Kodachrome: Surfers Paradise, 1962 - Misc. AU
Kodachrome: Surfers Paradise, 1962

Kodachrome: Surfers Paradise, 1962

Above: Beachcomber Hotel pool, Cavill Ave, Surfers Paradise

Words by Its Out Now

01 SEP 2021 Another time

A series of pristine Kodachrome images from 1962 evoke memories from the lost urban landscape of a then-burgeoning Surfers Paradise. Visiting country businessman Gordon Bruderlin took the images with documental intent for use in his explanatory slide shows. Today, the images recall the mid-century look and feel of Australia’s – then and now – premier beachside resort. They show an idyl now encased in concrete by an overlay of bleached high-rise.

An archaeological record

In 1962, businessman Gordon Bruderlin from Tamworth, northern New South Wales, recorded images of the “domestically-exotic” urban landscape he encountered while visiting Surfers Paradise on the Queensland Gold Coast. The images' aesthetics point to the documental requirements of Bruderline explanatory slide show he produced on his return home.

Today, Bruderlin’s images appear like an archaeological record, projecting clearly visions from a faded past. Each image shows a set-piece, suspended in a particular time and place. Seen together, they vividly preserve and transmit the look, feel and atmospherics of a lost, low-rise, seaside holiday-town.

By the time of Bruderlin’s visit, the town-landscape of Surfers Paradise had been in constant change for some time. In thirty years to 1961, the town grew by over 500%, to become Australia's 18th largest city, with a population of 33,716. Then, a majority of visitors came from Brisbane and adjacent regions. Today's one hour drive from Brisbane was more like a three-hour slog down a narrow, wandering two-lane ribbon of bitumen, that ended with traffic jams at the rickety bridge that connected Southport to Surfers Paradise.

In 1959, the former Town of the South Coast (i.e. south of Brisbane) re-christened itself as the City of the Gold Coast, grandly pitching the region to the nation and heralding an era of even greater growth again. As the city bloomed into Australia’s sixth-largest urban area, waves of change were permeating its own cycles and rhythms. In Gold Coast, City and Architecture (2018), Professor Andrew Leach, architectural historian and Professor of Architecture at Sydney University, lamented that “plenty of decent and half-decent modernist buildings have been raised and razed over the last six or seven decades.”

The in-built self-erasure of preceding markers of human activities means that few can contextualise the region’s past, built-history or future trajectories.

What history?

At face value, Australia's youngest major city would appear to have no history and little need for it. In 1962, Bruderlin was responding to the thin veneer that was already concealing earlier imprints of modern human activity – scattered holiday homes, colonial-era farms and timber-getting camps. The expansion of British settlements into the region from the mid-late nineteenth century saw the rapid and complete dispossession of the local Yugambeh-language people after 23,000 years of indigenous habitation. The original inhabitants left their own markers for later occupants to uncover. In 1965, landscapers for a canal development in adjacent Broadbeach Waters came across an indigenous burial site that had been in continual use from the eighth century till the early days of European contact – a time scale beyond any contemporary comprehension.

The Walk, Gold Coast Highway, Surfers Paradise

Grasping for significance

Today, this extraordinary, instant sub-tropical city of coastal, beach-shading high rise and strung-out suburbs remains an enigma to many. Its residents seem to grasp for inherent meanings. The Gold Coast City’s Heritage and Character Study of 1997 (quoted in Off the Plan, the Urbanisation of the Gold Coast, Bosman et al., 2016) stated boldly that the city "is the most post-modern [our italics] of all Australian cities.” That description may well describe its economy but it fails to connect the city to any meanings related to the philosophical constructs of the same name.

The Gold Coast's perpetual cycles of growth and regrowth mean the city never seems to arrive. Cultural analyst Patricia Wise stated in 2006 (quoted in Off the Plan; ibid), “...the Gold Coast’s total identification is taken to signify a sort of perpetual adolescence. There is no expectation it will ‘grow up’ into a ‘real city’ where ‘culture’ occurs.”

