SOUTHERN GOLD COAST HISTORY

The history of the Southern Gold Coast is a rich tapestry of stories, shaped by indigenous culture, pioneering heritage and a notorious sway towards anti-development that has left the region relatively untouched compared to the rest of the Gold Coast.

Distinctly, the eight villages have remained, each keeping their own individual charm and unique features that define them. Here is a selection of stories and facts that paint the picture of the Southern Gold Coast - from past to present.       

How Coolangatta got its name

In 1846, the schooner, Coolangatta, came to grief near Point Danger, later motivating the name of our seaside town in 1883.

Following five weeks of anchorage off the coast due to rough conditions, the cargo ship was rafting cedar before losing both anchors in strong winds and being driven ashore. After numerous efforts to re-float the ship with some attempts looking promising, the vessel was then pushed back to shore with no signs of life. 

The wreckage was swallowed by the sand and following the 1974 floods, the carcass resurfaced on North Kirra beach. The remains of the ship were collected by the Gold Coast City Council for storage and preservation and are now in the hands of the Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society. 

Today, a memorial to the schooner stands at the Gold Coast Airport.



Home of the Banana Industry

Tomewin Mountain in the Currumbin Valley was the original home of Australia’s banana industry. Pioneer Arthur Freeman’s Currumbin Valley property became the largest commercial banana farm in Australia. 

Established in 1915, the family farm of more than 100 acres was known for its high quality tropical fruits and award winning bananas, grown in the fertile volcanic soil and ideal growing conditions on Tomewin.  

Run by four generations of Freeman’s, it is the only continuous commercial fruit and vegetable farm in Currumbin Valley that remains from over a century ago, but is now joined by a growing organic farming community on the Mountain.

The Freeman’s continue to supply fruit and vegetables to passing locals and visitors from their iconic yellow fruit truck on Tomewin Mountain Road. 



Captain Cook Discovers Point Danger

Situated on the border of Queensland and New South Wales, Point Danger headland is separated by Rainbow Bay to the north and Duranbah Beach to the south.

Not only a popular tourist destination known for its stretching coastal views and whale and dolphin watching, our most iconic Southern Gold Coast headland is brimming with Australian maritime history.

Captain James Cook discovered the area on his 1770 journey up the east coast of Australia, gaining its name to warn mariners of the dangerous coral reefs below.

Today, you will find the Captain Cook Memorial doubling as an active lighthouse, moulded from cast iron recovered in the 1960s from the Endeavour itself and formed into the monument in 1970.

Point Danger is also home to the Centaur Memorial which remembers the sinking of the Australian Hospital Ship Centaur in 1943 while the Walk of Remembrance commemorates other ships and lives lost at sea during World War II.

An icon in Australian history, Point Danger commemorates the discovery of the east coast while also attracting thousands for its natural beauty.


An Iconic Attraction is Born

Hailing back to 1947, beekeeper, flower grower and Currumbin resident, Alex Griffiths, started feeding the region’s wild lorikeets on his parents’ land in Tomewin Street. The original intent was to keep the lorikeets from eating his prized blooms, however the feeding soon became a popular local tourist attraction and by the mid-20th Century, Currumbin Bird Sanctuary was born.

In 1976, the founder Alex Griffiths gifted the Sanctuary to the people of Queensland via the National Trust, a like-minded organisation dedicated to preserving the states natural and cultural heritage.

The name was changed to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary in 1995, to better reflect the broad range of animals which found their home at the park.

Today, the heritage listed sanctuary continues to operate on a not-for-profit basis, with all funds going back into the park to fuel research, public education and the caring of sick and injured wildlife.

While the lorikeets continue to attract crowds twice daily, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary not only gives people the opportunity to see a range of Australia’s wildlife species but to also interact with them.

With a long and rich history, Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary has become engrained in the everyday life of Southern Gold Coast culture.


Symbolism of Elephant Rock

Drive along the Currumbin foreshore and you’ll encounter Elephant Rock - an iconic giant rock which is symbolic of the namesake elephant it resembles.

The wave cut platform was formed by waves eroding the closely bedded argillite and fine-grained greywacke cliffs, which has now left an isolated and easily identifiable local icon.

Elephant Rock has historically been known to enclose a discrete surf beach, a great lookout and an ideal spot for fishermen, however, in more modern times the landmark has been host to numerous significant events.

Each year the Swell Sculpture Festival is held between Currumbin Rock and Elephant Rock, with the icon becoming a pedestal for a signature artwork as thousands flock to the 1km stretch of Currumbin’s coastline to bask in its beauty.

