Melbourne hipsters brewing new Gold Coast culture

Bartenders shaking cocktails at The Collective in Palm Beach

Craig Tansley

Posted July 31, 2019

How the Gold Coast became the cultural and culinary hub of Queensland.

Criena Gehrke is from Melbourne, but she had to come to the Gold Coast for culture. Okay… while that statement’s not entirely true, the fact it kind of is should tell you something about what’s been happening in a region once synonymous with theme parks, dolphin shows and meter maids in itsy-bitsy bikinis.

Criena did come to the Gold Coast for culture – specifically, to help develop it. That was back in 2013 when the Gold Coast needed all the help it could get. High culture here – even just six years ago – was a Bruce Willis movie on a Saturday night and a covers band playing Daryl Brathwaite on a Sunday.

But everything’s changed – if you haven’t been to the Gold Coast in years, there’s a good chance you won’t recognise the place. For starters, Criena is CEO of a new place called Home of the Arts (HOTA). It’s so close to Surfers Paradise you can smell the sunscreen, but this ambitious, multifaceted cultural complex will soon be home to Australia’s largest regional art gallery.

“It was pioneering,” Criena explains to me. “To see a city [Gold Coast] that was interested in culture… and then they funded it and put their money where their mouth was. They were open to putting artists in the centre of the strategy.”

There’s a $37 million outdoor stage where the likes of Tim Minchin and Neil Finn have performed. Then there’s the $60 million art gallery due to open next year, which will span six levels with 2000 square metres of exhibition space.

Crowd enjoying the atmosphere at Burleigh Pavilion

Burleigh Pavilion

This kind of cultural awakening is happening all along the Coast. What was once a cultural and culinary wasteland is emerging as a bona-fide arts and culture destination, if you know where to look.

It all began with food. The fanciest meals on the Coast used to come served with chips at surf clubs by the beach. But that’s changed in the past four years. Even on a Monday night in early winter, I can’t get a table at The Collective Palm Beach, one of the southern Gold Coast’s most innovative culinary ventures. So I spend some time upstairs at a funky open-air bar. When there’s space to dine, I’m given a menu that reads like War and Peace – because The Collective Palm Beach is actually five restaurants in one (Japanese, modern Australian, American diner, Mexican and Italian). It’s all set in an uber-trendy space that used to be the Palm Beach post office.

“When we opened [in 2016] we had 200 people waiting outside,” co-owner Jeremy Davidson says. “That probably tells you the Gold Coast was ready for something new.”

These days it seems there’s an innovative new restaurant opening every month. Restaurateur Simon Gloftis, whose eateries Hellenika and Nineteen at The Star are two of the Coast’s most coveted, helped kickstart the change. “I’ve seen the Gold Coast transform before my eyes and I’ve been here since I was nine,” he says. “I couldn’t think of a place that’s progressed so much in such a limited time.”

In mid-2019 the culinary epicentre is undoubtedly Burleigh Heads. The surf at its point break is world-famous, but funky new eateries and hole-in-the-wall bars now compete for attention.

But you might not find the best places. They have that Melbourne kind of knack of hiding down secret laneways. Like Iku Yakitori, one of the country’s hippest new Japanese restaurants (Etsu, its sister eatery, is similarly hidden among retail shops just north in Mermaid Beach). You enter Yakitori via a laneway, through a timber door with no sign. Inside, Japanese chefs cook over hot binchotan charcoal while locals sit at a dimly lit bar inside. Burleigh surfers who once drank exclusively at surf clubs now linger here to sample Queensland’s most extensive Japanese whisky menu.

“We definitely took inspiration from Melbourne,” co-owner Mitch McCluskey says. “We used to take foodie safaris there. We wanted to mix things up on the Gold Coast, have locals dine at the bar, share their food, while listening to something that wasn’t elevator music.”

Bars like Lockwood epitomise this cultural revolution too – this hole-in-the-wall speak-easy is tricky to find, and you’ll need a text code to get in.

Band plays outside to a crowd in Currumbin Valley

The Green Marque at Currumbin Valley

Should you still yearn for waves, Rick Shores is the spot. On high tides with big seas, the ocean washes through, which might explain why waiters wear shorts and trainers, ready to run.

But dining is only part of the cultural revolution. There’s craft beer too in this XXXX heartland. You’ll find award-winning Balter Brewery inside an old radiator factory with a food truck inside, and a DJ too. It’s owned by four local champion surfers and their buddies. Meanwhile, Burleigh Brewing Company and Black Hops Brewery share kudos as two of the best small breweries in the country.

I’m partial to Lost Palms Brewery too – it’s the pink building among the auto-electric workshops in Miami, a few metres from the place that kickstarted this new cultural push. Built in an old warehouse, the Miami Marketta hosts bands beside food trucks, beside fashion designers and artist studios, beside the funkiest cocktail bars you’ll find outside Portland, Oregon.

“We became the first creative precinct zone on the Gold Coast,” co-founder Emma Miliken says. “In one year alone we’ve held over 150 street food events.”

Miami Marketta got the ball rolling, now there’s live music and food truck markets and festivals all over, including the Coast-wide Bleach Festival – a 12-day long artsfest with 47 events from opera to theatre and some of Australia’s best live bands, as well as pop-up bars and restaurants.

There are arts precincts popping up all over the Coast: in Mermaid Beach you’ll find internationally renowned artists exhibiting at 19 Karen Contemporary Artspace, next to The Sweet Fine Art Studio offering wine and life-drawing classes, right beside fashion designer Isabelle Quinn. At artist-run The Walls Art Space in Miami, anyone with flair can hang their creativity.

There are skyscrapers still and sunbakers bronzing themselves to oblivion, but look between the things we picture when we think of the Gold Coast, and you’ll find a whole new destination. Leave the bikini (or boardies)… bring your beret instead.

Row of beer taps at Balter Brewery

Balter Brewery

Head for the hills

  • Don’t ignore the hinterland. Not only is it home to World Heritage-listed national parks and more than 500 waterfalls, you’ll also find some of Queensland’s best artists.
  • Mount Tamborine – 25 minutes’ drive west of the Pacific Motorway – is the epicentre for arts and crafts. Take a tour, or drive; there are more than 60 art and craft stores along Long Road. Or drop in on an artist’s bush studio, or visit the best arts and crafts markets in south-east Queensland.
  • Thirty minutes south, Springbrook offers quirky local art galleries and cafes, and great short hikes to lookouts and waterfalls.
  • In Murwillumbah, the Tweed Regional Gallery and Margaret Olley Art Centre is an acclaimed regional gallery.

The cultural hotspot you can’t miss – Dust Temple

It used to be a clothing factory (in Currumbin’s industrial area). Now there’s a coffee shop out front, and everything out back: life-drawing classes, poetry and rap sessions, Saturday-morning live music and a gallery space exhibiting the best local – and international – artists. Keep walking – there’s a rum distillery due to open soon, and a recording studio behind that. Knock on the door behind that one to book yourself in with expressionist painter Peter Ceredig-Evans for a workshop on abstract painting. “For so long it’s been all about surf culture on the Gold Coast,” co-owner John Wilson says. “But that’s changing.”

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