Independent and FREE - 2021 Best Online Publication

Big dreams for chairlift, port and seaside railway

Independent and FREE – 2021 Best Online Publication (Qld Country Press)

Big dreams for chairlift, port and seaside railway

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The wacky '80s: when a Coolum chairlift, cruise port and seaside rail were big dreams

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The late 1980s are remembered as a time of excess, and there were plenty of big dreams for the Sunshine Coast. For most, though, the bubble burst before they got off the ground.

Ideas flowed in for everything from a chairlift on Mount Coolum to a restaurant on the rocks at Alexandra Headland and a cruise port for Mooloolaba.

The three Sunshine Coast councils were flat-out processing development applications and lobby groups mobilised in defence of the natural environment.

These were tumultuous times when the population was predicted to keep growing to … gasp … 250,000 (it’s now close to 350,000).


The Hyatt Couer de Lion health resort (also known as Hyatt Regency Coolum and, later, the Palmer Resort) was the biggest development proposal ever to go ahead after it was approved in 1987, and with the Twin Waters resort, represented a new era in accommodation by the turn of the decade.

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But for those that made it, many didn’t.

One of the more controversial proposals which dragged on for almost 18 months before being quashed, was for a chairlift on Mount Coolum. The 14ha proposal for Crown land included a skylift, restoration of the old quarry and an auditorium with education displays, all on a colonial village theme, as well as walkways and parking for 600 cars.

The Save Mountain Coolum Committee scored a victory and the site was eventually declared environmental park.

hyatt regency coolum sunshine coast news
Relaxation was heavily promoted at the Hyatt Regency when it opened.

Noosa was to be the site of Australia’s first Club Med resort in an ambitious plan for the Noosa Spit, supported by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.


Noosa Shire Chairman Bert Wansley said most people were against losing public land. The Crown land was divided into the Spit controlled by council and Noosa Peninsula by the State Government. After vigorous debate, the plan was shelved.

Even more controversial was a proposal for a Noosa River bridge and Leisuremark’s massive proposal to create a virtual satellite city on the North Shore. This was a project so big, it is a story in itself. Rothwells Bank was also interested in building the bridge, that is before it collapsed in November 1988.

The Noosa Summit proposal for a restaurant and tourist attraction at Laguna Lookout was to have a walkthrough aviary, aquarium, observatory and tram track linking the carpark and restaurant at the lookout.

There would be a theatre “similar to Dreamworld’s Imax” to screen local scenes and rival the Big Pineapple for a share of the overseas tourist market. It never did.

The Sunshine Plantation had its own plans for an upmarket rural resort to be built on the opposite side of the Bruce Highway. The overhead walkway to the carpark went ahead but the two-storey rural resort “of a type not yet seen in Australia” was never seen.

Eumundi was going to be the setting for Queensland’s answer to the Dandenong Range’s Puffing Billy when the owners of the Imperial Hotel, sought to acquire the old Eumundi-Cooroy rail line on completion of the deviation. The pub got its micro-brewery, but the steam train plan went off the rails.


Horton Park Golf Club was keen to see a $25 million cable water ski park and resort on its land at Sugar Road. Look how that turned out.

In Nambour, the $13 million Centenary Square become the town’s biggest ever civil construction project, but an $11.1 million meat and grain processing plant at Yandina industrial estate was given the chop, amid fears the smell from the abattoir would not sit well with visitors to the ginger factory.

A $28 million tourist village and fauna park was to replace the Uniting Church camp and conference centre at Alexandra Headland by the end of 1988.  An overhead footbridge was to link the village with the beach near the surf club.

That didn’t quite go to plan either and an adventurous idea to build a restaurant on the rocks under Alexandra Headland went the same way.

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Landsborough Shire, which became Caloundra City in 1987, was a little more conservative. It welcomed the arrival of the Ettamogah Pub and Carousel Fair shopping centre in Bulcock St and always had plenty happening at Kawana.

Sheraton Noosa, the Wharf Mooloolaba, Maroochy River Holiday Resort at Bli Bli and Catalina towers at Maroochydore all went ahead but alas, grand plans for public projects were not quite so successful.


The $61 million coastal rail deviation proposed in the 1980s still hasn’t got on track, and the offshore berthing facility at Mooloolaba was a no-show.

On the bright side, Baroon Pocket Dam opened in 1989, and immediately was declared a gushing success.

By 1990, the mad speculative rush was all but over. Big spenders such as Christopher Skase and Alan Bond were tumbling, and Queensland had its first Labor Government in more than three decades.

This flashback is brought to you by veteran Sunshine Coast journalist and history writer Dot Whittington, also the editor of Your Time Magazine.