Of course, "culture" comes with curatorial guardians who easily miss broadly held contemporary meanings. The value of Bruderlin’s images lies in their direct depictions of real-time impressions, containing, as they must, indicators to the era’s values and tastes.

Permanence

Bruderlin’s Kodachrome slides provide remarkably faithful time capsules from a now faded time. Of the then-emerging, competing brands of colour film, (e.g. Agfa and Fuji), only Kodachrome has neither faded nor discoloured. Kodak knew at the time that its film would be more durable, yet they failed to promote the benefit, lest it reflected poorly on its other brands.

As the decades rolled on, the enduring value of Kodachrome images became ever more apparent as the competing brands began to fade and discolour, Neither Bruderlin nor anyone else using the film at the time would have known of its future benefits. Back then, photographers appreciated the film’s rich colourings, especially its distinctively rich reds and blues. Its unique processing also rendered images in a range of subtle and natural tonings.

Part of its aesthetic flows from how Kodak colour-balanced the film for light, Caucasian skin, influencing its whole colour gamut. Many today may be surprised by this plain fact. But then again, Fujifilm balanced its colour film to best depict its domestic and Asian users.

Kodachrome’s process may produce a less scientifically correct colour than later film or current digital techniques, yet it excels at what scientific accuracy so often fails to bring forth—a sense of the atmospherics.

A visual performance

Bruderlin took his Kodachrome images of Surfers Paradise just as consumer colour photography was taking off in Australia. Then, its broad adoption, lagging some years behind America's, still had a way to go. Requiring comparatively more expensive components – cameras, film and processing – the practitioners of Kodachrome tended to be better off and have more time to spare.

Bruderlin was the comparatively prosperous owner of the Comfort Shoe Shop on Tamworth’s main street, with deep connections to his local community. On his death in 1988, his grandson, Sydney businessman Stephen Hathway, integrated the images into his Hathway family photographic collection.

Hathway reminds us that extensive travel was relatively uncommon in the early sixties, even for the better off. He describes his family taking annual summer holidays at modest, accessible seaside towns on the adjacent coastline between Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour. Although only 150 km from Tamworth, the trips were still adventures. Hathway recalls the poor roads and the “scary, dusty, bumpy ride over to the hills to get there.” So, when his grandfather struck out on a 550 km trip to Surfers Paradise, he was engaged on a journey of some significance and would have impressions to report. As Hathway explains, “My grandfather took the images at Surfers Paradise specifically to form part of a slide show he assumed he would give on his return."

The series of images were the central components to a broader presentation. “He [Brunderlin] wasn't considered an artist. But he was considered a great entertainer,” says Hathway. “Above all, he was a raconteur. Quite often, people would ask him to stand up and make a speech. He always had some story in his pocket, ready, just in case. His was an era when making speeches, telling stories, jokes or funny yarns were within the normal scope of the social interactions of people... It’s how people entertained themselves.” So, when Bruderline came to give his slideshows to family groups, friends and civic groups in Tamworth, he did so with a prepared script, attaching his commentary to numbered slides. Bruderline devised the singular images we consider today for their mid-century aesthetic as components to a more extensive and sequenced public performance.

Silver Sands, serviced apartments, Surfers Paradise
Bel'Air, Cavill Ave streetscape, Surfers Paradise

Period of primacy

The relatively short era of the slideshow delineates the period of Kodachrome’s primacy in recording and conveying meaning about our world. Over twenty years, slideshows projected their vivid reality into darkened living rooms more effectively than television, newsreels or newspaper photographs, all in black and white.

The rise of colour television in the mid-seventies also saw video cameras and VHS cassettes take over the recording of social life. Without noticing, families seemed to consign their slide projectors to the backs of their coat cupboards to gather dust.

Bruderlin’s images of a lost Surfers Paradise are from the relatively short but brilliant period of Kodachrome’s pre-eminence. Ways of visually recording and conveying the meanings of our times have been replaced many times since. But Bruderlin's pristinely preserved Kodachromatic preserves those mid-century years, allowing us to imagine more fully a lost sliver of time.

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