Back when Sandgate and Redcliffe were the most popular seaside retreat for Brisbane dwellers, the coastal region to the south of Brisbane was known as the Far South Coast. That was until the 1950s, when its new name, the ‘Gold Coast’, announced its aspirations of glamour and prosperity. It has received numerous monikers since, including ‘The Millionaires’ Mad Mile’ and ‘the Glitter Strip’, which capture the Gold Coast’s glitzy, sometimes sleazy, reputation.
The South Coast’s rebranding as a national and international tourist resort began when hotelier Jim Cavill opened his Surfers Paradise Hotel in 1925 in a suburb then known as Elston. The stretch of foreshore was by that time appreciated for its surf, but not hugely popular. This changed dramatically, when the new Jubilee Bridge replaced the old ferry in 1925, making Elston attractive to motoring tourists and Brisbane day-trippers. In 1933, the area was renamed Surfers Paradise, and despite some initial resistance, the name came to define a positive new image for the South Coast:
“SURFERS’ PARADISE ….The very name fires the imagination. It suggests the high-powered publicity of the Americans. One immediately thinks of some flambuoyantly picturesque spot in California or Florida. True, this newest of the south coast colonies has a touch of the rococo about it. But there is no garishness. The place suggests youth; smart little houses, gay colours, attractive gardens. There is an air of impudence without pertness, of happiness without heartiness.”1
By the late 1950s, the Gold Coast experienced a great transformation, with the development of high-quality accommodation, such as the international-class Chevron Hotel. The sand dunes of Elston made way for the luxury shopping of Surfer’s Paradise.
Places to Shop
Southport, to the immediate north of Surfers Paradise, was an early centre of the South Coast, and a popular seaside resort amongst Brisbane’s wealthy class since the late 19th century. Retail grew dramatically after the 1920s, with the increased population that came with the opening of the Jubilee Bridge. By the 1930s, Nerang St was firmly established as the district for tailors, dressmakers and garment shops, offering the metropolitan comforts of concrete pavements, bitumen roads and covered verandahs. Two tailors on Nerang St, Mr Petch and Mr Smith, boasted London cutting experience. Also on Nerang St in the 1930s were a number of drapers offering a range of textiles and men’s and women’s clothing, such as White’s, Annand’s, and J. Purvis & Son. A standout on the street was A.C. Bastick, who had a large store known as the ‘high-class draper’ (though they likely catered to the middle of the market), and advertised to the street with his neon sign and attractive window displays.
In the 1950s, newspapers spoke of property booms, and a newly wealthy population looking to enjoy the Gold Coast vacation lifestyle. Boutique shopping, with the offer of fine imported goods, along with ‘futuristic’ architecture in the mid-century modern style, was considered part of the Gold Coast’s appeal for fashion-conscious Sydney-siders and Melbournites.
Drive-in shopping centres arrived at the Gold Coast from the late 1960s with Sundale in Southport (opened in 1969, and closed in 1989 when the larger Australia Fair shopping centre opened nearby) and Pacific Fair in Broadbeach (1977). While the growth of such suburban shopping destinations often sounds the death knell for smaller independent fashion boutiques, the opening of Cavill Avenue as a pedestrian mall, coupled with a thriving tourist market, has sustained numerous successful boutiques on the streets of Surfers Paradise. In the 1980s, Gold Coast shopping came to rival that of Brisbane, with the early appearance of a number of luxury brands in high-end local fashion boutiques attuned to international movements.
The market for luxury fashion has been sustained in recent decades with the continued development of luxury accommodation, notably with the Palazzo Versace in Southport in 2000, reputed to be the world’s first fashion-branded hotel. Frequented by visiting celebrities, the hotel sits next to the Marina Mirage Shopping Centre, built in 1988 and expensively redeveloped in 2009, which houses a number of high-end international fashion labels.
Design & Manufacture
There’s a history of agriculture on the Gold Coast, and for a time, cotton was grown in the swampy regions of wetland between the coast and surrounding hinterland. The Gold Coast is better known, however, for its production of successful fashion designers.
