The Early European Settlers
The first permanent European settlers in what was known as Nerang Creek Heads were Richard Gardiner and his wife who had established a small store and guest house on 176 acres south of Queen Street in 1869.
Within a reasonable distance of Brisbane by steamer, picnic parties and keen fishermen made their way to the area in increasing numbers to enjoy the excellent fishing, ocean breezes and sandy beaches.
In 1878, Red Spinner, a regular contributor to the Brisbane Courier described the attractions of Southport “In addition to the fishing, botanical and picnic excursions in the scrub up the river, there must be included in the list of attractions for visitors, trips to sugar plantations, farms, and saw-mill, and a choice of pretty bush rides or walks.”
Recognising the potential of the site as a seaside resort, in 1874 Crown Reserve land at Nerang Creek Heads was surveyed and subdivided into town lots. The following year it was officially named Southport.
It’s unclear who was responsible for choosing the name but it’s believed that Thomas Hanlon suggested it to surveyor G. L. Pratten in reference to a seaside resort in England. Alternate versions suggest that the name was put forward by Thomas Blacket Stephens or is simply in response to its location as a port south of Brisbane.
Despite unsuccessful early land sales the first substantial home, Balclutha, was built by the Johnston family who saw the potential of the region. By 1878, after a Christmas season that saw people camping on the beach due to a lack of accommodation, land sales improved and people started to purchase the allotments. Improved transport options were also offered with regular steamers travelling from Brisbane and Nerang and Cobb and Co coach services available.
The township steadily expanded to offer a range of services and employment opportunities in the growing number of stores and businesses including Johnston and Freeman’s sawmill. Schools were established including The Southport School, Goy-Te-Lea and The Southport State School.
By 1882 newspapers were reporting “There are three or four stores doing a brisk trade, two butchers’ shops, three or four hotels, a chemist, blacksmith, baker, and fruiterer, national school, with a regular attendance of fifty children, also a boarding school for young ladies, several private residences and furnished cottages to let.”
By the 1890s, Southport had become the favoured destination for the Queensland Governor, Sir Anthony Musgrave. The governor and his household would spend holidays at the Summer House on the banks of the Nerang River on the present day site of The Southport School.
Southport became a fashionable seaside resort and the residents and Southport Town Council working towards improving facilities with the construction of a protective sea wall, pier, picture theatre and landscaping. In later years, swimming baths were built against the pier and a kiosk erected.
An increasing range of accommodation and public houses were built and refurbished over the years including the Southport Hotel (originally Gardiner’s accommodation house), Hanlon’s Hotel (later the Pacific Hotel), the Railway Hotel, the Hotel Cecil, the Scottish Prince (later the Anglers Arms) and, in 1908, Chelmsford Guesthouse.
The South Coast railway line opened in 1889 linking Brisbane to Southport. After the Southport station opened at the junction of Scarborough and Railway Streets on 24 January 1889, the pier, nearby kiosk and park along the Esplanade were enjoyed by weekend railway excursionists and day trippers travelling down to Southport for a day by the sea.
For many years Southport encompassed both sides of the mouth of the Nerang River with the main surfing beach being on the southern side of the river. The location of the Southport Yacht Club and Southport Surf Life Saving Club in the suburb of Main Beach is a legacy of these earlier times.
Residents and visitors crossed the river by boat at Barney Boulton’s or caught Meyer’s Ferry across to what is now Cavill Avenue.
In 1925 the two sides of Southport were permanently linked by the Jubilee Bridge allowing vehicular and pedestrian traffic to cross the river. The construction of the bridge coincided with the opening of Jim Cavill’s Surfers Paradise Hotel and triggered the development of Surfers Paradise as a major holiday destination.
During the same period, the small timber building which had served as the Southport Town Hall was replaced with an Art Deco styled building and both the Pacific and Cecil Hotels underwent similar significant alterations.
Throughout the 1900s, Southport offered a wide range of facilities, schools, stores, dining and entertainment options to the community. In 1975 the suburb celebrated the centenary of the first land sale and continues to be recognised as the central business district of the Gold Coast.
Prepared by the City of Gold Coast Local Studies Library.
Further reading and sources of information:
MELBOURNE. (1875, April 9). The Telegraph, p. 2. Retrieved October 8, 2015, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article169479195
Southport and Burleigh Heads. (1878, January 16). The Brisbane Courier, p. 5. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1369276
SOUTHPORT—THE NEW WATER ING PLACE. (1882, October 25). Western Star and Roma Advertiser, p. 3. Retrieved October 9, 2015, from nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97517874
History-makers ready for centenary. (1975, March 29). Gold Coast Bulletin.
Queensland Place Names dnrm.qld.gov.au/qld/environment/land/place-names
Longhurst, R.,Southport: Images of yesteryear 1880 – 1955. Gold Coast City Council, 1994.
Hanlon, W.E. The Early Settlement of the Logan and Albert Districts, 1935.