Australia’s Gold Coast in the Sexy, Sexist 70s

Graham Burstow visited the Gold Coast every summer during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. His photos show us how the place has evolved.

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May 4 2015, 1:40pm

The Gold Coast just might be Australia's glitziest city. For years, this strip of imitation Miami has dealt in bodybuilding, bikini contests, and high-rise leering. But interestingly, the guy who took these photos doesn't see it like that. To Graham Burstow, who's been photographing the GC since the 60s, these images are more than a vignette of the Aussie holiday with a few incidental bikinis thrown in. He's seen the area evolve from fibro shacks in the scrub to the multi-story resort city it is today. So we reached out to him to talk to about the way the Gold Coast has changed.

VICE: Hi Graham. Tell us about how you came to photograph the Gold Coast.
Graham Burstow: I was born in 1927 in Toowoomba. From when I was three or four we used to rent a house there, until dad bought some land at Mermaid Beach. We built a house and from the 60s until the 80s, I spent every summer holiday taking photos.

And how did you get into photography?
I'm from an artistic family. Everyone in the family was in a choir and I started taking photos of them when I was 17. Then people started asking for copies so I started processing the film myself. From then on, I'd always document holidays or events. Anything where there were lots of people.

Including bikini competitions?
Yes, they were called the Miss Sun Girl Quest competition. I remember that started with just a few girls on the beach. Then they got a stage, then a backdrop in the 1970s. It was really popular at one time. The boys used to lay under the stage to watch. I don't know what happened to it though. I haven't seen it advertised in years.

You don't seem to be a guy particularly interested in photographing sexual innuendo. Why is there so much implicit sex in these photos?
This is just what was happening at the beach. And I didn't always like it. I remember going down there with the family one New Year's and it was just a bit stressful. So much drinking and yelling. But I also took these particular shots because I like taking group photos. I want to see people interact with each other, rather than just me. If you stick a camera in someone's face you always get a false feeling from them. People just carrying on with their regular lives—that's what I wanted to see. I always thought there was more feeling in those photos.

How has the area changed?
It looks different but I think the culture has some similarities. In the 1970s the high-rise buildings were going up. I used to walk in to photograph them pulling down the old beach houses. And that's something that's different—you can't get cooee of a demolition now. I think that generally it was a simpler way of life back then. A photographer could walk around people taking photos and no one was worried about it. Now people are generally more concerned about what you're doing and where you're going. Australia generally had an easier way of looking at things then. We're not as easy-going as we used to be.

Photos from this series have been taken from Graham's book, Flesh. An exhibition of the work will be showing at the Gold Coast Arts Centre gallery from October 22 to December 6 this year.

Interview by Julian Morgans. Follow him on Twitter.

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