History of Surfers Paradise
The Original Beach Icon
1940s Surfers Paradise Beach Scene
The three iconic kilometres of golden beach fronting Surfers Paradise have been a drawcard for people the world over for more than 100 years.
Surfers Paradise was born in 1933 when hotelier Jim Cavill pushed for the renaming of Elston, the area south across the Nerang River from the town of Southport.
A stroke of marketing genius, 'Surfers Paradise' pipped 'Sea Glint' as the coastal hideaway's new handle...and stands today as a name synonymous with one of the world's most dynamic urban beach destinations.
That distinctive coastal alchemy has acted as a magnet to a wide variety of larger-than-life characters, figures that many say have made the area what it is today.
This evolving rank of community leaders, colourful personalities and business identities have, over the decades, found new and exciting ways to combine Surfers' vibrant energy with bold visions of what the area can become.
Iconic names such as Ironman Trevor Hendy, bikini innovator Paula Stafford and Meter Maids founder Bernie Elsey have all contributed in different ways to the area's diverse history. Hendy epitomises our fresh and healthy beach culture, while Stafford's innovations with teh French-designed bikini played a role in shaping the clothing item that - more than any other - is associated with Surfers Paradise.
For his part, Elsey embodies the entrepreneurial spirit that has thrived on our strip of paradise. When council introduced parking metres to Surfers Paradise in 1965, Elsey formed a troupe of Meter Maids to feed tourists' metres and save them from fines.
Clad in skimpy gold outfits, Surfers Paradise Meter Maids came to symbolise the area's willingness to adapt to light-hearted, some might say 'cheeky', innovation.
It's the capacity of Surfers Paradise to move forward - to stay relevant - that's seen as a big factor in the coastal playground's 'everyday popularity' and a catalyst for huge numbers of visitors drawn here each year.
Any day of the year, a diverse range of nationalities and demographics are drawn to Surfers' white sands and rolling Pacific Ocean waves.
That's why decades after Jim Cavill gave the area a name that exemplifies its character, Surfers Paradise remains at heart and soul of what paradise is truly about.
Surfers Paradise Surf Life Saving Club Nippers, 1930, Queensland, photographer George Jackman
- 1935 Cyril Burcher rides the first surf ski at Surfers Paradise Beach after improting it from Hawaii.
1940s - 1950s
- 1947 Northcliffe Surf Life Saving Club is established.
- 1952 Paula Stafford adds her take to the controversial French bikini.
1960s - 1970s
- Although western surfing began at the end of the '50s, Australia's surf culture explodes in the '60s and '70s, a movement that goes on to shape the identity of Surfers Paradise and then the global surfing community.
1980s - 1990s
- 1984 Surf lifesaving drama The Coolangatta Gold is released, showcasing Surfers Paradise on the silver screen. The race itself captured Australia's imagination and helped launch the Australian Ironman Series.
- 1987 Surfers Paradise Surf Life Saving Club's Trevor Hendy won his first Australian Ironman Series championship.
The Growth of Paradise
The first Surfers Paradise Hotel constructed for Jim Cavill in 1925. Image courtesy of Gold Coast City Council Local Studies Library
The true pioneer of Surfers Paradise is James Beattie, who in the 1870s became the first person to farm the area. He sold out not long after to Johann Meyer, who opened the Main Beach Hotel as a tourist destination.
By 1889 the area had been given the name Elston, which it kept until 1933 when, due to lobbying by Jim Cavill, it was renamed Surfers Paradise – also the name of his popular hotel.
When Kinkabool, Surfers Paradise’s first highrise, was built in 1959, it signalled the injection of further entrepreneurial spirit and a drive that would soon define the region as Australia’s favourite beachside playground.
The next three decades saw a development boom unlike any in the country, a growth spurt that would push Surfers Paradise and the wider Gold Coast (which was named in 1959) from sleepy coastal holiday town to major urban centre.
Today, the Gold Coast – with Surfers Paradise at its heart – is the sixth largest city and fastest-growing region in Australia. Surfers Paradise is now a home to many and a dream holiday destination to many more. It’s a place of work for business owners and professionals and still, a timeless beachside playground for one and all.
