Kaiala (Pronounced Kye Arla) is the Gold Coast Aboriginal greeting or welcome meaning "Good Wishes". The full translation is - Yinkaiala Baugal - "Wishing good things and the very best for you". Iluka is also an Aboriginal word meaning 'near the sea'. It was used by Aborigines in the days when they enjoyed the attractions of the Australian coastline in all its isolated splendour. It signified a good place, rich in food and enjoyment. Throughout the centuries it conjured up visions of silver-gold sands and white-combed sparkling seas. A sun-drenched paradise of fun and relaxation, a haven for the weary traveller, a feasting ground for the hungry visitor. What was true for Australia's First People is still true today. Iluka... 'near the sea' is a great place to be.
Surf Carnival Main Beach 1935
It's a place haunted by happy moggaris, spirits from a history that time almost forgot. But, with the help of the local Gombemberri tribe we have reached back into time to recall a past that should never be separated from our future. It's a past that begins in the Dreamtime. The Dreamtime of the Aborigine. The Dreamtime of Paradise.
In the beginning was the dreaming. The Dreaming was the Gods and the Gods made the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars. They made the animals and First People. Spirits of the gods became part of the land, forming mountains and gullies, hills and valleys. The people of the Gods inherited this land and the land was the ancestral soul of the people. The land was good to the people.
And into Paradise came a giant called Jabreen. Stretching out before him was an unbroken stretch of beach and dunes, so vat it stretched from Kijeragah (a tree) at the mouth of a northern river (the Nerang), to a river far away in the south (the Tweed). Though Jabreen was a spirit of the Gods, like any mortal who visits Paradise he was drawn irresistibly to the sparkling surf. Dropping his weapons he swam out to the horizon and back. When he picked up his huge war club or waddy, the ground still clung to it, rising up, following the waddy like iron follows a magnet. This was created the rocky outcrops of Little Burleigh.
The Gombemberri tribesmen fishing at a billabong
The First people called it Jebbribillum, the Waddy of Jabreen. Hungry after his swim, Jabreen went into the forest, cut a 'sugar bag' or bees nest from a tree, and gorged himself with honey. Satisfied he returned to the beach and sat at the water's edge to wash off the sticky nectar. Then Jabreen stood and stretched up to his full height, pushing his arms toward the sky.
Logging with Bullock Team 1930
And such was his power that, as with the waddy, the level ground again rose up, stopping when it reached the height of his fingertips. In this way Jabreen created the headland of Big Burleigh or Burleigh Heads, called Jellurgul (bee's nest) by the First People.
Aboriginal legends are a mixture of fact and fiction, wrapped in parables, fables and fairy stories. Some are serious records of a cultural heritage linking the First People inextricably to a land that gave them both physical and spiritual sustenance and succour; a land which lay at the very basis of their spiritual sustenance and succour; a land which lay at the very basis of their spiritual beliefs.
Others, like the legend of Jbbribillum and Jellurgul, are attempts to explains the creation or development of geological features. Still others relate to morals, customs, traditions, tribal codes and taboos, or social behaviour. Appropriately, they convey messages of reward or punishment.
Gowonda who trained dogs to chase game into ambush, was a great Gombemberri hero. He had a fine mane of white hair and a splendid physique. When he lay down for his final sleep the people wee sorely distressed. Later, children wee playing on a stretch of beach* between the Nerang River and the ocean when one called out: 'Look, Gowonda! Out thee on the waves.'
Gundan from Southport 1891
Soon all the clan had gathered to watch Gowonda. He had taken the form of a dolphin, but they could recognise him by his white fin! And, just as he had trained the dogs, he was now showing other dolphins how to drive the fish close to the beach so that the First People could catch them. According to this legend, every school of dolphins has a leader with a white fin, which is a descendant of Gowonda or some other hunter. For this reason the Aborigines would never dream of killing a dolphin.
*The beach between the river and the ocean had to be Narrowneck. But in those days the Broadwater entrance would have been further south so 'Narrowneck' was probably located at Surfers Paradise.
If Jabreen was the first visitor to Surfers Paradise, the first residents and tourists were Aborigines. The area was a part of the territory occupied and travelled by the Gombemberri tribe. Their homeland reached from the Tweed River to the south to the Coomera River in the north. From the coastal seaboard it spread west to the foothills of Tamborine Mountain.
