Bernie Elsey's Pool Parties

The pyjama parties took place around the swimming pool at Bernie Elsey’s Beachcomber Private Hotel in Cavill Avenue.

Beachcomber Hotel, Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise, circa 1960s Laurie Holmes photographer Image number LS-LSP-CD258-IMG0008

Beachcomber Hotel, Cavill Avenue, circa 1960s. Photographer Laurie Holmes

It is thought that the concept of a pyjama party, where people wore pyjamas to a nightclub or other venue, first started in London in 1957 and, when Princess Margaret attended one in London, the so-called ‘Pyjama Party’ made international headlines.

This caught the attention of Bernie Elsey, a member of the Surfers Paradise Progress Association, who often looked at what was trending internationally to see if it could be adapted for Surfers Paradise. Prior to introducing pyjama parties to the Gold Coast, Bernie discussed the idea with his business colleagues.

The decision was made to put on pyjama parties around the swimming pool at Bernie Elsey’s Beachcomber Private Hotel in Cavill Avenue. The guests at the Beachcomber, and other holiday mekers transported by bus from Coolangatta guesthouses, usually wore swim wear underneath their sleep wear. As the parties took place at the swimming pool, it’s not surprising that some party goers ended up in the water. At this time Surfers Paradise still had many residential homes nestled amongst the hotels and motels, and a complaint was made to police that wild parties and orgies were taking place.

Russ Hinze, Bernie Elsey and Alex Dewar at the opening of the Tiki Village Hotel, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, 1965 Alexander McRobbie photographer

Russ Hinze, Bernie Elsey and Alex Dewar at the Tiki Village Hotel, 1965. Photographer Alexander McRobbie

In response, the police raided the Beachcomber. Over time it became known that the police would raid the premises at 10pm each night the pyjama parties were scheduled. Bernie’s Beachcomber Hotel in Cavill Avenue and the Beachcomber Motor Lodge in Griffith Street, Coolangatta were licensed only as accommodation houses. However, while liquor at the pool parties was a breach of the Council by-laws at the time, it was not illegal to dance or swim in pyjamas. Therefore, the only illegal activity taking place was the consumption of alcohol on unlicensed premises.

During the regular police raids, bottles of beer were sometimes put into the pool so they couldn’t be easily retrieved by the authorities. Reportedly, police officers were ordered to undress and retrieve any bottles of alcohol in the swimming pool. While the officers were undressing, the live band would play music more suited to a burlesque show and, when the police left with the alcohol, the band would launch into a rendition of the Last Post.

While the focus of the police in stopping the parties was led by the upholding of a moral standard, the raids however, caused a huge wave of publicity that ultimately only served to make the Gold Coast seem an even more exciting place to visit.

Sources of information and further reading

  1. McRobbie, Alexander. 20th Century Gold Coast People. Surfers Paradise: The Arts Centre Press, 2000.
  2. “Mayor justifies ‘Emergency’ move in Pyjama Parties.” South Coast Bulletin, 25 Feb 1959, p. 1.
  3. “Elsey case.” Gold Coast Bulletin, 30 Oct 1964, p. 2.
  4. “Return of the pyjama party: search on for the ‘originals’.” Gold Coast Bulletin, 3 Feb, 1982, p. 2.
  5. “Plumber with a stutter turned on giant tourism tap.” Gold Coast Bulletin, 20 Dec, 1983, p. 4.
  6. “They way we were: pyjama game.” The Sunday Mail, 17 Dec, 2006, p, 61.