Case Study - The Gold Coast
Case Study of An Example of a Changing Community…..

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The Gold Coast covers 1400 square kilometres of the coastal area in southern Queensland. It is a city and local government area of south-east Queensland.
Before European settlement, the Gold Coast and its hinterland was an area of timbered mountains and hills, river valleys, flood plains, and freshwater and saltwater wetlands. It was the home of the Aboriginal Yugambeh people. They lived in harmony with the natural environment, hunting and collecting. Their activities made little impact on their surroundings. Much of that environment has changed since European settlement but the descendants of the Yugambeh people still live on the Gold Coast.

The nineteenth century was a time of great migration from Europe to the countries of the New World including Australia. Settlers, mainly of Anglo-Celtic origin, reached the area, then known as the South Coast, and established large cattle stations and cleared much of the land of rainforest. Later, stations were divided into smaller farms and over the next century there was more intensive agriculture including cotton, bananas and avocado. During the 1930s and 1940s a string of small beach towns grew, including Surfers Paradise.
The population consisted of:
  • a small rural community based on small farming
  • a growing urban community based on tourism and retirees.
The Gold Coast and change
The South Coast was a very popular holiday destination for ex-servicemen returning from World War II. The area had become known as the Gold Coast, possibly because of its golden beaches. There were rapid changes in the community towards the end of the 1950s and these have continued until the present day. The following factors caused change in the community:
  • After World War II, people were generally more prosperous and had higher lifestyle expectations.
  • Roads were greatly improved in the area as the family car became more affordable. People from inland and further south travelled to the camping grounds, caravan parks, motels and, later, hotels and apartments.
  • Improvements in communications enabled many people to consult travel agents, who catered for the needs of the holiday maker.
  • Along with promotion of the area's natural beauty and subtropical climate came development of holiday apartments, shopping arcades and canal development on waterways. As tourism grew, there were more opportunities for business and investment. By the 1960s, the Gold Coast's infrastructure had grown considerably so high-rise development began. The Gold Coast had become the major tourist destination in Australia, and tourism had become the main industry.
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    Coolangatta 1952
  • During the 1980s, the Gold Coast became an established international tourist destination with the development of theme parks such as Dreamworld, Seaworld and Movie World. Japanese investment in high-rise buildings transformed the skyline of the city.
  • Many migrants from interstate, and an increasing number from overseas, were attracted by the opportunities of employment and the lifestyle of the Gold Coast.

Effects of change on the community
The Gold Coast has experienced great change from the small communities before 1950.
  • Migration from within Australia and overseas has increased the population to over 500 000 in 2009, making it the sixth largest city in Australia.
  • The population has changed from almost all Anglo-Celtic to being more culturally diverse.
  • Wetlands have been drained to enable construction of canals and natural waterways have been altered to develop marinas.
  • The urban landscape has changed to one of major high-rise development in beachside locations. The Gold Coast has the highest residential building in the world.
  • Quality infrastructure, including a hospital and education facilities, has been developed and transport is greatly improved.
  • The Gold Coast has become a major tourist destination, attracting more than 10 million overnight and day-trip visitors. It hosts nearly 30 000 visitors each day; 92 per cent come from other areas of Australia and the remainder from overseas, including Japan, New Zealand and China.
  • A wide range of work opportunities has been developed.

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Top 10 countries of birth of residents of the Gold Coast and south-east Queensland, 2006. Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

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Coolangatta in about 2004

The Gold Coast community today reflects the dramatic change in the physical and human environment. The community is primarily a prosperous urban community with a large transient tourist population. Large numbers of people continue to move to the Gold Coast to meet their lifestyle expectations. The Gold Coast retains its position as one of Australia's most visited tourist venues and is the fastest growing region in Australia.

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The Gold Coast skyline

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Government response to change

The three levels of government have supported the development of a tourist industry on the Gold Coast, along with the large increase in population.

Federal government

Coolangatta Airport was upgraded in the 1980s to allow for international passengers and larger planes. The federal government has also promoted the tourist industry overseas, developed immigration programs and encouraged foreign investment.

State government

The Queensland state government has developed infrastructure including education, water and sewerage, roads, law and order, and public transport.

Local government

The Gold Coast City Council (the former Gold Coast Town Council) was officially formed in 1958, and the Gold Coast was proclaimed as a city in 1959. The council has been active in the development of the Gold Coast since then. It is responsible for local infrastructure such as roads, parks, beaches and recreational areas. It has also developed libraries and community centres.

Response of community groups to change

Many community groups on the Gold Coast have been active during its population increase, change in the physical and human environments and the development of waterways, high-rise buildings and tourist facilities.

  • Many community groups, including those involved in ‘green’ movements and preservation, have opposed change; they have agitated for slower development and preservation of much more of the physical environment.
  • Other community groups have advocated more rapid development. Much of the business community and other individuals want a large urban development and the opportunities it brings for employment, education and lifestyle improvement.

Each year, in November and December, around 25 000 Year 12 school leavers from all around Australia arrive on the Gold Coast for Schoolies. Many volunteers from the local community offer support, patrolling beaches and streets to ensure the safety of those celebrating the end of their secondary schooling.

Changes in estimated resident population, Gold Coast Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.


1. Identify the shared space of the Gold Coast community.
2. How did the Yugambeh people live in harmony with the natural environment?
3. Outline how the European settlers changed the natural environment.
4. Describe the factors causing change in the Gold Coast community after 1950.
o a Outline the impacts of change on the Gold Coast community.
o b Select one of these impacts and describe how the impact changed the Gold Coast community.
6. Outline how the three levels of government have responded to change in the Gold Coast community.
7. What do you understand by the term lifestyle expectations? Outline the lifestyle expectations of the community in the area in which you live.
8. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of high-rise buildings in residential areas.
9. Refer to the two photographs of Coolangatta Beach in Section 6.2.
o a Describe the scene in the 1950s photograph and in the 2004 photograph.
o b What are the main differences between the two photographs? Account for these differences.
10. Refer to the table showing ‘Net migration to the Gold Coast, 2001 to 2006’. From which state was the largest migration to the Gold Coast? Suggest reasons for this.
11. Refer to the bar graph showing ‘Top 10 countries of birth of residents of the Gold Coast and south-east Queensland, 2006’.
o a Name the three countries of birth that contributed most to the population of the Gold Coast in 2006.
o b Suggest reasons why a greater percentage of people on the Gold Coast than in south-east Queensland were born overseas.
12. Refer to the graph of the Change in Resident Population
o a What measurement is shown on the left axis of the graph?
o b What measurement is shown on the right axis of the graph?
o c What measurement is shown on the horizontal axis of the graph?
o d Which year had the smallest change in population?
o e Which year had the lowest percentage change in population?
o f What trend can you see in the change in population?
o g What trend can you see in the percentage change in population?
o h How useful is the graph for showing trends?