Aerial view from the beach end of Cavill Avenue looking south to Broadbeach 1955. Image courtesy of the Gold Coast City Council Local Studies Library
- 1935 Fire destroys the original Surfers Paradise Hotel, which is rebuilt in 1936
1940s - 1950s
- As more motels are built, Surfers Paradise's potential as a tourist destination is realised, culminating in our first highrise in 1959, Kinkabool
- The development boom began to hit full swing, with several iconic buildings inclkuding Iluka, St Tropez and The Pink Poodle going up
- The Iluka and Apollo became landmarks as the first buildings to reach 20 storeys
1980s - 1990s
- The 1980s brought strong Japanese investment in Surfers Paradise, with a large number of significant buildings added to the growing skyline
- The early '90s saw the Surfers Paradise Marriott Resort and Spa make its home in Surfers Paradise, heralding a new era of international hotels on the glitter strip
- The area's development slowed at the tail end of the '90s, after nearly four decades of solid growth
- The Surfers Paradise skyline surges into the new millennium with some spectacular additions: Chevron Renaissance, Q1, Jade, Avalon and Circle on Cavill
- Soul by Juniper and the Hilton Surfers Paradise, both premium properties, mark the next phase of Surfers Paradise's prosperity and growth
The Social Surfers Scene
Thelma Cooper's Coffee House and Residence, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, 1950
Energetic, enthusiastic, electric, eclectic! Just some of the words that sum up the social scene that Surfers Paradise was built on.
Since the days of the original Surfers Paradise Hotel, Surfers has been an entertainment playground famous for its world-class nightlife venues, international events and pulsating atmosphere – from sunrise to sundown!
From Bernie Elsey’s legendary ‘Pyjama Parties’ of the late ‘50s to surfie bonfire parties on the beach, people across Australia and around the world have come to Surfers Paradise to let their hair down and have fun.
An array of clubs, pubs and restaurants also sprang up as quickly as the surrounding highrise, bringing with them a cast of local characters and hoteliers ready to build on the area’s reputation for hospitality and good times.
Families have always been part of the mix too. Jim Cavill’s Surfers Paradise Zoo was a key attraction up until its closure in the ‘50s, while the entertainment complex Grundy’s, with its beachfront waterslides, was a favourite amongst kids of the ‘80s.
Surfers Paradise is also stage to series of thrilling public events, including prestigious Surf Life Saving competitions such as the Coolangatta Gold and international surfing events including the Boost Mobile Surf Sho and Brothers in Arms.
And each year for more than two decades, the streets of Surfers Paradise have lit up as racetrack for some of the world’s most exciting motorsports events – the Gold Coast leg of the global open-wheel IndyCar Series and now the Armor All GC600, one of the most popular rounds of Australia’s V8 Supercars season.
These big-ticket events transform the precinct into a pulse-pounding race carnival, complete with off-track entertainment and events.
With its inspiring skyline, golden beaches, consistently great weather and year-round buzz, Surfers
Paradise comfortably maintains pole position as the good-times epicentre of the nation.
Anette Welch, Surfers Paradise Meter Maids, April 1965
- Jim Cavill builds the famous Surfers Paradise Zoo
1940s – 1950s
- The first boutiques open in Surfers Paradise in the 1940s
- 1954 Margot Kelly’s Hibiscus Room Restaurant plants the flag for fine dining in Surfers Paradise and was also one of the first restaurants in Queensland to obtain a liquor license
- 1957 Bernie Elsey and friends start the famous Pyjama Parties at the Beachcomber and Sea Breeze hotels
- Performers at these landmark events include Barry Crocker and a young family troupe known today as the Bee Gees
1960s – 1970s
- Surfers Paradise establishes its reputation as Australia’s nightlife and party capital
1980s – 1990s
- 1981 The family fun centre Grundy’s opens in the complex that now houses Surfers Paradise Centro. Its four beachfront waterslides thrill thousands of youngsters
- 1991 The inaugural Gold Coast Indy 300 is held in Surfers Paradise. Locals and visitors crowd the grandstands, while the world tunes in to watch
- First-class nightlife re surges in Surfers Paradise at chic new venues including The Ruby Tramp, elsewhere, Vanity, Swingin’ Safari and Central