I came to the Gold Coast like everyone does – because I had some business to attend to and it seemed like a pleasant escape from the gloom of the southern states. “Australia’s Gold Coast” is the claim, a somewhat redundant effort to differentiate between Queensland and Ghana. Actually it’s Queensland’s Gold Coast, judging from the self-promoting hoarding slapped up everywhere. If you can’t advertise to the tourists, advertise to the locals I suppose.
Not that there are too many locals. The GC was always where pallid Victorians escaped to in the 80s and 90s. The goal was economic development and melanin under the rule of a square-jawed fascist. My childhood memories of the place are full of leather-brown men in budgie smugglers and implausibly blonde women who spent their time paying for people’s parking. Everyone is a recent migrant, whether drawn by the climate or repelled by the crush and grind of the big cities.
The 80s were a long time ago though. The relicts from that period are still there, but they’re painted over. A veneer of self-serving “pampering” is overlaid on the beer ads and gold chains. Chinese characters replace Japanese on the street signs. The newer developments are self-contained holiday apartments rather than beige-and-salmon hotel rooms.
Surfer’s Paradise is the epicentre of the “old” Gold Coast. A long, highly surfable beach, high-rise hotel towers, drinking venues with doors and balconies open to the street. The towers create a microclimate where the sweat and beer fumes fester. Young people march around in packs in the evening. The boys wear “casual” beach attire, the girls dressed as if they’re going to a particularly tacky wedding. They are intense and driven, like drunken and confused wolves searching for something to mate with. Partying looks like hard work.
“Hollywood on the Gold Coast!” was the rallying cry for families twenty years ago, and doesn’t seem to have changed. There are four major theme parks in the area, including the aquatically-focused Sea World within the city itself. Well-trained dolphins will entertain visitors at 11:30 and 3:15 daily, along with their psychotically grinning handlers. Well-meaning platitudes about caring for marine life are mouthed from a loudspeaker by a local worthy, but everyone is waiting for the dolphins to do tricks.
At a different theme park, the catastrophic failure of a ride resulted in several deaths. Business has been, unsurprisingly, slow. The main car park, visible from the highway, is mostly empty. I have no insight into the other parks, but I wonder about their long-term viability. Maintenance has been neglected, even allowing for the climate. The usual price-gouging is blatant. Nonetheless, the kids love it, right up until their energy gives out after lunch.
Five minutes’ drive out of town and you’re in a different world, a subtropical suburbia. Palm trees and buffalo grass. Electricians’ utes parked on the street. Queenslander houses with boarded-in lower levels. Community centres only accessible by car. Backyard pools and barbeques. Everything is low-rise, casual and narcotic. To the West, some low green hills. To the East, the high-rise towers.
The nest of towers are surrounded by low rise houses on all sides except the beach. There is nothing between two and thirty storeys tall. It feels like a science fiction film where the elite live in the sky and the commoners inhabit the fringes. Maybe the big flood is coming which will sweep away the humidity and decayed concrete. All that will be left is the towers, with their air-conditioned residents and artfully designed succulent beds on their roof gardens.