The Gold Coast is Australia's largest and most aggressively marketed holiday and retirement site. With a population of about half a million, it is now the sixth largest city in Australia and, together with Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, forms a 200 km metropolis from Noosa to the Tweed River. The beach resort known as the Gold Coast extends from the end of The Spit (east of Labrador) to Coolangatta-Tweed Heads, a distance of about 40 km. A more expansive description has the Gold Coast reaching from the mouth of the Coomera River to Banora Point, New South Wales.

'SOUTH COAST'

For most of the first half of the twentieth century the region was known as the South Coast - hence the 'South Coast Railway' which opened in stages between 1889 and 1903. The name 'Gold Coast' was first used in the 1950s, postdating 'Surfers Paradise' and several of the other names now found along its coastline by at least 30 years. When the period of postwar shortages ended in the 1950s there was a surge of investment in tourist facilities in Surfers Paradise. Real estate prices leapt and in about 1954 a local journalist wrote that the prices justified the name 'gold coast'. It came to have three meanings: the real estate prices, the charges allegedly levied on tourists and the ocean beach.

Anticipating the development of the coastal strip, the Southport and Coolangatta town councils were amalgamated with the intervening coastal strip to form South Coast Town in 1948. (The inland area, beginning in some parts less than a kilometre from the beach, where the dunes ran into swamp, was kept as a shire.) In 1958 the town was formally renamed Gold Coast and in 1959 it was proclaimed a city. The 1950s were a period of rapid growth in both population and tourist activity: the town/city's census populations were 19,807 (1954) and 33,716 (1961). The developing resort localities were:

LocalityPopulation
19541961
Broadbeach306972
Burleigh Heads14922692
Currumbin309639
Main Beach-844
Mermaid Beach3631281
Palm Beach6601491
Surfers Paradise24024319

HINTERLAND AND SOUTHPORT

The Gold Coast is intersected by several streams: the Coomera and Nerang Rivers, which empty into the Broadwater; Tallabudgera and Currumbin Creeks; and the Tweed River. Most were identified by coastal surveys in the 1840s, but it was the upstream regions which offered superior farming prospects. Nerang and Tallebudgera were settled in the late 1860s. The swampy downstream areas were used for cotton and sugar growing, with mixed success. A sugar farmer, Johann Meyer, opened a hotel and operated a ferry across the Nerang near today's Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise, in the late 1870s.

Southport town was gazetted in 1872 and Coolangatta in 1884. About midpoint, Burleigh Heads had a hotel for adventurous tourists in 1882. Local government was supervised by the Nerang divisional board (1880), but three years later the Southport divisional board was severed from it. Southport was patronised by Queensland's Governor Musgrave, with the placid Broadwater and the boisterous surf catering for most tastes. The Southport railway was opened in 1889, linking the coast directly to Brisbane and Beenleigh.

For several decades high-grade timber had been rafted down the Coomera and Nerang Rivers, giving an indication of profits to be had upstream. Banana growers later followed the Currumbin Creek, along with dairy farmers and citrus orchardists. A railway line through Nerang, Mudgeeraba and Currumbin to Tweed Heads was opened in 1903. Campers and excursionists were met at the stations and taken by car to Burleigh Heads and Currumbin. Real estate agents began to subdivide coastal land, including the Main Beach estate (1885), the Surfers Paradise estate (1917) and the Palm Beach estate (1923-26). An enterprising developer reclaimed swamp land at Main Beach for an estate in the 1930s.

CARS AND AIRLINES

A site on the road from Johann Meyers' ferry was chosen by Jim Cavill in 1923 for his Surfers Paradise Hotel. In 1925 he opened for business, coinciding with the replacement of the vehicular ferry with the Jubilee Bridge. Motor tourists could now readily access the coastal beaches, and south to Burleigh Heads and Currumbin when the Tallebudgera Creeks were bridged in 1927.

More and more Brisbane residents were attracted to the surf beaches as Moreton Bay's swampy, Edwardian resorts faded from popularity. Southern holiday makers were attracted by relaxed drinking and beach attire standards (mostly beyond the reach of Southport town inspectors) and miles of beaches for surf and sun baking. Well-travelled developers in the early postwar years identified the Gold Coast's resemblance to American sun-belt resorts, noticing its potential for Florida Canal estates. In the postwar years some beaches and dunes from Broadbeach southwards were exploited for sand mining.

In the early 1950s Ansett-ANA operated a flying boat service, Sydney/Grafton/Southport/Brisbane. By 1957 they had introduced a daily Super Convair flight from Melbourne via Wagga, thence Sydney, Coolangatta and Brisbane. The Coolangatta runway was sealed in 1958 and in 1960 under the two airline agreement Ansett-ANA and TAA agreed to share jet service capacity on trunk routes including Melbourne-Coolangatta and Sydney-Coolangatta. Lennons Broadbeach Hotel (1955) was an adventurous essay in the direction of international resort standards, and Stanley Korman's Chevron Hotel and Chevron Island estate made further strides in that direction. Korman and another Melbourne developer, Bruce Small, led a phalanx of Melbourne property entrepreneurs who invested in motels, resort accommodation, apartments and canal estates.

CANAL ESTATES

The canal estates capitalised on the otherwise worthless swamps in the adjoining Albert Shire, where the population grew from 9000 to 30,000 between 1954 and 1971, and then spectacularly to 72,000 by 1976. Not all the growth was in the canal estates, but residential living away from the surf coast gained appeal after beach erosion in 1967 and 1974, increasing tourist congestion and the high cost of coastal land.

