Surfers Paradise

Jim Cavill, with the support of locals, continued to lobby until the place name Elston was formally to Surfers Paradise in 1933.

Outdoor cafe November 1958 Arthur Leebold photographer

Outdoor cafe, Surfers Paradise, November 1958. Photographer Arthur Leebold

In 1869, James Beattie was one of the first new arrivals and selectors to travel to the South Coast of Queensland. He settled in an area south of Narrowneck, known to the Yugambeh people as Jarri Parila, and selected 80 acres on the northern bank of the Nerang River. He built a shingle-roomed cottage, a barn for his produce and a jetty on the river bank near the site of the future Cavill Avenue and was surrounded by farms growing crops of maize and sugar cane.

Beattie sold his land in 1877 to Johann Meyer, a German immigrant who developed a short-lived sugar plantation and mill on the property. Meyer quickly found that it was more profitable to offer transport to travellers in the region and built a private ferry service over the Nerang River. He also provided accommodation by building the Main Beach Hotel, also known as Meyers Hotel, near the river bank. He financed these new ventures by selling part of his land, the Main Beach Estate, at auction in Brisbane.

A Brisbane syndicate subdivided the land and named the newly surveyed streets (sandy tracks) after world champion scullers of the day: Edward Hanlan, Edward Trickett, Elias Laycock and Thomas Clifford. The remainder of the sugar plantation was auctioned as the Newhaven Estate in 1888.

Aerial view over Surfers Paradise circa 1940s Photographer unknown

Aerial view over central Surfers Paradise, circa 1940s. Photographer unknown

By 1888, a horse and coach service was operating from Southport three times a week. The coach travelled down Ferry Road, crossed the Nerang River at Meyer’s Ferry and then travelled south along the beach. Johann Meyer’s family also operated a horse and buggy service from the hotels in Southport offering visitors a pleasure trip to the main surf beach.

In 1889, the Main Beach Hotel was declared a postal receiving office. Officially known as Elston, a postal address meant that the region was officially named and marked on the map. It’s believed that the name Elston was suggested by the postmaster in Southport, Mr Palmer, who named the new receiving office after his wife’s home village in Nottinghamshire, England. Despite its official name, many people still referred to the place as Meyer’s Ferry for many years.

After Johann Meyer’s sudden death at Southport Railway Station in 1901, the licence for the Main Beach Hotel lapsed. As early as 1917, a Brisbane real estate company, Arthur Blackwood Ltd, offered for sale the Surfers Paradise Estate. The auction was unsuccessful, partly because access to the area was still difficult. While there was a railway station in Southport, there was no bridge crossing to Elston and visitors relied on the ferry and boats.

Around 1920, Brisbane hotelier, Jim Cavill, acquired twenty five acres (10 hectares) of land in Elston and in 1925, after two decades without a hotel, built the sixteen bedroom Surfers Paradise Hotel at the intersection of the South Coast Road and the old coach track which ran from Meyers Ferry to the beach. Jim Cavill lobbied strongly to have Elston formally changed to Surfers Paradise.

Tom and Harry Atkin walking along the future Cavill Avenue December 1925 Bill Atkin photographer

Tom and Harry Atkin walking along the future Cavill Avenue, December 1925. Photographer Bill Atkin

The erection of the first permament crossing of the Nerang River between Southport and Elston took place with the opening of the Jubilee Bridge in 1925. Named the Jubilee in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of the first auction of land in Southport in 1875, the bridge and the extension of the South Coast Road through Elston, brought a revolution to the South Coast. Motor cars could now travel along a road which bordered the seaside villages of Elston and Burleigh Heads.

Around the hotel, the township of Elston came to life as local people reopened the post office, and provided refreshments and facilities for campers and holiday-makers. During the early 1930s, the Lands Department favoured calling the area Sea Glint but Jim Cavill, with the support of locals, continued to lobby until Elston was formally renamed Surfers Paradise in 1933.

Sources of information and further reading

  1. Jones, M A. A sunny place for shady people: the real Gold Coast. Nth Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1983.
  2. McRobbie, Alexander. 20th Century Gold Coast People, Surfers Paradise: The Arts Centre Press, 2000.
  3. “Local and general.” The Richmond River Herald and Northern Districts Advertiser (NSW : 1886 – 1942) 10 Jul 1936: 2.
  4. “Surfers Paradise.” South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 – 1949) 23 Oct 1936: Web. 1.
  5. “Surfers Paradise Hotel.” South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 – 1949) 24 Sep 1937: Web. 10.
  6. “Surfers Paradise Hotel.” South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 – 1949) 24 Sep 1937: Web. 10.
  7. “Magisterial Inquiry.” The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947) 29 October 1901: 2 (SECOND EDITION). Web. 15 Mar 2016
  8. Elliott, John. Southport – Surfers Paradise: an illustrated history to commemorate the centenary of the Southport State School. Southport: Gold Coast and Hinterland Historical Society Museum, 1980.
  9. McRobbie, Alexander. The Surfers Paradise story. Surfers Paradise: Pan News, 1982.
  10. McRobbie, Alexander. The real Surfers Paradise: from seaside village to international resort. Surfers Paradise: Pan News, 1982.
  11. McRobbie, Alexander (Ed.) The Gold Coast Story. Surfers Paradise: Gold Coast Annual Co., 1966.
  12. ELSTON POSTAL ADDRESS (1932, October 14). South Coast Bulletin (Southport, Qld. : 1929 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved February 13, 2017, from