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A Gold Coast History Lesson

Feb 4, 2016  ·  3 min read

By Thomas Souness.

Currently at this point in time, the Gold Coast region encompasses 5000km², with 57km of coastline and a population of over half a million people. This makes us the 6th largest city in Australia, but do you know how the jewel of the Gold Coast (Surfers Paradise) all started? Well let me tell you…

Traditional Owners and Farming

We’ll start by acknowledging the traditional landowners (of possibly more than 23,000 years), the Yugambeh people whose culture was rich and complex. They ruled this land respectfully until around 1869 when the first Western settlers to the area began investigating potential farmland, with a Mr James Beattie acquiring 80 acres of land on the northern bank of the Nerang River. The Kombumerri people called this land Jarri Parila, which we now know as Narrowneck.

After a few short-lived attempts by several settlers at farming the land, one of the first thriving industries in the area was, appropriately, accommodation and travel. A German immigrant by the name of Johann Meyer acquired Mr Beattie’s land in 1877, and subsequently went on to develop the Main Beach Hotel along with a private ferry service along the Nerang River.


Just over a decade later the new land became connected to Southport via a thrice-weekly horse and coach service, which utilised the aforementioned Meyers’ Ferry before travelling along the beach. By this stage Mr Meyers was doing quite well for himself, with his Main Beach Hotel being declared a postal receiving office, which meant the newly settled land would require a title – and so Elston was born. The name was decided upon by the Southport Postmaster, Mr Palmer, who named the receiving office (and the area) after his wife’s home village in Nottinghamshire, England. Palmer, you ol’ charmer.

Cavill Avenue

Only a year or so later in the early 1890’s, Mr Meyers would unfortunately face financial ruin. Around a decade later he would die, and the Main Beach Hotel’s licence would lapse, leaving the town of Elston without a hotel until 1925 when a Mr Jim Cavill would build the Surfers Paradise Hotel… and then go on to lobby to have the town’s name of Elston changed to reflect the name of his own popular establishment. Mr Cavill lobbied strongly for this name change for the better part of a decade. During this time the Jubilee Bridge was opened, connecting Elston to Southport, and allowing automobiles to travel between the two areas for the first time. This led to an economic boom, with investments pouring in to see the opening of three iconic hotels; Surfers Paradise, Burleigh Heads, and Miami. Not missing a chance for self-promotion, Mr Cavill’s hard work finally paid off in 1933 when with the support of the locals, Elston’s name was officially changed to the retained title, Surfers Paradise.

So there you have it. Hopefully this brief history of our city has left you well equipped for the next local drunken trivia night.

History of the Gold Coast

Aerial view from the beach end of Cavill Avenue looking south to Broadbeach 1955. Image courtesy of the Gold Coast City Council Local Studies Library

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