Ivy Hassard (nee Pearce) was a well known Queensland aviatrix of the 1930s. She moved to Surfers Paradise in 1947, where she opened the Gold Coast’s first fashion boutique, the ‘Exclusive Salon’. Continuing in this pioneering manner, she launched the Gold Coast’s first fashion show at the Surfers Paradise Hotel in 1954. The Courier Mail reported on the parade’s significance for Gold Coast fashion, noting that Hassard, together with collaborating designer, John Dolby, “will make a bid to establish Surfers Paradise as the beach fashion centre for Australia — as Capri is for the Mediterranean.”2
Her designs were paraded by a number of Sydney models, including June Dally-Watkins. Hassard later side-stepped the world of dress design by opening a beauty salon, ‘Jolie Madam’, in 1958, but returned to her design work with the launch of ‘Ivy Hassard Fashions’ boutique in the 1960s. At the height of her success, she employed a staff of around 20 female seamstresses in her workroom, and was locally famed, as well as in Sydney and Melbourne, for her glamourous evening gowns.
In the 1940s, Louis Réard’s scandalous ‘bikini’ design, famed as the ‘world’s smallest swimsuit’, hit Australia, thanks to Gold Coast designer Paula Stafford. Wearing her own two-piece designs on the beaches of Surfers Paradise, she attracted commissions from other beach-goers who admired her unusual skimpy costume. From this home-grown start, Stafford launched one of Queensland’s most successful design businesses. In the 1950s she had her own boutique—the Paula Stafford boutique in Surfers Paradise—along with stockists in England and approximately 400 around Australia. She had two factories, in which her colourful and fashionably adorned swimwear and leisurewear were produced. In the mid 20th century, fashionable visitors to the Gold Coast knew they could wear Paula Stafford by day and Ivy Hassard by night.
“There is no fashion for ‘going to town’ at Southport — women wearing city frocks of silk and linen, stockings, and high-heeled shoes, rub shoulders with ‘sister’ purchasers, clad in sleeveless cotton frocks, with bare legs and sandals. Shorts, sun-suits, and even bathing costumes are ‘de rigeuer’ [sic] at the beach.”3
The Gold Coast was an important site in Queensland for debate on changing attitudes to dress, social conduct and morality in the early to mid 20th century. The Courier Mail reported the outcomes of the State Conference for Catholic Women in 1933, at which the wearing of shorts outside the beach was condemned. Conference-goers expressed outrage that women were adopting men’s clothing, and demonstrated a general anxiety around increasing immodesty at Southport. The article also noted Queensland’s comparative conservatism to southern states.
In the mid 20th century, a reputation for relaxed attitudes to sex, dress and drinking came to define the culture of Surfers Paradise, aided by the fact that town inspectors were confined to their Southport stations. Nevertheless, in conservative 1950s Queensland, Gold Coast fashions were often accompanied by scandal. Indeed, Paula Stafford was the subject of considerable controversy when Sydney model Ann Ferguson, dressed in a Stafford bikini, was evicted from a Surfers Paradise beach by its first official lifeguard. Stafford retorted with an even more scandalous scene on the following day, organising a team of young women to model her bikinis on the beach to an enthralled crowd of media, police and a Catholic priest.
Fashion parades were held by Peg Kirkwood, who owned the Claudette Salon and His and Hers boutique. In 1957, Australia’s first ‘pyjama parties’ were held at Bernard Elsey’s Beachcomber Hotel. Here, couples danced together in the most relaxed of fashionable attire.
Fashion was found indoors and outdoors, with hotels competing with the foreshore as venues for dances, balls, carnivals and cabarets (many of the popular ones were organized by Jim Cavill). The pier at Southport was an ideal place to take in fashions, with people prone to promenading, or taking in a movie at the impressive Pier Picture Theatre. Miss Australia contestants paraded beach fashions at Coolangatta. Other beach-side beauty competitions, such as Sirens of the Surf, reinforced the athletic, bronzed-body archetype of Gold Coast glamour.
