Gold Coast has a rich history. From Indigenous cultural heritage and dreamtime stories, through to 100-year-old ambulance stations repurposed for modern-day co-working, as a relatively young city, we’re working hard to capture and share stories about our past. Before embarking on a day exploring heritage sites and local history, there’s some useful resources you need to get your head around. The Local Studies Library, located on level one of the Southport Library contains an enormous selection of oral histories, serials and manuscripts and historic photographs as well as clipping files on people, places and subjects. Council also maintains a Local Heritage Register which contains summaries of all the significant heritage sites and structures across the city.
When you’re ready to hit the road for a day of local history and heritage highlights, this list of my favourite spots will help.
Gold Coast Historical Society
Located on 1.7 acres in what was once sugar country, you’ll find one of the city’s only museums. Gold Coast Historical Society and Museum, located just moments from downtown Surfers Paradise features displays of the Gold Coast’s post-European-settlement history, early communication technology (including relics of the Pacific Cableway with a focus on Southport’s past) and photographic displays capturing what life was like in the 1800s and 1900s. The site contains evidence of prehistoric Middens and Indigenous artefacts from that time period have also been found nearby and are on display. The site also contains one of the last remnant sand dunes that survives from the last interglacial period and some of the larger trees are individually heritage-listed. On the dune are the remnants of the littoral rainforest that was once found amongst the dunes and mangroves that stretched along the coast prior to residential development. The museum is open Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10.00am – 1.00pm and on Sundays from 10.00am – 3.00pm.
Jellurgal Aboriginal Cultural Centre
One of the oldest living cultures in the world is on show at Jellurgal, where you can travel to a land where time stood still. The centre offers insight into the spirituality and society of the Yugambeh people. Located right at Burleigh Hill (otherwise known as Jellurgal), here you can take a guided tour to see cultural significant sites, including a midden, meet Traditional owners, hear dreamtime stories and learn about traditional bush foods, hunting and fishing. The centre is open Monday – Friday, 8.00am – 3.00pm.
Ernest Junction Railway Tunnel
You wouldn’t normally associate the Gold Coast with railways history, but tucked into a hill, in the back of Ashmore, less than 15 minutes from Surfers Paradise is an example of one of the few railway tunnels built between Beenleigh and Southport as part of the South Coast Railway – once an important link between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Constructed between 1888, the remnant tunnel is one of the rare examples of 19th century railway engineering on the Gold Coast. And getting there is part of the adventure. Lovingly maintained by local residents and popular with street artists, the tunnel runs for approximately 100m under a hill. It’s clean and cool and you emerge out the other end to some rustic interpretive information about the site. The display includes historical photos of the station and station master’s house, the original junction and the last train to Brisbane in 1964 as well as before and after shots of the site’s modest restoration. It’s a steep gravelly path in and out to the tunnel so make sure you wear sturdy shoes.
Gold Coast Open House
Around October – November every year, Gold Coast literally opens its doors for people to explore the city’s most interesting and architecturally significant buildings and locations. It’s a wonderful opportunity to take a look behind the scenes and many of the locations are historically significant. Famous for its interwar and post-war development boom and recreational industries, the Gold Coast has a varied and unique stock of buildings and places in comparison with many other major Australian cities. The buildings included in the program each year show a snapshot of the evolution of architecture on the Gold Coast, with some buildings dating back to the late 1800s, early 1900s, through to cutting edge design of recent years by some of the Gold Coast’s leading architects. Check out some of the locations that opened their doors in 2019.
The Scottish Prince was ending a voyage from Glasgow to Brisbane in February 1887 but ran aground at the southern end of South Stradbroke Island. The ship disgorged her cargo of whisky, beer, sweets and sewing machines and while residents were told all goods needed to be forwarded to the Customs officers, local legend suggests that whisky was buried in the sand for retrieval at another time.
The Cambus Wallace embarked on her maiden voyage in 1894. Leaving Glasgow in May, she was loaded full of beer, whiskey and dynamite but encountered many storms along the way. She was wrecked on the ocean side between North and South Stradbroke Islands in September of that year.
While the remnants of those wrecks are mostly long gone (you can still dive The Scottish Prince), their spirit lives on in two local bars. And true to their namesakes, craft beer, whiskey and rum feature heavily on the menu. The Cambus Wallace, located right in hipster central Nobby Beach and her sister bar The Scottish Prince at Palm Beach offer the perfect backdrop to look back on a day of heritage-seeking on the Gold Coast. And if you ask nicely, the bar staff are always willing to share a shipwreck tale or two.
The Wallaby Hotel in Mudgeeraba has been a watering hole for more than a hundred years. Previously known as The Exchange Hotel, the pub was built in 1914 and located across the road from the then Mudgeeraba Railway Station. Since that time it’s been at the heart of Mudgeeraba village. Inside the hotel is a historical display about the site’s past and while the hotel has been modified many times since 1914, its wide balconies and rustic interior more than hint at its history. In 2019 the hotel continues to deliver pub grub and good beer as well as regular live music.
Percy’s And CoSpaces, Southport
Percy’s Corner is located at CoSpaces in Southport, right where Gold Coast’s original ambulance station which was built in 1922. The coffee shop is named after Percy Raby, the first superintendent who ran the station from the early 1920s to 1940s. Originally built in 1922, the building boasts a rich history on the gold coast. The building is now home to CoSpaces – a fully modernized co-working facility with tenants from industries such as engineering, events, sporting, creative, entertainment, tech, legal, accounting, construction and retail. Percy’s is conveniently located to the light rail line and makes for a wonderful morning coffee pit-stop.