The following audio/oral histories were collected as part of the City of Gold Coast's 'Highway Heritage' project.
Select from the list below to listen to the audio file and read the transcript of each interview.
Joan Anderson's childhood was spent playing with her 'gang' in the Broadwater at Southport. She talks about the group, who waded in the still waters during the 1930s and 40s … and the rivalry they had with another 'gang'.
I came to the Gold Coast when I was about eight in 1937. It was just a haven to us having lived in the country to come to the Gold Coast. It was a sleepy little village. Where we lived in Lawson Street was across the road from the state school. We could hear the sound of the surf and the chimes of the Dickson Clock.
The place was so quiet to go to sleep at night. We became the most popular relatives of all time. We had every cousin, everybody came to visit us. Even though we were poor, we had this simple life of just having lots of fun, swimming three times a day, before breakfast, after breakfast and in the afternoon.
No, we actually were a group of children who owned, we thought, Barney Bolton's Swimming Hole, which is down near the entrance to the Gold Coast Bridge where there are now big motels and restaurants. It was a boat shed owned by Barney Bolton and it had a jetty and we used to fight the Brisbane children off by saying there was a groper under the jetty and we just had this group of children. The Barney Bolton kids are still all around. They go right back to those years.
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As a child in the 1950s, Gail Hammans used to explore the new motels while they were being built on the Gold Coast. She remembers thinking the bathrooms were so tiny as she had never heard of an 'ensuite' before. Gail explains why her family moved to the Gold Coast, and the mischief she got up to while perusing the new buildings.
It was just after the war and there wasn't much work for people in Rocky, so Uncle Jock and dad decided to come down the coast and do house painting because they had contacts.
They used to do contracting out west. I don't know how it came about that they came to Surfers and we've been there ever since.
Mum got a job at the milk bar at the side of the Surfers Paradise Hotel. When they started building motels in Surfers we'd ping off and go and explore the buildings and leave the builders notes and tell them that these rooms were too small.
We'd say that this room is too small, so is this toilet. How many people can get into this toilet because when they first started, they were like en suites. To us it was so tiny because we were used to the big baths. Once they were built , we never saw inside them.
Then you'd try out the new pools. There were so may people around and, in those days, there were a lot of children around, so nobody ever took any notice of who belonged to whom, as long as you behaved yourself. We always behaved ourselves. We didn't do anything terrible or bad. We just went and swam.
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Wild storms struck the Gold Coast in the 1960s and 1970s. Kerry Mandry remembers how the floods followed.
1967 I think we had not long moved to the Isle of Capri. We lived on a bend on the corner of Amalfi and Salerno Streets looking right across the river to about 1st Avenue at Broadbeach. Southwards we could see Little Tallebudgera Creek where it came out around Florida Gardens.
It was intriguing to see it rising and rising and it was very very fast. There was a fellow who lived, and I'm not sure if it was 67 or 74, but there was a fellow who lived up towards the bridge in Amalfi Drive and his very large launch came adrift and got stuck under the bridge. They got a big truck with a winch on it and they tried to winch the boat back from under the bridge but the steel rope broke and the boat went back under the bridge, under the water with Mr Eagles still on board. But however, all was well, the boat came up and he was still attached to the helm. But the water came up almost to the lower part of the Isle of Capri bridge at that time.
In '74 I do remember Florida Gardens was flooded because the Little Tallebudgera Creek backed up and the water came up all the drains and the water came in the back doors of people's houses not the front.
In '67 I remember the army came to help sandbag Surfers Paradise along the beach. I think the sand disappeared as far as the road, exposing rocks and boulders and things. In '74 the road disappeared altogether, right up to the shopfronts.
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Lisa Stubbs came to the Gold Coast as a baby in the 1960s. She recalls a time when the Coast was whisper quiet and the flashing neon light was a comfort, as she watched it flickering through her bedroom window at night.
I grew up on Florida Gardens which was one of the Gold Coast's first canal estates. I spent a lot of time there fishing from our back yard into the canal which was just wonderful as a child. I used to pull all sorts of exotic things out of there like eels, garfish, bream, whiting and I was never allowed to eat them because it was considered that they mightn't be clean because the water was considered a bit dirty looking so they all got fed to the cat. It didn't matter so much about the cat's health but the cat never got sick.
So fishing, it was a very simple sort of a life in those days. Reading sitting out in the sun for hours on end. It was unbelievable. I once had a mad scheme to try to dig down to see how far I could dig in the back yard and I was amazed at how quickly it turned from topsoil to pure sand. I suddenly realised we were living on sand.
