Welcome to Paradise

By Robert Catto

"Would the swimmers to the south," crackled the bored voice from the speaker above me, "please return to the shore. It is not safe to swim outside the flags. Please, come back to the shore and swim between the flags ONLY."

Anyone who's been to Florida (or seen Miami Vice) will be familiar with the collision of natural beauty, tourism, and commercial development. If Australia has an equivalent, it's here - Surfers Paradise, on the Gold Coast in Queensland.

A place once known for unending white sand stretching off into the distance has, in recent years, become better known for theme parks, marine animal shows, 'schoolies' (school holiday binge-drinking sessions), 'bikies' (motorcycle gangs), and gold-bikini-clad meter maids.

I'm here just after the shortest day of the year - yes, there's people swimming in the dead of winter - but what strikes me most isn't the retail opportunities (koala thongs, kangaroo backpacks and the like) or the tours to various movie-themed parks; it's the shade.

By 1pm, the sun is already disappearing behind the high-rise apartments and hotels, and casting dark shapes on that glorious sand.

I spend the afternoon walking the town centre, to see if I can get a feel for the place.

At 4:30pm, on my balcony on the 20th floor, the sun sets behind a skyscraper, emerges again, sets again behind another, and emerges one last time before finding the horizon; and between me & the beach, another tower rises - seemingly endlessly - to the sky.

After sunset is when I discover a bit more of the real 'Goldie', as it's known here - even on the twentieth level, the noise from the street outside is enough to keep me awake for some time, and people in various states of inebriation come & go in the hallway outside.

In the morning, though, the sun will find the beach again for a few hours; and, even in winter, perhaps the surfers will reach their paradise.

Robert Catto

PO Box 806, Darlinghurst, NSW 1300, Australia

I'm a Canadian photographer now living in Sydney Australia, specialising in performing arts, live events, editorial and corporate / commercial work.