Aborigines from one tribe would not venture into the tribal territory of their neighbours without observing the proper protocol, such as lighting a signal fire on the other tribe's border. The penalties for unauthorised trespass were harsh. But if correct protocol was followed then tribal groups could, and did, inter-visit, sometimes travelling hundreds of kilometres for seasonal food gathering and feasting and "Karabari" (Corroborees) dances - get togethers.
Calling dolphins, Moreton Bay
The Gombemberri Tribe, who more appropriately regarded themselves as a 'family', were the coastal and Estuarine People of this nation of Families. Tribes included were NGARANG-WAL from Nerang/Mudgeeraba: MIGUNBERRI from Canugra; the WANGERRIBURRA from the Tamborine Mountain area; BIRRINBURRA from Lamington and Springbrook Plateau, MUNUNJALI from further west around Beaudesert; East to BULLONGIN FAMILY at Coomera.
Stone axe making
The GUGUNGIN in the Beenleigh area and eat to the GONPUL in part North and South Stradbroke Island located in Moreton Bay (QUANDAMOOKA). Each tribe had its own dialect with all understanding the 'Master' dialect of the "Yugumbir". Indeed, the law for all bound under a death penalty, was marriages which could only take place with other tribes, not with one from your own 'family' thus maintaining strength of bloodlines and integrity.
The Gombemberris, though, really had no need to stray for outside their own territory. They lived in what could be described as a land of milk and honey. The milk of life for them was fresh water and a huge variety of fresh foods. Their calcium and protein needs were obtained from bones, mussels, prawns, and dark green, leafy vegetables. There was honey in abundance in the hives of stingless native bees. The sea and waterways teemed with fish.
A sophisticated technique of knapping, grinding and honing tools of trade. This method has been in vogue for at least 10,000 years. Certain Elders would go to an appropriate rock formation (volcanic) and through a ritual process pick out the correct rock. They had an uncanny psyche using metaphysical powers which ensured the rock for the implement was flawless.
Crayfish (yabbies) and crabs cluttered the creeks and estuaries, which were also rich in oyster beds. The beaches were alive with the succulent eugaree or pippie clams. Flocks of wild ducks and other waterbirds covered the swamps and lagoons; plump birds such as parrots, pigeons and scrub turkeys, haunted the woodlands. The inland forests seethed with animal life, and were a source of edible roots, yams, and all manner of fruit, berries and nuts (27 different kinds including the Macadamia). The Gombemberris could afford to be generous, opening their territory to neighbours for great feasts and corroborees. They favoured the Hinterland during the summit and the beaches during the winter - avoiding the mosquitoes of the coastal swamps.
A happy, peaceful people, their rich food supplies were reflected in their physiques. Along with the Tweed River blacks they were giants among the Aborigines and have been described as among the most physically and intellectually developed of Australia's First People. Heights of six feet or more were not uncommon, one Albert Aborigine was measured at seven feet. Their intelligence made it easy for pioneers to learn their language, and for them to learn English. Indeed one Gombemberri black shamed some early timber getters by demonstrating a remarkable ability for mental arithmetic.
Within a defined tribal area aborigines had many specific living sites, feasting grounds and sacred ceremonial bora rings. There are 200 recorded Gombemberri living sites of cultural significance on the Gold Coast. Many of these have been destroyed by the bulldozers of progress, but some still survive. Bundall, across the river from Surfers Paradise, was a traditional, centuries old gathering place for all the Gumbemberris and visiting tribes from the mountains, Northern New South Wales and tribes from the Moreton Bay Islands.
Fish spearing mountain stream 1870
One such Island, North Stradbroke (Minjerribah) was the home of the world renowned, OODGEROO NUNUKAI (Kath Walker) - Poet, author, expo dreamtime and historian. Many great corroborees were held there. Traces of their camps and bora rings survived well into the 19th century before being erased by development. Strangely, Bundall is now the location for the Gold Coast City Council's headquarters and Arts Centre, so the area's tradition of being a meeting place and entertainment centre lives on.
Today the lights of the Gold Coast illuminate the entire seaboard of the tourist strip. In 1770 its jungled coastline was only lit by Aboriginal campfires. The first reported sighting of this sign of Aboriginal activity was made by sir Joseph Banks, the famous botanist who accompanied Captain James Cook on his voyage of discovery to Eastern Australia.
