Coolangatta 

Greenmount Beach Pavillion (1950’s)

I was brought up in Sydney, and every May school holidays from the age of five, my parents would take the family on a two-week vacation to Coolangatta on the border of Queensland and New South Wales. The tradition continued until I was eighteen. Some of my most vivid and pleasurable memories lay in those times. My first recollection of Coolangatta is visiting Greenmount Beach, just down the road from our accommodation, where school holiday entertainment for children was on offer each and every day. On our very first day men painted black were performing Aboriginal dances on the beach, complete with spears and boomerangs. I had never seen a black person before and they scared the living daylights out of me. Just as, I imagine, my screams frightened them. 

Over the years we made a habit of making multiple visits to the local roller skating rink. In time I became a very good skater, on four wheels I emphasise. When home and trying to ice skate I made a complete fool of myself. Also at the pavilion at Greenmount was a hypnotist who gave two performances a day using members of the audience. He was brilliant, and it was always hilarious. One particular trick was to hypnotise a young man and convince him that the pair of sunglasses he was given would allow him to see through people’s clothing. After the subject had inspected the audience a few times, the hypnotist would tell the man to look down at himself. They always immediately covered their crotch with their hands and turned their back on the audience. How embarrassing. These were special times for many reasons. Not including the number of times our old holden would boil and I would have to search for water. It made dad so angry. 

But definitely including when I was eighteen and my parents flew me from Sydney for the second week only as I was caught up with university studies the first week. Dad even let me drive his brand new Holden to go to a disco on the Gold Coast. I met a girl there and arranged to meet her the next day. Problem was that it had been so dark in the disco we didn’t recognise each other and soon discovered it was futile. Not so the girl I met on Coolangatta Beach when I was fifteen. Her name was Joanna and I was in love. We talked for hours before she disappeared out of my life forever. But I will never forget her gentle touch. It was particularly poignant because me favourite song at the time was “Joanna” by Scott Walker. 

I remember there were years we would be accompanied by other families, friends of my parents. One of them had a beautiful daughter named Chanel, and, again, I fell in love. But she was two years older than me, so that love was unrequited. We ran into each other many years later and had a good laugh about the whole thing. Another year we were accompanied by our cousins. I was twelve at the time and one of my cousin, Lorraine, was sixteen. I remember sitting at a table when she complained that all the boys she went out with had tried to put their hands down the front of her dress. I remember thinking “why would they want to do that?”. 

But by far the most memorable year was 1963 when I was thirteen. Mum and Dad had managed to put away a few extra pounds (money) and, instead of staying at the old unit on Marine Parade opposite the beach, we stayed at one of the famed guest houses, the St. Leonards Guest House. The food was beautiful and bountiful and the service and attention breath-taking. There was a table tennis table and my father and I would play for hours. And they had a jute box. Dad loved Nat King Cole and at that stage the number one song in Australia was “Rambling’ Rose”. We played it over and over and over. And then one day my father produced a large handful of sixpences and told me we were going to the arcade around the corner to play the pinball. We stayed there all afternoon and still came home with money because we won so many free games. In many ways that was the best day of my life. 

Dad had long resented me for the attention and affection he saw me, as the first child, he had lost from my mother, and our relationship was strained to say the least. That holiday, and that day in particular, was the only time I felt any sort of love from him. Indeed, all our days in all the years in Coolangatta were the only times I remember my father seeming happy and relaxed. Back in Sydney he worked two jobs just top barely maintain our sense of being a middle class family. Mum had never worked at all. Dad hated it with a passion, and when dad felt that way he reacted with immense anger. But not on holidays. So, it’s no surprise that when I want to think of a peaceful and happy place, I still think of Coolangatta. It holds the fondest memories of what was, otherwise, a difficult childhood. That’s why I will always love Coolangatta. 

Geoff Mooney