At night I was lying in bed and there would be complete silence, apart from the sound of a car driving down Monaco Street or the roar of the ocean. That was one thing I always remember at night was the sound of the ocean. Occasionally I would get up at night and look out through our bathroom window to the southeast and see the neon sign of the Hi-Ho motel flashing. That was a comforting thing to know that that was always going to be there.
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Almost everyone that came to the Gold Coast in the 50s, 60s and 70s came with a sense of adventure about coming to a place that was different. What attracted them to the Gold Coast and why did they put down roots here? The following interviews were collected as part of the City of Gold Coast's 'It's hot in Brisbane, but it's Coolangatta!' project.
Select from the list below to read the edited transcript of each interview.
Beryl Carnell came to the Gold Coast as a 17 year old to participate in the Australian Surf Titles. She returned with her family to Queensland and they eventually settled at Currumbin.
Beryl’s life changed when she went to work at the Currumbin Playroom, which was a cabaret venue located at the back of the original Currumbin Hotel. There she met her future husband, musician and entertainment entrepreneur Claude Carnell. For the rest of her working life Beryl was involved in the entertainment industry. She was best known as the woman behind the successful live music venue she and Claude built and named ‘The Playroom” at Tallebudgera which continued their link with their first venue.
Sir Eric Gaven was a very nice man and he was the federal member for the area, and I think that was why we chose him to do the official opening in 1966. We searched around for an act to present on the night and we decided on Johnny O’Keefe. When he came down on the opening night, he was very nervous and he didn’t want to come in the room because there was no backstage entry for him at that time. But he did a fantastic show and when he saw how he was received by the patrons, he was more than happy to come back and I think for the next 10 years he worked there at least 20 or more times.
In 1968, when Johnny cut his LP album “JO’K Live on the Gold Coast”, the photo on the cover of the album shows the whole room filled with American servicemen who were on R&R leave from Vietnam. The Playroom was unlicensed from 1966 until licenses became available in 1970 so we made our money from the cover charge and selling food. We eventually got a license and I was the first woman to have a night club license in Queensland, which I held for the next 16 years. The venue had three different areas from which we could present acts. It was very much ahead of its time, I have to say that.
Delores Nolan (Medland) learnt dancing in Sydney before performing professionally there. She followed this with work overseas, in Brisbane and finally on the Gold Coast. She met ‘Snow’ Medland when she was performing at the Chevron. When they married she cemented her links to the Gold Coast and to one of the areas pioneering families.
I was performing at the Theatre Royal in Brisbane in 1956 and my agent called to see if I wanted to perform at the South Coast. Jack said it was a small town called Surfer’s Paradise, about 50 miles south of Brisbane on the coast, so I drove with a friend who was a comedian and compare in the pitch black dark on a two-lane highway, one up and one down, half dirt and half bitumen, no lights and we thought we were never going to get there.
The performance turned out to be a great success and then I got a lot of engagements at the Corroboree Nightclub from then on. I ended up introducing the Cha-Cha-Cha to the Corroboree that year.
Every time I had a break between Sydney shows or overseas shows, I’d come up and work in Surfer’s Paradise - call it a working holiday if you like. I loved Surfer’s, so every chance I could get I came. I was billed as an exotic dancer but it all depended on where I worked. I did everything from tap to ballet but, now and again, I’d perform an act called ‘Cocktail Fantasy’, which was a medley of dances from ballet right through to tap in different stages of undress, with a bit of patter in between and that’s why they sometimes billed me as a stripper. I decided that the Gold Coast Is where I wanted to be so I bought a unit and got engaged and then settled here permanently in 1961. ‘Snow’ and I went on to build one of the first houses on Chevron Island.
In 1975 I was nominated for the Miss Miami High event and I won it! Jane Glohe (nee Brown) visited the Gold Coast as a tourist, regularly staying at the Riviera Motor Inn with her family, until they all moved here from Hong Kong in the late 1960s to live here permanently. In 1969 the Miami State High School began the Miss Miami High Quest. It soon became one of the most important events on the school calendar. It was an unusual school activity, especially by today’s standards, but it raised funds and developed the school spirit. Girls were nominated by their school houses and then judged according to their knowledge of current affairs, public speaking skills, and deportment. Initially an event for girls in Years 11 and 12 it was eventually broadened, in line with contemporary thinking, to include boys. In 1975, when Jane won the title, living on the Gold Coast took on new meaning.
