Born in 1929, Keith Williams left school at the age of 13 to work at Howard Motors, Brisbane before joining the public service.
At 18 he started making leather seats for motorcycles and bought army motorcycles which he refitted, repainted and sold to a dealer. His business, Superide, became one of Australia’s largest manufacturer of motorcycle accessories.
Keith’s interest in the Gold Coast began when his sister married and relocated to the region.
In 1955 Bruce Hope taught Keith to water ski and in 1956 Keith won the Queensland Trick-skiing Championship and the Australian Championship in 1959.
He refitted his Brisbane factory to make sporting goods and purchased a 250 acre dairy farm at Carrara on the Nerang River where he created the Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens which was the venue for the World Water Ski Championships in 1965. A motor vehicle drag strip, race track and speedway circuit known as the Surfers Paradise International Raceway was also built on the property. Both the weekly water shows at the Ski Gardens and regular events at the raceway were very popular. In 1963 Keith married Thea Dillon and they had two children, Rebecca and Ben.
In 1970 when 50 acres of land on the Gold Coast Spit at Main Beach became available, Keith acquired it, created Ski Land Australia and relocated his ski show to a large artificial lake on the site. He included a dolphin show which rivalled the performance in nearby Marineland.
In 1972 Keith changed the name to Sea World and, in 1976, after he purchased Marineland, he transferred Marineland’s marine life displays to Sea World. The attractions were progressively widened to include a range of other attractions and amusement rides and the site of the original Marineland was transformed into Bird Life Park.
In 1975 Keith became the inaugural chairman of Gold Coast Tourism and began development of Hamilton Island with Bryan Byrt. In 1976 he bought the Jack Evans Porpoise Pool at Tweed Heads and renamed it Marineland Tweed Heads. From 1977-1990 he was a member of the Queensland Marine Board and, in 1979, he was appointed chairman of the Gold Coast Waterways Authority which began work on the construction of the Gold Coast Seaway.
In 1984, he sold a number of his Gold Coast interests to concentrate on developing Hamilton Island which eventually went into receivership in 1992. Two years later he began construction of the Port Hinchinbrook development in North Queensland.
Keith Williams retired in 2008 due to ill health and was the first resident to receive the Gold Coast Legends Award. When he passed away in October 2011, the flags at the City of Gold Coast administration and customer services centres were flown at half-mast.
Sources of information and further reading
- “The Man Poverty Propelled to Riches.” The Gold Coast Bulletin, 31 Mar 1988, p. 26.
- “The Big Wheel of the Island.” The Gold Coast Bulletin, 31 Jun 1989, p. 4.
- McRobbie, Alexander. 20th Century Gold Coast People. Surfers Paradise: The Arts Centre Press, 2000.
- Hall, Marshall. The Gold Coast Bulletin Weekend, 19-20 Jun 2004, p. 158.
- Nichols, Nick. “Put Tourism Giant on Pedestal.” The Gold Coast Bulletin, 20 Oct 2011, pp. 4-5.
- Nichols, N., Lappeman, S. “Keith Williams Gold Coast icon 1929 – 2011.” The Gold Coast Bulletin, 20 Oct 2011, p. 4.
- The Sunday Mail, 21 Nov 1976. Research notes held in the City of Gold Coast Local Studies Library.