The marriage of motoring and fashion was a hallmark of the Gold Coast’s brand of outdoorsy glamour. The introduction of parking meters in 1964 gave rise to the iconic Gold Coast beauty, the meter maid. Young women, dressed in an eye-catching uniform of gold lamé bikinis, were employed to pay the parking meters so that tourists could avoid the threat of a fine while relaxing at the beach. Accessories of akubra hats, tiaras, sashes and lace overcoats have modified the look over the years, however the meter maids continue to define the image of Surfers Paradise.
The Surfers Paradise International Speedway was another opportunity to mix cars, clothing and tourism. Ivy Hassard showed at the Chevron Hotel’s prestigious fashion event ‘Concours D’Elegance’, which showcased garments designed to match the style and colour of a car. The show saw the talents of a number of Gold Coast design labels of the 1960s and 1970s, including Helene Walder’s ‘Helene of Surfers Paradise’ and Geulah Korman’s ‘Riviera Casuals’.
A Melbourne journalist noted the exciting mix of casual and formal, indoor and outdoor fashion scenes presented by the Gold Coast in the 1950s: “Despite the warm Bikini-suited days, South Queensland nights are chilly enough to offer an opportunity to the fur wearers to turn the hotel lounges into fashion larders that sparkle with gems and exclusive labelled frocks. But less than 200 yards away from this evening parade of the pretties are the casual jacketed, slacks clad outsiders who put on a fashion show of their own around the open air barbecue, with a background of bark huts, open fires, and dancing hurricane lights.”4
- 1929 'Advertising.', South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 - 1939), 5 January, p. 17, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136471835
- 1930 'NEW TAILOR.', South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 - 1939), 21 February, p. 2, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article136465780
- 1931 'Mystic Spell of the Sea—Sunny Southport's Irresistible Appeal.', The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 - 1933), 9 December, p. 8, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article21738417
- 1933 'BEACHES ONLY.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 8 September, p. 11, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1117011
- 1934 'SEASONABLE GIFTS.', South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 - 1939), 21 December, p. 4, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133768890
- 1937 'ADDITION TO STAFF.', South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 - 1939), 12 November, p. 3, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133670411
- 1938 'South Coast Resort Where Life Is Like A Song.', The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939), 14 September, p. 8, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article18907185
- 1939 'IMPENDING BUSINESS CHANGE.', South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 - 1939), 23 June, p. 6, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133657824
- 1947 'THOUSANDS SEE MISS AUSTRALIA PARADE.', The Courier-Mail (Brisbane, Qld. : 1933 - 1954), 6 October, p. 5, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article49653262
- 1954 'Surfers "just like posters".', Sunday Mail (Brisbane) (Qld. : 1926 - 1954), 21 March, p. 9, viewed 22 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article100180632
- 1978 'For Wendy a lavish choice of transport.', The Australian Women's Weekly (1933 - 1982), 18 October, p. 14, viewed 28 January, 2014, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article51769762
- Bedo, Stephanie. 2009. ‘Surfers the centre for socialite set’. Gold Coast. http://prelive.goldcoast.com.au/article/2009/07/23/130013_gold-coast-history.html
- King, Regina. 2011. ‘Calling the Gold Coast home again’. Gold Coast. http://prelive.goldcoast.com.au/article/2011/06/11/322785_more-gossip-news.html
- Gundi, Nicole. 2012. ‘What's in a Name: Hassard Place’. ABC Gold Coast. http://blogs.abc.net.au/queensland/2012/08/whats-in-a-name-hassard-place.html?site=goldcoast&program=gold_coast_drive
- Queensland Places. ‘Gold Coast’. http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/gold-coast
- Queensland Places. ‘Surfers Paradise’. http://www.queenslandplaces.com.au/surfers-paradise
Published in Issue 11, on March 25, 2014.