The name Sunshine Coast gained local standing in 1960 when the Nambour Chamber of Commerce agreed with the Real Estate Institute of Queensland that 'Sunshine Coast' better represented the area than the usual formulation 'Near North Coast'. Nambour was the headquarters of Maroochy Shire, still predominantly concerned with an agricultural hinterland of sugar, pineapples, avocados, bananas and ginger at Buderim Mountain.

The Sunshine Coast nomenclature came six years after the 'South Coast' was named 'Gold Coast'. Both names were intended to assist marketing of tourism and real estate. The Sunshine Coast was defined as stretching from Bribie Island to Noosa. By the mid-1990s it was often used to refer to the territory from the Glass House Mountains to Fraser Island, considerably further coast-wise, and staking a claim to a vast scenic hinterland.


The Sunshine Coast is intersected by the Mooloolah, Petrie and Maroochy Rivers, the last two emptying into the Pacific through a single mouth at Maroochydore. Like the Nerang River at the Gold Coast, they passed through coastal swamps, but the swamps were less extensive than at the Gold Coast and the late twentieth century canal estates were correspondingly fewer.

The coast was predominantly wallum (shrubby heathland) country which was unattractive for agriculture. The first European coastal settlement was dispersed grazing, along with river wharves for transporting timber rafters from inland ranges. That was also the case at Noosa and Tewantin where timber was taken from around the Noosa River and its downstream lakes.


The discovery of gold at Gympie in 1867 led to a road and railway (1888) from Brisbane, running via Nambour. Like several inland cities, Gympie's more prosperous citizens needed a coastal resort for relief from summer heat. They chose Tewantin and Noosa. Gympie Terrace, Noosaville, is a reminder of those pioneer holiday-makers.

Maroochydore was not so well patronised at the turn of the nineteenth century. The Salvation Army ran holiday camps at Cotton Tree from 1888, but the trip from Nambour was complicated by soft sand and boggy ground. Maroochydore's tourism began in the 1920s. Caloundra was better situated with a road from the Landsborough railway station.


All three Sunshine Coast towns became more accessible with the advent of motorcar transport from railway stations. The real breakthrough, however, was the construction of a coast road from Maroochydore to Noosa which required a bridge over the Maroochy River, opened in 1959. Named the David Low Way after the local state member of parliament, the coast road was funded by land subdividers Alfred Grant Pty Ltd and T.M. Burke Pty Ltd. Grant was also active south of Maroochydore, and Kawana Waters (1960) is testament to his entrepreneurship. T.M. Burke Pty Ltd subdivided the coast at Peregian Beach and Sunshine Beach. Both firms' endeavours were facilitated by David Low, who had mentioned the 'seaside interest' in his maiden speech in 1947. He continually promoted the coast's contribution to Queensland's 'sunshine state' economy.

The scenic jewel of the Sunshine Coast, Noosa, was viewed covetously by developers, but the Noosa Parks Association (1962) ran a 30 year campaign for landscape preservation. By and large the Association succeeded and high-rise was resisted. Noosa's low-rise profile, however, included the conversion of Hays Island, where Weyba Creek entered the Noosa River, into a canal estate (1972).

Larger canal estates flank the mouth of the Mooloolah River, but the most significant point of contrast between Noosa and Maroochydore-Mooloolabah is the latter's beachfront high-rise development. The prominent high-rise structures contain holiday apartments, and their patrons' spending power has ensured the replacement of fibro shops with swanky boutiques.


When the term 'Sunshine Coast' was adopted in 1960 the coast north of Noosa scarcely registered. The Noosa Parks Association called for the preservation of the northern coastline as the Cooloola National Park, and its demand became strident when sandminers applied for leases over 6000 acres, including the coloured sands, in 1963. The conflict rated for 12 years until a national park was proclaimed. By then Fraser Island had become a sandmining area, but conservation pressure led to it being recorded as part of the National Estate, and the Commonwealth Government banned the export of its mineral sands (1977). The whole Cooloola Coast became a tourism destination in its own right, with Rainbow Bay its major coastal settlement.

