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I was asked to take part in a ‘cultural forum’ yesterday called the Sold Coast Project to discuss the future of art and culture on the Gold Coast, My brief was to be a ‘provocateur’ so I decided I ought to be a bit provocative. The afternoon was held at the wonderful Rabbit and Cocoon arts hub in Miami, where an industrial area has been turned into a colourful collection of studio spaces for creative professionals. In a fascinating, wide-ranging three hours of conversation I made the point that perhaps the name ‘The Gold Coast’ was part of the problem for art and culture being taken seriously and thriving here. That perhaps we should consider changing it back to its indigenous name, Yugambeh.

The Gold Coast  has only been the name of this region since 1958, a mere blink of the eye in the grand sweep of history. Before that it was known as the South Coast, and the new name was adopted as a marketing contrivance for real estate developers and tourism. It has been Yugambeh Country for tens of thousands of years.

An Indigenous guy named Brook Turner-mann performed a welcome to country at the forum and explained that we were gathered on Kombumerri land, which was just one clan of many within the Yugambeh Language region which itself was part of the larger Bundjalung nation. I always find this kiind of thing fascinating and find an awareness of Indigenous heritage helps me look at my environment with entirely fresh eyes, which it seemed to me was part of our mission that day.

Mine was a fairly off the cuff remark in the middle of a lively discussion so it was a bit of a surprise to wake up to a series of requests to do radio and TV interviews and discover my suggestion had been splashed over the front page of the Gold Coast Bulletin in 72 point helvetica bold (or something): NAME CHANGER! I’ve worked in media for nearly 30 years so I know how things work but it was still odd to see how my casual remark could take on a life of its own. I did two radio interviews and one TV interview throughout the day, explaining the context of my remarks, that the name Gold Coast does come with a bit of cultural baggage  and I was happy to spark a conversation about creative ways we can overcome this and create a vibrant arts and cultural scene in our city.

This all seemed to inspire a bit of hysteria in some quarters, which I guess means I did my job as a provocateur. My favourite comment was: i can’t believe people get paid to make such dumb remarks.’ For the record,  I didn’t get paid to take part in the forum but gave up a Sunday with my family to join in a conversation about the cultural future of the city I live in and which my kids are growing up in. I did smash the catering spread pretty hard though – there were these amazing gyoza dumplings and as anyone who knows me well can attest I am a sucker for a good dumpling.

Anyway, I don’t imagine for a second that the Gold Coast is about to change it’s name to Yugambeh or anything else for that matter. They’ve just  re-done the stationery after all and spent $200,000 on a new Gold Coast ‘brand’ logo. The beauty of my suggestion though, I pointed out, was that they could have kept the red dot.

My suggestion was also inspired by watching the fabulous ABC documentary series, First Footprints, about the Indigenous history of Australia. It should be essential viewing for anyone who wants to understand this country. One comment I read suggested I had no business commenting on the Gold Coast’s name as I had only lived here for 15 years (it’s actually 22). By that same reasoning then, if length of occupation is a measure of your right to comment, I would say the Yugambeh people  should probably have the final say.

Anyway, what do you think? Is the name Gold Coast a cultural liability, a millstone round our necks, or an accurate descriptor of our beach holiday playground? I reckon arts and culture are the bedrock of civilisation, it’s part of what makes us human, allows us to share our stories and connect as communities. Indigenous Australians created the oldest art in the world. I reckon it’s worth trying to understand where we have come from to work out where we’re going.

You can check out the Gold Coast draft culture strategy and fill in the survey here:


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