Not long back, you could prop in the Rainbow Bay Ale House and enjoy a good smoke with each cold beer.
You could amble in after touch-down, or load-up prior to departure, confident in the knowledge that your petty vices would be genially accommodated. Positioned mid-way between the north and south wings of the long tin shed that is Coolangatta’s airport terminal, the Ale House once reflected Queensland’s iconic lifestyle. It was singlet and thongs casual. It was easy-going under a shade-sail with a salty onshore breeze.
I’d returned to the Glitter Strip for a drink. It’d been twenty four months since my last visit and seven years absence prior to that. We had a history though, the Coast and I. We’d been intimate. Something like a bond existed between us. A nostalgia that resonated warmly through Melbourne’s long winters.
Upon arrival I made for the Ale House. I purchased a bottle of beer, set myself at a vacant table and rolled a cigarette. That’s when the security guard materialised. His reaction, and those of the surrounding patrons, was something you’d experience if, say, your favourite third cousin turned out to be the Josef Fritzl and then you caught him hitting on your tweeny over Christmas lunch.
Faced with a $200 on-the-spot fine, I was advised to immediately surrender my crisp, perspiring Four-X and relocate to a two-meter square pillory-dock located by the roadside out front. A heavy, biohazard-yellow line delineated this confined section of sweltering concrete from the rest of society.
It’s no great surprise that Queensland implemented the strictest anti-smoking laws in the nation. The state has always had a peculiar affection for authoritarianism. Sir Joh Bjelke-Peterson, son of a Danish Lutheran pastor and indubitably Australia’s most renowned peanut-farmer, ruled Queensland as state premier for nineteen years. During his reign the right of free assembly and association was revoked, sex education was banned in schools, condom vending machines were confiscated from university toilets, and the comedian Rodney Rude was arrested for obscenity.
Despite the fascist styling of his state premiership, today Sir Joh is still regarded by many as the greatest Queenslander of all time. Greater even than rugby league Immortal, ‘The King’ Wally Lewis. His supporters point to Queensland’s dramatic growth during Sir Joh’s years. Cranes were silhouetted against the gloaming skyline. Indeed, the argument remains strong that his dubious political machinations continue to inspire many of the candidates contesting the March 2012 state election.
Next morning I woke early, filled a canteen with rum and soda and set forth to march along the beach from my host’s unit in Mermaid to Surfers Paradise. Some powerful drinking had occurred the previous evening, accompanied, naturally, by passionate discussion. One concern thrashed about over an increasingly dense stand of empty bottles was the Coast’s recent bent towards conservatism.
Until Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, the Gold Coast had slipped Queensland’s ‘Deep North’ notoriety. From the mid-Seventies, and especially through the Eighties, it became ‘Australia’s favourite playground.’ And not for its theme-parks alone.
The Eighties saw a boom of high-rise development. A large number of the Coast’s residents prospered. There was a surging tide of frivolity as everybody from construction-workers to tradies to Main Beach’s chic elite cut the rug. While the economic recession of the early nineties tampered with the vibe, an inertia of denial carried through to ’97 –‘98 .
That’s when The Strip and I first parted ways. When I returned in early 2001 the amphetamine epidemic had really taken a grip. The outlaw motorcycle gangs revelled in a roaring trade. There was flagrant prostitution, escalating street violence and a glut of home invasions. Then, in 2004, the conservative former Olympian, Ron Clarke was elected mayor. By the end of his stewardship assaults had dropped 46 per cent, robbery by 41 per cent.
‘You should have been here yesterday.’
That’s the gloating leitmotif of the classic 1966 cult surf movie, The Endless Summer as two intrepid surfers wander from idyllic location to idyllic location seeking the perfect wave. Well, I’d already relocated across two borders into ‘Mexico’ and consequently had missed the Coast’s frightful crescendo, when the conflict of two fronts created the perfect storm and a faint, psychotic whisper of identity crisis.
This curious schizophrenia is encapsulated in the colourfully contested state seat of Broadwater. Ron Clarke, having resigned as Gold Coast mayor, is now running for a state seat as an Independent candidate. Having eluded the controversy of the South Stradbroke Island Tipplers Resort fiasco, Clarke now wants a copper chopper and lower water rates.
‘And the best, quickest and most pertinent way of doing this is to legislate to ensure our utility prices are lower than anywhere else in the country, just as they used to be not so long ago under Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen,’ he contends on ronclarke.com.au.
Two LNP candidates for Broadwater have already been binned. Richard Towson was dis-endorsed by the party after being pinched by an R.B.T unit driving .02 above the legal limit. His replacement, Cameron Caldwell ended his tilt the moment he confirmed he’d once attended a Gold Coast swingers club.
The incumbent ALP member for Broadwater is Peta-Kaye Croft. A handful of her supporters have recently been investigated by the Gold Coast City Council for standing in the middle of a roundabout holding corflute campaign signage.
My own march was halted at Broadbeach, half-way to the city’s glinting glass heart. He rode astride a red quad bike and had spotted me staggering northwards in the loose sand. After interrogation, my canteen was confiscated. Regardless of Schoolies and the Indy Car carnival, drinking in public, certainly on beaches, is prohibited. The remainder of my rum-soda seeped into the Coast’s famous golden sand.
Indignant and fatigued I retired to firmer ground. From a garbage can I retrieved that mornings edition of the Gold Coast Bulletin, found a patch of shade and collapsed, resigned to the Coast’s new reality and the scripture of the sun king. Surprisingly, I was not nabbed for vagrancy.
POST SCRIPT: Following the Saturday, March 24, 2012 state election, the LNP hold all nine of the Gold Coast’s state seats. Twenty-six year old, Verity Barton, claimed Broadwater for the LNP with over 60 per cent of the vote after preferences. Constitutional monarchist and new lawn bowls devotee, Barton was the LNP’s third candidate for Broadwater.
Campbell Newman will replace the ALP’s Anna Bligh as state premier. He has recently been described by former Royal Military College of Duntroon friend and federal Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie as ‘very driven, very intelligent and very, very conservative.’