In the mid-1960s a Charleville grazier, Arthur Earle, acquired mixed dairying land east of Burleigh Heads. Much of it was swampy, marginal at best, and nearly worthless as dairying declined. It cost Earle about $4 an acre, but within 20 years it was the site of the Robina Town project, with Bond University (1989), a regional drive-in shopping centre (1996; department store plus over 200 other stores) and a railway station terminus for the New South Coast rail service (1998).

THEME PARKS

The Gold Coast has long been associated with theme parks and similar attractions. Some, including Magic Mountain at Mermaid Beach, had a relatively short life. Only Sea World at Main Beach, opened in 1971, is at the coast. The other three main parks are all to be found in suburban Oxenford, equidistant between Brisbane and Coolangatta on the Pacific Motorway. Dreamworld opened in 1981, Wet n' Wild in 1984 and Warner Brothers Movie World in 1991. Movie World also includes film studios and is the centre of the Gold Coast's movie industry.

HINTERLAND GROWTH

The South Coast railway line, which wound through hilly farm country, had been closed in 1961 between Nerang and Tweed Heads. The highway provided quicker access to the coastal resorts, while the rail corridor at Tweed Heads was seen as valuable real estate. The new line linked Beenleigh with Helensvale, Nerang and Robina, each with a catchment of new suburbs. Extensions were planned to Varsity Lakes (near Bond University) and eventually to Coolangatta Airport.

During the late 1980s the Albert Shire was the fastest growing area in Australia. Its increasing urbanisation strengthened the case for amalgamation with Gold Coast City, which occurred in 1995. The city's and the Shire's census populations had been about 158,000 and 144,000 respectively, a combined figure of 302,000 (including tourists and visitors). In 2001 the combined population was 441,736, of whom 406,987 were estimated to be residents. (Gold Coast City's area then was 1407 sq km, which was reduced to 1358 sq km in 2008 when the boundaries were adjusted by detaching the Beenleigh/Eagleby area).

LIGHT RAIL

In August 2010 construction began on stage one of the Gold Coast Rapid Transit project, a partnership between the Queensland State Government, Gold Coast City Council and the Commonwealth Government, to ultimately provide 40 km of light rail system to service the growing population of the Gold Coast.

Stage one of the G:link opened in July 2014. It is a 13 km light rail corridor traveling from Gold Coast University Hospital through 16 stations to Broadbeach South. Future stages link Helensvale in the north and Coolangatta via the Gold Coast Airport to the south. This is the first light rail system in Australia outside a capital city.

EMPLOYMENT PROFILE

The booms of the postwar years and the 1980s led to the construction of the high-rise resort apartments and international hotels. Equally spectacular, but low-rise, was the inland urbanisation, beginning with canal estates and culminating in satellite towns. Some of the population increase came from the spread of metropolitan Brisbane and some from tourists and interstate residents who elected to partake of a sun belt lifestyle. They in turn generated markets and employment in hospitality, building construction, manufacturing, retailing, health and community services. During the period 1961-91 the major employment growth areas in the Gold Coast were:

Employment SectorGrowth Index
19611991
Finance and business1002586
Community Service1001035
Government & Administration100974
Retail & Wholesale100808
Recreation, hospitality100655
Transport, storage100603
Manufacturing100496
Building, construction100478

In 2011 the most common occupation types in the Gold Coast City municipal area were professionals (17.4% of total workforce), technicians and trades workers (15.4%), clerical and administrative workers (14.5%), sales workers (12.7%), and managers (12.3%).

DEMOGRAPHY

The median age of Gold Coast City's population in 2011 was 37 years, only one year higher than the median for Queensland and the same as the national median. In 2011 38.4% of Gold Coast City's dwellings were semi-detached houses, flats or apartments, almost double the amount for Queensland as a whole (20.1%).

The census populations have been:

YearAlbert ShireSouth Coast/
Gold Coast
1954871419,807
196110,66933,716
197129,36066,697
197672,06287,510
1981154,870117,824
198692,766130,304
1991143,697157,857
19962-375,175
20013-426,661
2006-472,279
2011-494,501
1 Logan City severed from Albert Shire in 1976.
2 Most of Albert Shire amalgamated with Gold Coast City in 1995.
3 Coastal localities had 125,000 residents, leaving roughly 302,000 in inland Gold Coast City.
Further Reading: 

Jim Davidson and Peter Spearritt, Holiday business: tourism in Australia since 1870, Melbourne University Press, 2000

Hector Holthouse, Illustrated history of the Gold Coast, Sydney, Reed, 1982

Michael Jones, Country of five rivers, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1988

Robert Longhurst, 'Settlement and Development of Queensland's Gold Coast to 1889' in Settlement of the colony of Queensland, Brisbane, Library Board of Queensland, 1978

Alexander McRobbie, The fabulous Gold Coast, Surfers Paradise, Pan News, 1984

Alexander McRobbie, The real Surfers Paradise, Brisbane, Pan News, 1988

Alexander McRobbie, 20th century Gold Coast people, Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast Arts Centre Press, 2000

John Vader, The Gold Coast book, Milton, Jacaranda, 1980

Coolangatta, Gold Coast Inner Hinterland, Robina, Southport, Stapylton and Surfers Paradise entries