Marion Stell

When news spread that Governor George Bowen’s long anticipated arrival in Brisbane in December 1859 had been delayed, the Queensland Free Press claimed ‘Pleasure arrangements were upset, and a general expression of dullness was manifested’. Queenslanders were displeased that their planned public holiday program was disrupted. The program promised ‘various rural and amusing sports’ in the Botanic Gardens and adjacent land and a regatta on the Brisbane River. Displeasure quickly turned to pleasure when news of the governor’s arrival was announced one week later,

Brisbane was at once in a state of excitement; in a few minutes everyone had heard the news; fireworks and guns were let off and men were hurrahing with great strength of lungs in all parts of the town.

Pleasure had great currency in Brisbane, once the convict period ceased. Pleasure trips and pleasure excursions were frequently made to Moreton Bay and all parts of the Brisbane River. These trips left from McCabe’s wharf to the Bay. ‘Pleasure seekers’ embarked on a picnic on New Years Day 1862 down the river to Lytton. One commentator wrote to the editor of the Courier in September 1862 that, ‘There are numerous parties in different parts of the Bay either gaining a living or going from place to place for pleasure’.

For Queensland colonists, like the growing reputation of all Australians, were labelled pleasure seekers. According to an editorial ‘Australia as Holiday-Keepers’ in the Australasian Sketcher, 29 November 1879,

The Anglo- Saxon race seems by transplantation to Australia to have acquired a new zest for pleasure. Whether the cause is to be found in the bright, clear buoyant atmosphere, or the free, healthy conditions of life, may be disputed, but there is no question about the effect. Pleasure is pursued with a keenness of interest and an active vigour which can hardly be paralleled elsewhere among Englishmen. The tendency is to find amusement and diversion on large scale, and in an organised form. We are not content with quiet stay-at-home pleasures, and prefer to join an excursion, or a vast crowd, that our own sense of enjoyment may be heightened.

Early maps of Queensland towns note the locations of reserves for botanic gardens and recreation reserves, cricket grounds, rifle ranges, and public bathing and swimming areas. Bailliere’s Queensland Gazetteer of 1876, claimed Breakfast Creek and nearby Hamilton had, 

an excellent hotel and pleasure garden, a favourite place of resort in the heat of summer. There is a good cricket ground in the neighbourhood, and opposite the river opens into a magnificent wide reach about 6 miles in length, where the river regattas and sailing matches are held.

At nearby Sandgate on Moreton Bay,

of late several Brisbane merchants and professional gentlemen have been induced  by the salubrity of the climate, and the agreeable character of the prevailing winds, to purchase allotments and build marine residences there, some of which are completed, and others in progress.

Despite the sharks and swarms of mosquitoes, ‘the prevailing summer winds – which come across the bay, carry with them a coolness and freshness which is inexpressibly delightful during the fierce summer heats’.

Near Rockhampton to the north,

the water-place of Emu-park, or Hewittville, is one of the prettiest places in the colony. The half-bald hills and bold scenery of its background, added to the magnificent beaches and picturesque bays, render it unusually attractive as a summer resort... The Fitzroy Pastoral, Agricultural and Horticultural Society have a grant of land, 5 acres, in the centre of town. It is now being fenced in and planted round with sixty bunya trees. The society’s first show will be held at end of May next.

Queensland: the tourist’s pleasure resort

In the first decades of the twentieth century Queenslanders could enjoy the landscape through cycling or on day trips by car. The 1913 Roads of Queensland (for ‘travellers, tourists, motorists, drovers, land seekers and all persons using her roads and railways’) touted Queensland as the Tourist’s Pleasure Resort. Each map contained ‘Tips for Tourists’ suggesting places for holiday, bush walking, sight seeing and even more cultural pursuits,

Visitors to Brisbane will find much to interest them. The Botanic Gardens and University Grounds ... are worth more than a passing visit. The Public Library in William Street has some very valuable books for those who run to read. The Museum at Bowen Park and the Acclimatisation Society’s grounds near by are too good to be missed. The Art Gallery... though small, holds some treasures.

The journey north to Coolum was ‘a maze of natural beauties’. At Muckadilla, famed for its bore water which was credited with restorative properties, ‘private enterprise having failed to provide sufficient accommodation, the Commissioner of Railways has erected a cottage containing rest rooms and four enamel baths (two for ladies, two for gentlemen) with water laid on from the bore.’  Around Townsville ‘in the winter months no more pleasurable trip can be found than up this coast’. Those not visiting the Cairns District ‘would miss something that would always remain a regrettable incident in their lives’.

With the help of the Queensland Intelligence and Tourist Bureau, a transition occurred from locals enjoying the landscape to outsiders seeing the potential of Queensland for pleasure. This coincided with the opening of the North Coast Railway called the Sunshine Route to Cairns in 1924. Until then visitors from the south, including Brisbane, usually came by ship. In the 1930s the Bureau commissioned a range of posters to advertise Queensland for the southern market. Perhaps the most evocative was Percy Trompf's poster 'Off to the north for warmth' which showed a family of penguins, with suit cases and camera, leaving Victoria and heading for the Great Barrier Reef.

In the 1940s the Tourist Bureau commissioned a survey of the standard of accommodation in Queensland, also collecting data on comparable accommodation providers in New South Wales, including Ballina and the Blue Mountains. Queensland appeared backward, especially when compared to New South Wales. Accommodation in the form of wooden boarding houses and hotels could be found from Southport to Coolangatta, and from Caloundra to Maroochydore. But these were all very run down. Guest houses had also been established on the fringes of the Lamington National Park, O'Reillys and Binna Burra. A 1947 report to the State government on tourist resources pointed out that Queensland had no hotels that measured up to 'international standards', which required air conditioning, modern plumbing, sound-proofing and 'excellent cuisine'.  It also recommended more floor shows, 'supper dances' and longer hours for serving alcohol.

