Chapter 4 ......Shacks to Skyscrapers

During the eighties, the Gold Coast witnessed phenomenal growth. This one time area of scattered holiday shacks, had prospered when men of vision and the will to implement it rode into town. Men like Jock McIlwain and Bruce Small, who converted the swampy wasteland into a Mecca for a future city. Waterlogged land was converted into canals that provided ample scope for quality real estate. This attracted many retirees from as far away as Sydney and Melbourne, who in turn help create a new standard of residence for the Coast. As the new estates grew, so too did the demand for more. Suddenly the sleepy seaside resort began to take on a new face. The surf, sand and sun, that had attracted the domestic annual holiday-makers for years, became the subject of a publicity blitz. Whilst the impetus was for pushing land development, the fringe benefits of the favourable hard sell, increased domestic tourism.

In the early seventies Surfer’s Paradise saw the emergence of multiple storey buildings, mostly constructed of brick and block. This was for the most part spasmodic development and it was not till late in the decade that the real face of the area between Southport in the north and Broadbeach to the south, began to change. One man who helped bring this about was Brisbane boy Ron McMasters, who’s lasting testimony to the faith he had in his beloved Gold Coast, is reflected in the plethora of high quality skyscrapers that adorn the skyline today. With the advent of the eighties, came an era of spectacular change. Indeed the next ten years was to provide a roller coaster ride that commenced with high employment, a severe tightening up of the economy giving rise to a recession, which in turn gave way to a change in government policy that saw the emergence of bank deregulation, allowing the developers almost unrestricted access to unlimited borrowings. For the Coast it was a case of all stops out and as the upsurge of tourists began to make itself felt, the call for hotel rooms became the buzz.

Meanwhile in Tokyo the Diet, the Japanese Government, had made changes to the Post Office Savings Account. The result was that people were encouraged to travel abroad and among the destinations they travelled to was Australia . When the Japanese arrived, they liked what they saw. So too did the entrepreneurs, those with an eye for opportunity and the Gold Coast provided an abundance of that.

Local developers, land agents and planners, staring a bonanza in the face, played the Japanese as a master violinist would a Stradivarius. All eyes turned east and the race to construct hotel accommodation was on in earnest. For a three hectic years we relived the ‘roaring twenties’ where cash was king and crass, was the order of the day. When the crash came, those whose names had glittered, those who had sported Ferraris, Rolls, along with their ubiquitous ‘yuppie phones’, fell to ground like discarded race tickets. The tent dwellers kept their tents, but those who created palaces, often exchanged their exotic lifestyle for one of austerity and steel bars.

For the moment of course all this remained in the future. The Coast was changing.Old landmarks fell before the advancing blade of the bulldozer, with hardly a time to shed a tear. From the old timber and fibro structures, rose brick and mortar, only to be quickly overtaken by the rapidly escalating land values. Many properties now sat on land that reflected undercapitalisation of the site. Consequently these became targets for zealous speculators who saw the opportunity, to, in the Australian vernacular, ‘make a quick buck’. With new building technology came a veritable explosion in high rise construction. Slip form, as it came to be known allowed almost continuous pouring of concrete that created the illusion of actually seeing a building ‘grow’. It was common place to witness a floor a week and many went up in record time. Some like Dainford's Peninsula rose to 52 floors , but in the main most levelled off at around thirty floors. Like Topsy, Surfers Paradise just grew. From a collection of seaside shops that had been built along a snaking road, a concrete jungle emerged. Bulldozers fuelled by the driving power of the ever increasing presence of the yen, rolled relentlessly forward, crushing all before it. What yesterday had been a honeycomb of arcades was today a dust-laden heap of rubble. This devastation was not restricted to the immediate region of Surfers. Mainbeach, took on the mantle of war-torn Cologne. Row after row of homes were literally crushed after the former owners had either willingly sold our or were simply pressured. In those days the course of justice was overtaken by the need to get rich. Those who opted to ‘fight’ were steamrolled. Never-the-less those with their paper millions introduced an era of exotic architectural excellence.


Tenants were pushed out as owners sold out. This is a scene in Surfers Paradise 1988;

Chief among these being the irrepressible sign writer/painter Alan Bond, and the flamboyant, one time journalist Christopher Skase. Another, was local Jim Raptis, who was responsible for some singularly stunning buildings. The arcade which bears his name in Cavill Avenue falls into this category. Whatever fate ultimately befalls these men and whatever history decrees should be their testimony I for one, salute their vision and their tenacity to achieve it. But the real tragedy of their endeavours was that little forward planning was given to the greater picture. Such fine buildings deserved a better fate than to be erected in areas that were being momentarily driven by foreign factors. Surfer’s Paradise, had become famous, largely because of its unique type of casualness, its pot- pourri of shops that lined a labyrinth of arcades. From a prince to a pauper you could meander through the milling crowds and no body cared a damn. Surfers Paradise, THE Surfers Paradise has been the loser and one building that was indirectly responsible for its demise was the Holiday Inn with its associated multi levelled shopping arcade the Galleria. Rising from the debris to become a temporary focal point of the city the American hotel group Hilton provided the spark to set alight the whole foreign land ownership furore. However the spark may well have died and with it the shaping of the future of the Gold Coast had it not been for the boastful arrogance of one man. That man was Max Christmas!

Chapter 5