History of Surfers Paradise

Estate map for Pacific Ocean Estate, north of Elkhorn Avenue, 1915

Surfers Paradise is a coastal suburb within the local government area of City of Gold Coast in Queensland, Australia. At the 2011 census, Surfers Paradise had a population of 19,668. Colloquially known as 'Surfers', the suburb has many high-rise apartment buildings and a wide surf beach. The feature of the heart of the suburb is Cavill Mall, which runs through the shopping and entertainment precinct. Cavill Avenue, named after Jim Cavill, an early hotel owner, is one of the busiest shopping strips in Queensland, and the centre of activity for night life. One of the features of the area is the Surfers Paradise Meter Maids designed to build goodwill with tourists.

Surfers Paradise is the Gold Coast's entertainment and tourism centre and the suburb's high-rise buildings are the best known feature of the city's skyline.

In 2009 as part of the Q150 celebrations, Surfers Paradise was announced as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for its role as a "location".[2]

Estate map for Pacific Ocean Estate, north of Elkhorn Avenue, 1915

James Beattie, a farmer, became the first European to settle in the area when he staked out an 80-acre (32 ha) farm on the northern bank of the Nerang River, close to present-day Cavill Avenue. The farm proved unsuccessful and was sold in 1877 to German immigrant Johan Meyer, who turned the land into a sugar farm and mill. Meyer also had little luck growing in the sandy soil and within a decade had auctioned the farm and started a ferry service and built the Main Beach hotel. By 1889, Meyer's hotel had become a post receiving office and subdivisions surrounding it were named Elston, named by the Southportpostmaster after his wife's home in SouthportLancashire, England. The Main Beach Hotel licence lapsed after Meyer's death in 1901 and for 16 years Elston was a tourist town without a hotel or post office.[3]

Real estate map of Northcliffe Estate, now the heart of Surfers Paradise, circa 1920s

In 1917, a land auction was held by Brisbane real estate company Arthur Blackwood to sell subdivided blocks in Elston as the "Surfers' Paradise Estate",[4] but the auction failed because access was difficult. This was the first recorded reference to Surfers Paradise, but like the Gold Coast, the title may already have been local vernacular – surfing having been demonstrated in Sydney in 1915.[5]

Elston began to get more visitors after the opening of Jubilee Bridge and the extension of the South Coast Road in 1925; the area was serviced before then only by Meyer's Ferry at the Nerang River. Elston was no longer cut off by the river and speculators began buying land around Elston and Burleigh Heads. Estates down the coast were promoted and hotels opened to accommodate tourists and investors.

Main entrance to the beach

Surfers Paradise beach, January 2015

In 1925, Brisbane hotelier Jim Cavill opened the Surfers Paradise Hotel located on what would later become the site of the Surfers Paradise Centre which incorporates the Surfers Paradise Beer Garden and Hard Rock Cafe. In opening the hotel and neighbouring zoo, Cavill created the first attraction in the suburb. Located between the ferry jetty and the white surf beach off the South Coast Road, it became popular and shops and services sprang up around it. In the following years Cavill pushed to have the name Elston changed to Surfers' Paradise. The suburb was officially renamed on 1 December 1933 after the local council felt the Surfers Paradise name was more marketable. In July 1936 Cavill's timber hotel burnt to the ground and was rebuilt the following year.

A development boom followed in the 1950s and 1960s. The first highrise in Surfers Paradise was erected in 1959 and was named the Kinkabool. The Kinkabool stood 10 stories high and remains to this day in Hanlan Street. Many tall apartment buildings were constructed in the decades that followed, including the iconic buildings included the Iluka, St Tropez and The Pink Poodle. The boom later saw strong Japanese investment in the 1980s.

Little remains of the early vegetation or natural features of the area and even the historical association of the beachfront development with the river is tenuous. The early subdivision pattern remains, although later reclamation of the islands in the Nerang River as housing estates (e.g. Chevron Island), and the bridges to those islands, have created a contrast reflected in subdivision and building form. Some early remnants survived such as Budd's Beach — a low-scale open area on the river which even in the early history of the area was a centre for boating, fishing and swimming.

Some minor changes have occurred in extending the road along the beachfront since the early subdivision and The Esplanade road is now a focus of activity, with supporting shops and restaurants. The intensity of activity, centred on Cavill, Orchid and Elkhorn Avenues, is reflected in the density of development. Of all places on the Gold Coast the buildings in this area constitute a dominant and enduring image visible from as far south as Coolangatta and from the mountain resorts of the hinterland.

Real estate map of Northcliffe Estate, now the heart of Surfers Paradise, circa 1920s

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