildings followed, including St Tropez and The Pink Poodle and Iluka and Apollo (the first buildings to reach 20 storeys).

Strong Japanese investment in the 1980s led to the emergence of more iconic landmarks in the 90s, including the Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa, followed in the 2000s by Q1, Jade, Chevron Renaissance, Circle on Cavill and Avalon.

Surfers Paradise apartments and office buildings were climbing higher and higher, like trees competing for light in a forest, and the ‘glitter strip’ as it became known, was born.

Local identities

Famous names associated with Surfers Paradise include:

  •     Jim Cavill, who named Surfers Paradise after his hotel and opened the popular Surfers Paradise Zoo in the 1930s
  •     Bernie Elsey, who formed the Surfers Paradise meter maids in 1965, who fed tourist’s parking meters to prevent them from being fined
  •     Trevor Hendy, who won his first Australian Ironman Series championship in 1987
  •     Paula Stafford, who introduced her interpretation of the French bikini to the Surfers Paradise beach fashion scene.

Time line

The growth of Surfers Paradise as Australia’s premier seaside playground can be seen through milestones such as these:

  •     1935 – Australia’s first surf ski is ridden at Surfers Paradise Beach
  •     1981 – Grundy’s childrens entertainment complex opens, featuring four beachfront water slides
  •     1984 – the movie The Coolangatta Gold is released, showcasing Surfers Paradise to the world
  •     1991 – the first Gold Coast Indy 300 is held in Surfers Paradise.

Surfers today

Today’s Surfers is a mecca for the young and the young at heart. Surfers Paradise accommodation ranges from budget holiday flats to luxury serviced apartments, The city now stages huge events like Schoolies Week and the V8 Supercars, which bring thousands to its streets and millions to its coffers every year,

And in December this year, Surfers Paradise will celebrate another huge event; its 80th birthday and with such a colourful history behind it, it’s guaranteed to be one heck of a party.