From humble beginnings, Currumbin RSL’s Anzac Day event has grown and matured into a well-known service held at Elephant Rock whose tides symbolise the shores of Gallipoli. It was dubbed the Rock of Remembrance for the 2015 ANZAC Poppy Art Project, in which thousands of handmade red poppies saturated the icon.

Boasting views that stretch south to Coolangatta, north to South Stradbroke Island and West, over the beautiful village of Currumbin, Elephant Rock has become an easy way to identify the area, a figure of historical significance and a part of the Southern Gold Coast culture.


South-Coast Railway, 1903-1961

The South-Coast railway line ran from Brisbane to the Gold Coast from 1903 to 1961. The original line which opened in 1889 went as far south as Southport, before the second extension saw it stretch to the southern Gold Coast and Queensland-New South Wales border in 1903.

The railway offered both passenger and excursion services. As a result of the increasing popularity of motor vehicles and political interests in public transport, the line closed in 1961.

Today, the line between Tugun and Coolangatta is still visible. The railway bridge over Currumbin Creek was converted to a footbridge with short sections of the line between Currumbin and Coolangatta being converted into bike paths. Some sections of Griffith and Wright Street in Coolangatta are built on the former railway.



The Kirra Hill Community Centre

With a history spanning close to 100 years, the Kirra Hill Community and Cultural Centre has become a local icon within the Southern Gold Coast community.

It dates back to the end of World War 1, when returning soldiers brought with them an influenza epidemic that forced the closure of the NSW and QLD border for four months. This called for a new school for the local school children who would normally cross the border, and a unique site atop the Kirra Headland became home to the Coolangatta State School, opening its doors in 1919. 

Facing increasing enrolments, the school moved to another site in 1977. From 1979, it reformed into the Coolangatta Special School, providing services for students with intellectual disabilities until 2006 when it also moved to a more modern building.  

As a result of the historical significance of the building, community action began and the ‘Save Kirra Hill’ group was formed in 2004 in a bid to protect the site from being demolished or sold for new developments. People power won the fight which led to the Queensland Government passing the custodianship over to the Gold Coast City Council in 2008, to create a facility for community purposes.

Today, the heritage listed site has been restored and transformed into a multipurpose centre that offers hireable spaces to the public for artistic activities, meetings, exercise classes, weddings and other functions. The centre is also host to an art gallery which gives local artists and groups the opportunity to showcase exhibitions free of charge. It also features a historical display room, showcasing information and artefacts from the region. 

The Kirra Hill Community Centre we see today is a symbol of strong community participation, provides a rich and interesting history and is pivotal to the Southern Gold Coast story.


Natureland Zoo

During the 1950s and 60s, the Southern Gold Coast was home to its own zoo. It all began in 1954, when an area of swamp and scrub land on the NSW/QLD border was transformed into the site of the Coolangatta-Tweed Heads Zoological Gardens.

The enlargement of a natural lake enabled swans, ducks and other water birds to roam freely while the public strolled through the garden on sightseeing tours. 

The Gardens later became known as the Natureland Zoo which opened in 1957 after it took almost four years to complete. 

Popular amongst the local kids and tourists, the zoo opened its own cabaret and dance restaurant to attract more of the night life holiday makers in 1959. In 1960, an Olympic pool was also constructed and local schools held swimming lessons there. 

Although small, the seven hectare zoo at Binya Avenue was home to jaguars, lions, tigers, cape hunting dogs, monkeys, around 600 different types of birds, horses, donkeys, porcupines, wombats, ostriches, emus, rabbits, guinea pigs and snakes.

The population pressure proved too much for the zoo and it was sold for $1 million in 1986 to make way for Coolangatta’s first major unit developments. 


Southern Gold Coast- The Dance Capital

During the golden era of the 50s and 60s, the Southern Gold Coast was the place to be on a Saturday night, with masses flocking to the sleepy seaside town for its live music venues and party atmosphere. 

Opening in 1953, Danceland Coolangatta became a popular hotspot for moving and grooving in the local area. Dances at the local halls were also common amongst people of all ages and were seen as the ultimate social event.

A deep grounding in music and dance saw a local and humble kiosk on Greenmount Beach broadcasting music across the foreshore. Every morning at 11am, the owner Doug Roughton would call across the radio, ‘its Hokey Pokey time’ and the crowds would erupt into the locally born iconic hand movement.

The beachside kiosk soon became the coolest hangout on the coast and almost 300 people would flock to the beach each day to participate in the famous ‘Hokey Pokey’ hand jive – which soon became a phenomenon in the Southern Gold Coast region. 

Today, the rich history of dance on the Southern Gold Coast dance is brought back to life each year with the Cooly Rocks On nostalgia festival that takes place in June across Coolangatta, Tweed and Kirra.




Images courtesy of Picture Gold Coast