First white settlers home built in 1861 four kilometres inland from Surfers Paradise
On May 16, 1770, shortly after Cook's Endeavour passed the distinctive headland of Burleigh Head, Banks noted: 'At noon we were abreast of some very low land which looked like an extensive plain in which we supposed there to be a lagoon in the neighbourhood of which there are many fires. Yet just 100 years later those fires had been doused, the local Aboriginal population dispersed and much of the lifestyle, customs, culture, spiritual life and language of the Gombemberris has been lost. At the very start of this Web page (above) is the calendar of progress that followed Banks' sighting - progress which led to the near total destruction of the Gombemberri culture.
|1799 - 1802||
Explorer-navigator Captain Matthew Flinders lands on the coast. He may well have been the first European to stand on our beaches.
|1822||The Southport Broadwater is sighted by Captain John Bingle on board HM cutter, Sally. From offshore he thinks it is a 'a large lagoon'.|
|1822||William Edwardson, commander of HM cutter Snapper, charts the Point Danger area.|
|1823||John Oxley makes the first recorded landing on the Gold Coast area, finding and naming the Tweed River (after its namesake in Scotland). Later while his cutter, Mermaid, is exploring Moreton Bay, some settlers find the Southport Broadwater. (Mermaid Beach is named after Oxley's cutter.)|
|1825 - 1828||
Convicts pass through the Gold Coast while flowing the harsh Moreton Bay penal settlement for a more benign prison of Port Macquarie in Northern New South Wales. This makes escaped convicts the first white men to meet the Gombemberri and spend any time on the Gold Coast.
Discovery of Coolangatta and the Nerang River by a party commanded by Captain Henry Rous of HM Frigate Rainbow. (Rainbow Bay is named after Rous's frigate. Coolangatta is named after a schooner that was wrecked off the coast in 1846.)
September: First attempt at permanent settlement on the Gold Coast. The hated commandant of Moreton Bay's penal settlement, Captain Patrick Logan, establishes a military post of Point Danger to intercept and recapture convicts fleeing south. Faced with growing tribal hostility the post is abandoned about two years later.
|1830||Logan, 39, is killed by Aborigines near Esk, 325 kilometres north-west of the Gold Coast.|
|1835||November: The first recorded tour of Gold Coast beaches by Europeans. Constable John MacKintosh, with eight men, travels from the Southport Spit along the beach to Point Danger.|
May - July: The first major official survey of the coastal area from the mouth of the Nerang to the Richmond River at Byron Bay. The surveyors are Robert Dixon, James Warner and Granville C. Stapylton. Dixon sends Sapylton to survey inland while he and Warner survey the coat. Stapylton is later killed by Aborigines near Mount Lindsay on the Queensland-New South Wales border.
Cedar-getting on the Tweed develops as the Gold Coast's first industry. Though many timber men become friendly with the blacks, their work and influence have an impact on the environment and the lifestyle of the Aborigines. Other industries to follow which change the future for the blacks, are grazing, farming, cotton, sugar, arrowroot plantations and dairying.
Two cedar-getters are killed by a few members of the Tulgigin tribe at a creek on the north arm of the Tweed, subsequently know as Murdering Creek. Whites chase the tribe, killing and fatally wounding dozens and banishing them to the mountains for two years. One historian later describes the revenge killings as 'unlicensed slaughter'.
|1845 - 46||
Two teenage timber-getters, destined to become Gold Coast pioneers, arrive on the Tweed. Edmund (Neddy) Harper, 17, and Campbell Duncan, 14, are believed to have been the first white men to cross the rugged McPherson range from New south Wales and reach the headwaters of the Nerang in the Numinbah Valley. (Research by Springbrook writer, Pam Hall, suggests this happened about 1846.)
March: The first land holdings are secured on the Gold Coast - two squatting leaseholds to the west of Burleigh Heads. One is 21 square miles in area, the other 20 - 25 square miles.
The beach is now an established route between Brisbane and the Tweed but the area is considered dangerous and most travellers ensure they are armed. It is dangerous for the Gombemberri's too. The district is regularly patrolled by the native police, responsible for atrocities and mass killings among the Aborigines.
A German woman and her young son, walking to Brisbane, are killed at Sandy Creek, Jimboomba, by a black known as Nelson. Native troopers hunting the killer slaughter about 40 blacks, but Nelson died a natural death some years later in Beenleigh.
Native police, investigating stock losses, raid a group of blacks camped on the banks of the Nerang River. Most of the men escape, but one is wounded and a boy drowned. Then an old black, blind from birth, is dragged from a hiding place. The women who plead mercy for him are beaten or killed and the old man is executed on the order of the white officer, Lieutenant Frederick Wheeler.
