The story of neon in Queensland (and perhaps Australia) has a special place in the hearts of a generation who remember the Gold Coast of yesteryear.

In the early 1950s the Gold Coast, particularly Surfers Paradise, was making a name for itself as a prime holiday and entertainment destination during the time neon signs were starting to gain popularity in Australia.

The Glitter Strip, as Surfers Paradise became known, played host to some of Queensland’s most iconic neon signs. The Gold Coast Highway literally glittered with neon; it was the visual siren’s call to attract holidaying families to eat, sleep and play.

One of the first motels on the scene in 1954, the El Dorado Motel featured an ornate neon sign in its earlier years. [1]

Neon on the Gold Coast was the epitome of entertainment and excitement on the one hand, opulence and decadence on the other: “As darkness falls, Surfers Paradise comes alive with bright neon lights…For whether it’s hot jive you seek, or something sweet and sentimental, you’ll find it when night comes to Surfers Paradise.” [2]

The front façade of Café Cathay, formerly on the Gold Coast Highway, featured two giant dazzling neon dragons and has been described as having the “largest and most colourful neon sign in Queensland.”[3]

The Coppertone suntan lotion sign was perhaps the most controversial. “The sign was considered very daring…newspapers and magazines around Australia published [photos] to reinforce the image of ‘sinful Surfers Paradise’.”[4]

Perhaps the most widely recognised is the Pink Poodle motel sign that has held a sentimental place as the unofficial mascot of Gold Coast neon since 1967.

It has been said that the strutting poodle in its vibrant pink and blue glory “exemplified the Coast’s vibrant and colourful reputation.”[5]

So why does the neon story and the Gold Coast have such a strong resonance? Partly because of the collective nostalgia of Queenslanders of a certain age, having spent day trips or extended holidays there at the peak of the Glitter Strip’s glory. Possibly because of concentration—the sheer number of neon signs in one area amplified their impact. Undoubtedly, the extensive visual record of Gold Coast neon signs by photographers John Gollings, G.A Black and Alexander McRobbie contributes to that collective memory, long after the signs and the buildings they adorned have disappeared.

Photo credit:
Cover image:  Cathay Cafe at night, Surfers Paradise, November 1958. Photographer Arthur Leebold. City of Gold Coast Library Local Studies Library
Image 1: Cavill Avenue in Surfers Paradise. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland
Image 2:  Pink Poodle Motel neon sign at night, 2903 Gold Coast Highway, Surfers Paradise, Queensland, circa 1975 . Photographer John Gollings. City of Gold Coast Library Local Studies Library
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