Friday 11 October 2013

History on the Gold Coast

I suspect the title of this post is causing a few raised eyebrows in Australia.

The Gold Coast, stretching north-south along the Queensland coast south of Brisbane, is a relatively new entity, having grown out of several seaside towns which merged into one big conglomerate over decades.

So, it being fairly young, "history" isn't the first thing you think of when you hear the city's name mentioned.

On top of that, the place is known for something else - a hedonistic offering of beaches, dining, shopping and nightlife. So again, we're not thinking history.

Queensland in the postwar decades was also notorious for being pro-development, to the point of bulldozing attractive historic buildings in the middle of the night.

So I'm wasn't sure what there'd be left to see when I took a historical walk in Southport, one of the Gold Coast's key business-orientated suburbs and an early seaside destination for weary 19th century Brisbanites.

When I have some time to spare in an Australian regional destination, I like to see if there's a self-guided walking tour available online. This time I found the Southport Heritage Walk, outlined in a slick PDF produced by Gold Coast Heritage.

It directs the user around downtown Southport, pointing out both existing historic buildings and several which have disappeared.

I have to say, it was more challenging to follow than expected. For a start, there was this going on, the building of the Gold Coast's (much-needed) first tram line:

But with a bit of weaving and dodging, I managed to get around the trackworks and have a look at what history remained under the gaudy veneer of modern commerce.

One of the gems still in place was Cecil's Hotel - and note the clever subscript to Cecil's name added by the business currently in the premises:

Across Nerang Street on the other side of what will be a major tram stop were two extant gems.

The first was the former Southport Town Hall, a marvellous piece or Art Deco architecture which has survived all the Gold Coast changes since 1935:

Next door was the former Southport Ambulance Centre, home to an ambulance service serving the Gold Coast from 1919. The building itself was opened in 1922 - check out the Maltese Crosses on the facade:

And within the building I found brand-new cafe Percy's Corner, thanks to the Beanhunter app.

Not only did the decor have a vintage touch that fitted well with the building's history, but the cafe had been named after Percy Raby, the first superintendent of the centre:

You'll note that the barista was sporting a vintage moustache, always a good sign when looking for a decent cafe in urban Australia. In apparent deference to the Gold Coast, however, beneath that black T-shirt he had on a pair of colourful Hawaiian shorts.

There was plenty more to see on the PDF but it was a hot day and the trackworks were hindering navigation, so I looped around to Scarborough Street to find the attractive Southport Catholic Church:

... and finished up in a nondescript stretch of street next to where the Southport Railway Station had stood until the train service from Brisbane was cancelled in the 1960s.

As I stood pondering the abandonment of rail 50 years ago and its noisy reestablishment just around the corner today, I glanced at the shops and the towers beyond. Their facades represented a lively mix of eras. There couldn't be a better illustration of the ever-changing look of the Gold Coast:

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of TravMedia and the Vibe Hotel Gold Coast.

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