William Duncan, now married, leaves his wife, rose, and daughter, Sarah, camped at Burleigh Heads with an Aboriginal woman, believed to be Neddy Harper's de facto. Duncan goes off cedar-getting with Harper. While he is away, Sarah, four months old, dies. She is believed to be the first white child to be buried on the Gold Coast.
Harper builds a river wharf, opposite what is now Wharf Road at the southern end of Surfers Paradise. Soon it is the hub of a flourishing timber industry. William Duncan also begins a sawyer's business nearby; both men can speak a number of Aboriginal dialects fluently and are welcome at corroborees at Bundall and at the area where today's Broadbeach Cascade Gardens has been established.
Two Scottish brothers, Robert and John Veivers, are among the most successful timber-getters in the Gold Coast region. Robert is granted 320 acres of farming land in the Nerang area. The brothers' descendants are destined to feature prominently in agriculture, commerce, sport on both sides of politics.
The Gold Coast becomes the base for Australia's first licensed, floating distillery. James Steward installs a 500-gallon still in a 95 foot paddlewheel steamer, the Walrus. He cruises the Nerang, Albert and Logan rivers, picking up sugar cane to make what he calls Walrus rum. The pioneers prove eager customers. About the same time, timber-getters' James Beattie and Jim Miller inadvertently establish the first unlicensed hotel at surfers Paradise when they build a house, jetty, storerooms and barn on the banks of the Nerang River. Planning a cotton plantation they pay ninepence an acre for 80 cares of land embracing about half the present day Surfers Paradise CBD. Their house (at the end of Cavill Avenue where the Tiki International now stands) develops a reputation as a place for heavy drinkers brawls. It is known as The House of Blazes.
As many as 600 Aborigines are involved in what historians later describe as 'a final tribal fight' on flat land at the back of Burleigh. It follows corroborees which attract blacks from as far south as the Bellengen River in New South Wales, and as far north as Maryborough. Only one warrior is reported killed; several are wounded.
The First Entrepreneur
In 1872 when the aptly named 3600ha Great Swamp dominated most surveyors' maps of the Gold Coast, Julius Holland was creating a 480ha sugar cane plantation in the wilds of Bundall. He could be considered our first entrepreneur. Holland was born in London in 1844 and came to Australia in 1862 aged 18. He died in 1884 aged 40. Holland's plantation was the earliest known major settlement on the Coast, according to Hinterland historical Society President John Elliott. Holland's was the biggest enterprise to that point and employed 40 people, half being Melanesian. To put it in perspective, there were no schools in 1872 and Southport did not exist. It was known as Nerang Heads following the purchase of the first parcel of land from the government in late 1869. Nine years later it had one house. The first Cobb and Co coach did not arrive till late 1872. Logs had to be cleared from the road so it could get through Benowa, which had a post office, a small sugar mill and a single shop, was the region's major population centre.
With two partners Holland bought an area that is now bounded by Heeb Street, Slayter Avenue, the Nerang River and Benowa Road. The land contained two houses and a small wood-fired sugar mill located on the river near the present Sorrento Shopping Centre. The plantation and Mill were sold in 1880 but soon ceased operation when it was deemed there was no future in sugar. The land was subdivided and purchased by new settlers. The only evidence that the plantation existed are the gravestones that mark the site of the Historical Society's grounds in Elliott Street, Bundall.
Johann Meyer, arrives on the Gold Coast and builds a hut next tot he House of Blazes. Two years later he buys out his neighbours, transforming their cotton plantation into a sugar farm. The following year he becomes the manager and later the owner of a government ferry service, carrying passengers and horses across the river between Southport and what is becoming known as main Beach (later to become East Southport, Elston, then Surfers Paradise).
Meyer begins operating a vehicular ferry and clears a track from the Main Beach side of the river to the beach. This is the beginning of what is to become Cavill Avenue. Three years later Cobb and Co extend their Brisbane-Southport coach service to Tweed Heads, using Meyer's Ferry to cross the river, and travelling along the beach past the future site of the Iluka.
July 15: The official gazettal of the Shire of Southport. Covering 45 square miles it includes East Southport (Surfers Paradise). Its population is 350 and it has about 80 dwellings. The Gombumberri's face total eviction from their favourite living site. Southport is to be declared a town on April 12 1918, become amalgamated with the Town of Coolangatta and the Burleigh division of the Nerang Shire, to form the Town of South Coast on December 11, 1948; become the Town of Gold Coast on October 23, 1958; and reach City status on May 16, 1959.