After the lifting of war-time building restrictions and government price-setting of hotel rates, private entrepreneurs got into the business of building new hotels and nature attractions. On the Gold Coast much of the inspiration came from exhibits, apartments and hotels that had appeared in Florida in the 1930s. Lennons Hotel at Broadbeach had a commanding site. The most popular attractions on the Coast were the Currumbin Sanctuary and the Jack Evans porpoise pool at Coolangatta-Tweed Heads. The Currumbin Sanctuary grew from the efforts of a bee-keeper and flower grower, whose farm attracted thousands of birds, especially lorikeets. The National Geographic magazine wrote up the bird feeding in 1956, putting The Sanctuary on the tourist map. By the mid-1960s over half a million visitors a year paid for themselves, families and friends to feed the lorikeets.

Towards Cairns, the railway town of Kuranda with its tropical fernery display on the railway station attracted many tourists and their cameras. In Brisbane the privately-owned Oasis at Sunnybank and Cascades at Indooroopilly provided relief from the extremes of the climate, with swimming pools and beautiful gardens.

Queensland had its own share of somewhat quirky amusements. Permanent family owned and run zoos could be visited including Maguires Zoo on Magnetic Island with its snake house, the Mount St John Zoo in Townsville, Belmore Zoo in Mackay, the Surfers Paradise Hotel Zoo with its six legged cow, Alma Park Zoo, and Lone Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane. The arrival of Wirths Circus in town, especially the drama of the elephants being unloaded from railway carriages or trucks and the camels paraded in the town’s main street, drew crowds of onlookers. Other animals in captivity included Bullens African Lion Park at Yatala and Hartley’s Creek wildlife zoo north of Cairns.

Other permanent tourist destinations included the quirky Bli Bli castle on the Sunshine Coast, Paronella Park at Mena Creek near Innisfail and the Tewantin house of bottles, the latter part of the copying of the American trend towards ‘big things’. The most popular, and the one that most effectively dominated the landscape, was the Big Pineapple at Nambour.

Annual festivals and street parades were held in many towns including the peanut festival in Kingaroy, the Fun in the Sun parades in Cairns and the Warana festival in Brisbane.

But it was the development of Southport and Surfers Paradise as a beach holiday destination that came to epitomise Queensland pleasure. Enough for some to ask were Queenslanders now too devoted to pleasure? Clem Lack writing in the centennial publication Queensland: daughter of the sun in 1959,

Sport and recreation have a prime appeal in a land where sunshine, the open air, and the outdoor living are high priorities of social life. This does not connote that Queenslanders are indolent. They are not afraid of hard work or concentrated effort. The popular notion of inertia and lassitude that has become almost legendary in tropical countries, does not apply to Queenslanders.

With the rise of jet travel in the 1960s, responsibility for marketing Queensland moved to the airlines. The Gold Coast landscape became dominated by multi-storey apartment blocks, some ironically placing the iconic Surfers Paradise beach in solid blocks of shade in the afternoon. The Queensland lifestyle centred on the Gold Coast, sand, sun and surfing beaches, which was originally taken to represent all of Queensland, gradually expanded to include the other great icons of the State – the reef and rainforest. The tropical islands and the reef all the way up the coast from Bundaberg drew short term holidaymakers and well as large numbers of grey nomads – retirees from the southern states chasing the warmth of Queensland in winter months. Queensland became the sexual destination of Australia – from heterosexual honeymooners in Surfers Paradise to gay and lesbian resorts in tropical Queensland.

The warm climate of Queensland contributed to its hedonistic pleasures providing year-long holiday potential, and creating lush and exotic gardens. The pleasures were not just visual – there was pleasure in the feel of the sun and the sand, in the taste of tropical fruits, and in the immersion of the body in water. The Big Pineapple was more than a big icon, it signaled the lusciousness of tropical fruits and the sensuousness to be found in Queensland.  

Events such as EXPO 88 marked an increased sophistication in Brisbane with outdoor dining areas and extended trading hours. Where once Queensland only had one winery destination at Roma in the 1960s, now wineries were established in the Granite Belt and Scenic Rim areas, and regions began to market local produce. The taste of Queensland became a distinctive pleasure.

No longer just the home of the surf carnival, the pleasure strip of Surfers Paradise and the Gold Coast became renowned for its own contribution to hedonism in the form of sex, drugs and gambling and its associated crime. Added to this mix were motor racing and the general debauchery of the annual Schoolies festival, the latter causing a degree of moral panic.

Pleasure for the family moved to the strip between Brisbane and the Gold Coast which became the home of the ‘worlds’ many of them revamped family attractions – at Oxenford Warner Bros Movie World opened in 1991 and Cade’s County which had opened in 1984 was renamed Wet n’ Wild in 1987, Dreamworld opened at Coomera in 1982, Keith Williams’ Ski Land opened at the Spit in 1971 and amalgamated with the nearby Marineland porpoise park in 1972 to become Sea World which by 1981 was attracting half a million visitors per year.

Today visitors as well as locals to the coastal, regional and outback areas of Queensland can engage in an astonishing suite of recreational and leisure activities, including organised sport, bushwalking, cultural attractions, museums and heritage centres, shopping and eating. But perhaps the most dominant image of multi-sensual and sexual pleasure in Queensland remains the tropical ideal.