When we arrived we lived at the Motor Inn for a couple of months when our house was being built. We thought it was the coolest thing because it had this big pool. We had lots of dinners delivered as we only had a kitchenette. My first year at Miami State High School was Year 8 in 1971. In 1975 I was nominated for the Miss Miami High event and I won it. We had to raise money and hold functions to do this but I guess the initial nominations were based on popularity. Due to an accident I missed the first week of school and the principal, Bill Callinan, held off the ceremony to swear in the house captains until I returned. It was a big year in lots of ways. A lot of people said that they were so happy when I won the Quest and of course I was as well!
Entertainer ‘Lucky Grills’ first came to Surfers Paradise in 1950 for an impromptu performance at the Windjammer Night Club. He played in other parts of the country and overseas before returning to the Coast in 1956. He worked in vaudeville and variety shows as a compare and comedian up and down the Coast but left in 1960 and didn’t return to work on the Gold Coast strip until 1967. He moved to the area in 1979 and lived on the Coast for many years before leaving to live in Brisbane for a spell. He returned permanently in 2003. His legacy includes the lead in the television detective series ‘Bluey.’ He died in 2007 shortly after his last performance.
In 1956 I was appearing at the Theatre Royal in Brisbane, which was a vaudeville variety show and whilst I was at the theatre Claude Carnell, who was running the Currumbin Play Room - a club at the back of the Currumbin Hotel - came up to the show one Thursday night and invited me to come down every Saturday night and do the late show at 1 o’clock. The Tivoli Show finished at 10.30 at night and I jumped in the car and raced down and did the 1 o’clock show and then I worked Sunday afternoon doing the live entertainment on Greenmount Beach.
I eventually worked at the Coolangatta Hotel and I had to do a change of program every night. You’d get locals who’d come on a particular night of the week and you couldn’t expect them to come back and see the same show all the time, so we had this system worked out where we could change the program every night. We had a list of over 200 comedy sketches in the show. There was a singer named Marjorie Marshall, there was Geoff Mack, Tabby Frances, a guy named Stevie Chung Doo who was a Chinese singer, and a girl named Patty Monroe and we’d do a different show every couple of nights. There was a camping ground nearby and families would put their tents up and stay for two weeks and they’d come to that show every night of the week because they’d get a different one. They could bring their kiddies, so it was very big business.
Eventually people wouldn’t come out to our style of show anymore and television had made a big impact. I moved into the Clubs, which was very successful and continued with different material. It had all changed by then.
Rene came to the Gold Coast in search of sunshine, sand and sparkling water. She established a career in hospitality working in some of the iconic restaurants, bars and accommodation venues of the 1950s and 1960s. These included the Surfers Paradise Hotel, Margot Kelly’s Hibiscus Room Restaurant, the Pink Elephant and the Skyline Room at the Chevron.
I heard nothing about Australia until my boyfriend decided that Holland wasn’t for him anymore and that he wanted to go to a subtropical climate. We got married on 26 February and we left Holland on 10 March 1955. We came to Gippsland in Victoria first, and it definitely wasn’t tropical. We thought Brisbane looked really good on the map because we thought it would have beautiful beaches so we didn’t like that either when we found out that it only had mudflats. We visited some Dutch people who had settled on the Gold Coast on our French Taro motor scooter and that was really what we were looking for. In 1955 the beach in Surfer’s Paradise was a wide beach with white sand that went squeak, squeak under your feet and it was just so beautiful. I said, “I really want to live here but I don’t want to go any further than Mermaid Beach”. I thought it was too far out.
I eventually worked at the Surfer’s Paradise Hotel in the milk bar and that was a really nice job. Every Wednesday night we had the buses come in from Coolangatta and they used to bring them in by the busloads and we had to make all the toasted sandwiches for the suppers. That’s actually where I learned a lot of my slang, things like “having a finger in the pie” and a “cake of soap”. To me, a cake was always something you ate. I got educated there with the Australian language. I worked at the Sari Bar at the Surfers Paradise Hotel when I had learnt to be a barmaid and I was transferred from Surfer’s to the Pink Elephant Bar at the Chevron. That Bar had the rich, had the famous, had the underworld and had the racing fraternity as well as the clergy.
Before all these other hotels were built, the only place where you could have 500 or 1000 people around the pool and in the building was the Chevron, so all the big conventions were held there. I finished at the Chevron in 1984. I was approached by the management of the newly opened Voyager Resort at Broadbeach, a Timeshare Resort, to start work as their housekeeper. I accepted the position, but moved on to reception and sales shortly after. The Gold Coast has been very kind to me, and I wouldn’t leave it for quids!