The first legal hotel is established in the embryo community that is to become Surfers Paradise - a motley collection of shanties and huts scattered through the bush between Myer's Ferry and Harpers Wharf. Meyer obtains a license and on his riverfront property at the bottom of the future Cavill Avenue opens the Meyer's Ferry Hotel.
On January 24 a railway line is opened linking Brisbane to Southport. The State Government has to negotiate with local Aborigines because part of the line passes through a tribal ground. The line is later extended to Tweed heads but is closed down in 1964. Now a modern electrified line is planned to link Brisbane to the Gold Coast before the turn of the century.
|Meyer's hotel burns down and five years later he builds a new one, the Main Beach Hotel, on the corner of what is now the southbound Gold Coast Highway and Cavill Avenue (where the Westpac Bank now sands and opposite the existing Surfers Paradise Hotel.)|
|Meyer's feats in operating a ferry for travellers and opening a hotel to wine, dine and accommodate them - as well as manning a post office - mark him as the father of the resort's tourism industry. Sadly his pioneering efforts have never been given proper recognition. He died in 1901.|
December 1: The resort of Elston (named by a Southport postmaster after his wife's maiden name) officially becomes Surfers Paradise followed an eight year campaign, spearheaded by hotelier Jim Cavill. The name Surfers Paradise was first used in 1917 for a real estate subdivision which ran from First Avenue, Broadbeach, to Fern Street. It appealed to Cavill much more than Elston when he arrived in the resort in 1923. He bought a block of land on the corner of what was then Ferry road and the highway, opposite the site of Meyer's old hotel, and acquired Meyer's old license. When he opened his new Tudor style timber pub in 1925 he named it the Surfers Paradise Hotel. He knew that lifesaving patrols would help to make the beach more popular and was the founding patron of the Surfers Paradise Surf Life Saving Club. He also helped the push for a local state school.
the school, like the life saving club, was named Surfers Paradise before the town's official name change. Like Meyer, Cavill suffered a stroke of bad fortune when his hotel burned down in 1936. But a year later a brick and stucco hotel, with what was to become a famous tower, had risen from the ashes. If Johann Meyer was the father of Surfers Paradise tourism, Cavill, with his famous hotel zoo, entertainment programs and active interstate promotion was the man who fostered the sickly infant, nurturing it and setting standards to allow it to grow into the giant it is today.
It was many years after World War 2 before a man with the vision of Jim Cavill changed the direction of the Gold Coast's future. The man was Polish-born Stanley Korman who in 1957 began building the Surfers Paradise Chevron, which was then a world standard resort hotel. Korman's reign in Surfers Paradise was relatively brief. It lasted a mere five years before he lost control of his commercial empire. But the Chevron Paradise continued to be the Gold Coast's leading resort hotel until the rapid development of international hotels and resorts in the eighties.
The "ILUKA" was the first high-rise beach front hotel in Surfers Paradise followed by the development of the Hotel's "BILLY'S BEACH HOUSE' tavern. Businessman and Hotelier Billy James applied to the Licensing Commission for a "Licensed Victuallers License" under the provision of the now defunct Liquor Act of 1912-91 (International Standard Hotel License) and subsequently approved by the Licensing Court. The last company in Queensland to be granted such a license.
The Gold Coast's first 5-star hotel was Conrad Jupiters hotel-casino which opened in November 1985 (in the Conrad International). This was followed quickly by the Ramada, Surfers Paradise which was built on the site of Jim Cavill's original Surfers Paradise Hotel.
By 1995 the Gold Coast had a dozen international hotels, with more on the way, a myriad of world class golf course. The region also has Australia's largest Hollywood-style movie studio, three major theme parks, a shopping centre bigger than Waikiki's Ala & Moana, and a deep water harbour for cruising yachts. With accommodation in every price range it makes the Gold Coast a truly international resort.
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Local tribe members assisting Government surveyor 1910
'The Maid of Sker' unloading cargo, Southport
Southern approach to Surfers Paradise 1928
Meyer's Ferry approaching Cavill Avenue, Surfers Paradise 1920
Surfers Paradise Hotel, 1928
Walkway from Surfers Paradise Hotel to the beach 1928.- Now Cavill Avenue and Mall
Aerial view of Central Surfers Paradise 1950
Surfers Paradise Hotel built after the original building was destroyed by fire in 1935
Surfers Paradise Beach in the sixties
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