As I crossed the state line from New South Wales into Queensland I was welcomed to the ‘sunshine state’ by the Gold Coast. Sitting in traffic amid the towering hotels and apartment blocks all trying to catch a glimpse of the sea, I found myself feeling penned in by the concrete that seemed to be swallowing me like it had surely swallowed the very things that once earned this place such an alluring name.

People had told me that the Gold Coast was something of a soulless place. “It’s like a little bit of America got marooned on the southern beaches of Queensland,” said one Australian I met, and in some respects I can see why they came to that conclusion. With names like Palm Beach, and Miami strung together at the end of the Pacific Coast Highway, the place does indeed seem a little like America, or at least the scene of a collision between the two countries.

It’s not pretty. It feels fake, like the girls who adorn the billboards for local tattoo parlours. Like a film set upon which at any moment a tire screeching car chase might come careering around the next corner with bandits hanging out of car windows shooting back at police cars in hot pursuit, their sirens wailing.

The city of Surfers Paradise reaches into the sky and claws at the clouds like any American city you can think of. It’s a bland city, that stands undistinguished like a glass of water at a cocktail bar. If shopping at stores you can find anywhere is your kind of thing then I’m told Surfers Paradise is great.

Nobody outside Australia knows about this city. It lacks the international charisma a city needs to stand on the world stage and be noticed. Instead Surfers Paradise seems to be gorging on concrete and steel as if comfort eating to offset the pain of watching its siblings, like Sydney and Melbourne, get all the attention.

In theory the Gold Coast is wonderful. In reality though it seems to be a mess. A blend of ordinary beaches with buildings that stand like headstones in tribute to the dead dreams of commercially minded planners who thought they could find their way to the bottom of our pockets by giving an ugly place an attractive name.

I wish I could tell you something positive about the Gold Coast. I’m sure there is something, but perhaps unfairly, I didn’t hang around long enough to unearth it. As soon as I got to the Gold Coast I found myself looking for the exit. I stayed as long as I thought was polite, then I left.

It could be that my impressions were colored by the fact that I found these concrete caves as I emerged from the mellowed out haze of the tree houses and Byron Bay. Perhaps if I had descended into Surfers Paradise from a jet plane, transported from one mass of concrete to another, my first impressions would have been kinder. Maybe the Gold Coast is an acquired taste, but I can’t imagine that I’ll be going back anytime soon to find out.

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