The Parks Association turned its attention to the undeveloped areas between Noosa and Mount Coolum, in effect advocating a green belt running behind the ribbon subdivisions of the 1960s-70s. Development applications by T.M. Burke were stymied and the green belt was proclaimed in the early 1990s.

These activities betokened shifting tourist preferences from beach to hill-station destinations. The Blackall Range, 12 km inland from Nambour, was a place of retreat from the humid Maroochy plains and Brisbane's oppressive summers. Quaint townships such as Montville and Mapleton were fashioned to appeal to tourists.


The inland sugar cane and pineapple farms, once the backbone of the Maroochy economy, came under pressure from two directions in the 1980s. Declining wholesale prices and a demand for land for industry and housing convinced many farmers to sell their properties. A solution to the sugar industry's financial difficulties was a suggested creation of canal estates, in preference to broadacre tiled roofs.

Tourism brought improved travel facilities; the Sunshine Coast airport south of Mount Coolum carried 41,400 passengers in 1989-90 and 221,000 in 1995.

As the region's population approached 200,000 the Sunshine Coast University College was founded at Sippy Downs, west of Kawana Waters in 1994. The college achieved full university status in 1998. Urbanisation also brought car-based shopping centres: Kawana Waters (1979), Noosa Junction (1987) and Sunshine Plaza at Maroochydore (1995). The Plaza is the largest in the region with a department store and over 210 other shops. Retail distribution was the largest, and one of the fastest growing, employment sectors in the 1980s-90s in the Sunshine Coast.

While the David Low Way had opened up the ribbon of coastal subdivisions, larger scale urbanisation required duplication of the Bruce Highway, the main road from Brisbane to the north of the state. The Maroochy Council, headquartered in Nambour, resisted proposals to move the highway away from its business centre, but finally agreed to a bypass road in 1990. The bypass was in turn linked to the Sunshine Motorway, which began life as a toll road from Sippy Downs to Coolum, via Maroochydore. The toll, bitterly opposed by local residents, did not last for long.

A dispute in 2014 over the intellectual property rights to the quirky Ettamogah pub, based on the Ken Maynard 'Our mob' cartoon, located on the Bruce Highway at the Sunshine Coast, saw the signage removed and the pub reformatted.


For statistical purposes the Sunshine Coast statistical subdivision was defined as the urbanised coastal fringe and the westerly settled area extending into Nambour. Its population in 2001 was 192,397, of whom 15,178 were estimated to be visitors or tourists. The three local government areas, Noosa, Maroochy and Caloundra, each had extensive hinterlands. Their combined population in 2001 was 250,819. The employment profiles of the three shires do not differ greatly from that of the Sunshine Coast overall.

Sunshine Coast's incomes from tourism and agriculture were $82.2 million (1998) and $166.0 million (1997) respectively.

The census populations of Caloundra City, Maroochy Shire and Noosa Shire have been:

LocationCensus DatePopulation
Caloundra City, Maroochy Shire and Noosa Shire194727,339
Sunshine Coast statistical division197643,650

The three local-government areas were amalgamated in March 2008 to form the Sunshine Coast Regional Council. Its census populations have been:

census datepopulation

In March 2013 more than 80% of voters in Noosa opted to leave the Sunshine Coast Regional Council in a de-amalgamation vote. From April 2013 transition committees and interim CEOs would be in place in the Noosa Shire leading to elections in late 2013 and a separate Noosa Shire council from 1 January 2014.

Nancy Cato, The Noosa story: a study in unplanned development, Milton, Jacaranda Press, 1982

Michael Gloster, The shaping of Noosa, Noosa Heads, Noosa Blue Publishing Group, 1987

Helen Gregory, Making Maroochy: a history of the land, the people and the Shire, Brisbane, Boolarong with Maroochy Shire Council, 1991

Hector Holthouse, Illustrated history of the Sunshine Coast, Frenchs Forest, NSW, Reed, 1982

Robert Longhurst, Sunshine Coast: our heritage in focus, South Brisbane, State Library of Queensland Foundation, 1995

Deborah Ralston, Creating growth: challenges facing the Sunshine Coast, Melbourne, CEDA, 2001

Caloundra, Cooloola, Maroochy, Noosa and Sunshine Coast Regional Council entries



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