Out with the Old, In with the New

Hidden in the suburban sprawl of Gold Coast lies the peaceful oasis of The Gold Coast Historical Museum.

A dedicated space to lay tribute to a world before now, showing future generations how society started, grew, and developed into the modern jungle we now see.

Sprawled across the property, you will find the original flora grown across the coastal lands before humanity ever set foot there, the rich greens entangled and flourishing, a miniature rainforest haven of tranquillity and serenity.

Buildings litter the grounds, some historically accurate, some modern and protective the walls lined with artefacts and tributes to days gone by.

Retired school principal Lizzie Massey has dedicated her spare time to creating a safe space for the history of the Gold Coast, teaching the next generations how we once lived.

As she walks the space holding the artefacts, she reminisces over the children’s ignorance of the old ways.

“I would show them the cream and they would read the label; I then show them the salt and they tell me its salt and cream. I pour both into an old butter churner and ask them what it will make, and they tell me it’s soup,” said Massey, who is the Acting President of the Historical Society Bundall.

This was just one example of the lack of knowledge on the history of society, and a prime example of why The Gold Coast Historical Museum is so important for future generations to come.

The museum is currently home to valuable aspects of the Gold Coast’s history, housing the original Meter Maids outfits – an iconic symbol for Gold Coasts tourism.

For many years, the Meter Maids were used to attract the world to Surfer’s Paradise.

These women were sent across to the United States of America, Europe, and other parts of the world to attract attention back to the coastal destination, including after the floods in the 1960s.

The evolution of the costumes shows how societies view of appropriate attire has changed – and stayed the same – over the years.

You can find slices of the original cables used to transmit messages from England to the coast of Australia in the early 1900s.

These cables were once used to announce the beginning of World War One in 1914, preparing society for war.

Lizzie recounts the stories of old cable readers who could translate the angled jumps of the needle as quick as they could read.

Jobs that today are now obsolete and extinct but were once vital to society.

From the evolution of communication to the evolution of the bikini, the history of the Gold Coast’s development sits safely, preserved, and protected for generations to come.

The entire property runs on the generosity of a team of volunteers and grants acquired through various channels.

Surfers Paradise then and now (Supplied: Gold Coast Historical Museum and Society)

Despite this, school excursion attendance is dwindling with the rise of the internet and the ability to see anything, and the Gold Coast City Council has filed the lands under parks and recreation.

These issues raise the question of whether museums like this really are important to society, and if they are, why is there not more funding, more attendance, and more interest?

An award-winning urban and environmental planner and a Senior Lecturer  in the School of Environment & Science and the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University, Dr Tony Matthews has spent his life working with and understanding the development of cities across Australia and the world.

He has worked with local and state governments and heritage experts throughout his career across Queensland and believes the reason is merely poor long-term management and the youth of the Gold Coast as a city.

“The Gold Coast is so much younger than most Australian Cities. Compare it to say Newcastle, which is the oldest non-capital city in Australia, it really doesn’t have a deep enough history to retain,” said Dr Matthews.

The Gold Coast City Council was only formed in 2008, with numerous council shires managing the lower southeast coast for many years prior.

According to Dr Matthews, new councils tend to focus on uniformity, new developments, and uniting the previously separated suburbs before looking into heritage retention.

The Gold Coast has always been known for new innovative architectural designs and modernisation of previous buildings, combine this with its historical status as a ‘party destination’ and it’s easy to understand why the heritage listings lack priority for local government.

The other reason for the Gold Coast – and more broadly all of Queensland’s – lack of heritage retention and listings comes from poor state government management in the 1970s and 1980s.

Dr Matthews explained that these years saw the demolition of buildings that should have been listed to make way for new development as the state’s population grew.

Many historically important buildings were knocked down overnight, preventing any kind of retention from being possible in the future.

Heritage listing and historical retention is also a difficult area to navigate, this is largely due to the complexity of deciding on the historical value of a place.

“Heritage retention is a specialised field that very few people have informed decision-making skills on and therefore a lot of uninformed individuals end up making the decisions,” said Dr Matthews.

The Gold Coast has always been known for the new, the up-and-coming, and the modern, with small glimpses of the past littered throughout.

Despite this, small pockets hidden in the suburban sprawl of the Australian Hollywood work hard to preserve what once was, as the city moves on the new and improved.

Whilst it may be too late to make significant changes to retaining the growing city, retaining what still exists remains the question of importance.

Organisations like the Historical Society Bundall continue to work hard on retaining what they can, whilst the local council continues to develop to cater to the growing population.

The balance of new and improved and retaining history has always been a thin line, but is the Gold Coast doing enough to balance or is it too late already?

Which way will the pendulum swing?