Mooloolaba, on the Sunshine Coast at the mouth of the Mooloolah River, is 90 km north of central Brisbane. When the township was first surveyed it was known as Mooloolah Heads, deriving its name from the river, which was named from an Aboriginal word perhaps referring to the schnapper fish plentiful in its waters (the 'mulu') or the 'mullu', the red-bellied black snake. The change of name to Mooloolaba came about in 1920, to distinguish the nascent township from the developing township of Mooloolah.
First explored by Europeans in the early 1860s, Mooloolaba was, like nearby Maroochydore, a timber-cutting depot from the late 1860s, William Pettigrew established a timber depot at the river mouth and, using a wharf operated by James Low, shipped his product via steamers to Brisbane sawmills. The river bar often was an obstacle, and silt added to the difficulties, as the felling of trees upstream contributed to run-off. Pettigrew withdrew from Mooloolaba in the early 1890s, establishing a sawmill in Maroochydore, and development stagnated for nearly two decades, with fishing and fruit growing the main enterprises. In the early 1900s the former Pettigrew holdings were acquired by a surveyor, Thomas O'Connor, who subdivided and surveyed Mooloolah Heads Township (1915), initiating a fledgling seaside tourist destination.
Mooloolaba's beaches and river boating were particularly patronised by Buderim people, who had the choice of the Wharemoane boarding house or cottages along the river. Conditions for boating, fishing and surfing were of a high standard. The main drawback was access, with a boggy, sandy headland track along the coast or a complicated cane-train and river journey from an inland railway station. A surf life-saving club began in 1922.
Since the development of Mooloolaba for tourism, it has been linked with Maroochydore geographically and as an economic unit. In the 1950s, however, Mooloolaba had about one-quarter of Maroochydore's population, and the emergence of apartment building lagged behind Maroochydore. The opening of the David Low coastal road in the early 1960s fostered local development activity and the merging of the two settlements. Mooloolaba Beach, backed by the river, wharves and marina, had not been overwhelmed by high-rise by the early 2000s, and the dominant skyline feature was the Point Cartwright Lighthouse (1979) on the other side of the river in Buddina (in Caloundra City). The Outrigger International beach resort (16 levels on Mooloolaba Esplanade) marked a change in the scale of the local built environment. There are a number of canal-type estates west of the river, mostly modest in scale, with a limited number of high-rise apartments confined to the coastal frontage. A large attraction at the wharves is the Underwater World Oceanarium. It adjoins the Mooloolaba caravan park which has 'absolute beach frontage'.
Mooloolaba has a State primary school (1933), with secondary and TAFE facilities in neighbouring Mountain Creek. There is a shopping strip along Brisbane Road and regional shopping in Maroochydore. The Mooloolaba Yacht Club has moorings on the Maroochy River.
Mooloolaba's census populations have been:
|Mooloolaba / Maroochydore||1961||3068|
Helen Gregory, Making Maroochy: a history of the land, the people and the shire, Brisbane, Boolarong for Maroochy Shire Council, 1991
Robert Longhurst, Mooloolaba Surf Life Saving Club: our club, our story 1922-1997, Mooloolaba, Mooloolaba Surf Lifesaving Club, c1997
Maroochydore to Mooloolaba: then and now, Nambour, Maroochy Shire Library Service, 1994