Heritage Gold Coast, Part 4: Nerang

In this series, we take a closer look at some of Gold Coast’s favourite heritage-listed areas.

Hey, do you want to know a secret? It’s Nerang. This humble residential suburb is bucking the universal trend of concrete grey urbanisation. The Nerang River flows through various parklands and hidden historical gems. Let me fill you in… bring the kids…

Exploring our Gold Coast heritage, I often consider ‘place’. In Australia, the Burra Charter (2013) gives guidance in recognising cultural significance. It defines ‘place’ to mean:

“…a geographically defined area. It may include elements, objects, spaces and views. Place may have tangible and intangible dimensions.”

‘Placemaking’ is a collaborative process of creating or maintaining places. Environment plays a key role.

Nerang has always been the green river heartland of the Kombumerri clan. Dreaming stories speak of Nerang cultural hero, Gowanda, a white-haired dingo trainer. Local lore says after he passed away, he returned as a white dolphin. Children spotted him splashing in the waves at Main Beach.

In 1842, it was the children of timbergetters who were the first Europeans to venture into Nerang from Tweed. Edmund Harper and William Duncan, both aged 14, made friends with Aboriginal locals. They became remarkably fluent in both dialects.

For European settlers, forests provided an abundance of valuable timber. Cleared areas were fertile for sugar and cotton. The waterways used for transporting passengers, timber and other produce out to Southport and up to Brisbane.

Today, along the river, in the heart of this green heartland is Bischof Pioneer Park. At the entrance sits a fitting piece – the hull of the ‘Maid of Sker’. This paddlesteamer was Nerang’s main transport vessel from 1893 until the early 1930s.

Further along the grassy expanse are two early cottages – lovingly restored to original condition. Behind the restorations and ongoing maintenance is the Nerang Community Association. Behind the association is the local community. A spokesperson tells me, “people come here and feel a sense of place”.

Locals use Preece House (1948) as a community space. The main rooms exhibit the Aboriginal Portrait Gallery. Striking, museum-quality photographic portraits are almost indescribable. I stand mesmerised, humbled and reverent at the ‘Wall of Kings’. Schoolkids and the wider community visit to learn about Yugambeh history. Preece House hosts events on Sorry Day, Reconciliation Day and NAIDOC Week.

Ceramic House (1918) is a living museum, replete with authentic period furnishings and artefacts. Cuppas are still made in the original kitchen over a century later! As home of the Visitor Information Centre, Nerang may not be such a local secret, after all! Find out more at 48 Nerang St.

I ask about Nerang National Park. Serendipity in full play, I’m told that this is another passion project of the association; the community working together to drive its gazettal and management plan.

I catch up with Jessica Lovegrove-Walsh, founder of Friends of the Nerang National Park. Jessica explains the heritage values of the mosaic eucalypt forest and dry rainforest. Heritage listing is as an ‘Aesthetic Precinct’, being a backdrop to suburbia. Scarred trees and other artefacts have been found in the park.

Walking trails offer the opportunity to enjoy the biodiverse area and celebrate Kombumerri culture. The annual Drumley Walk is dedicated to local indigenous hero Billy Drumley. In the early 1900s, Billy regularly walked from Beaudesert to Southport (approx 70kms) to check on his sister and her family. The trail is also dedicated to all who have strived to make their community a better place.

Join the Friends on Sun 8 Aug. For more info check out facebook.com/nerangnationalpark

Another shining example of placemaking through collaboration is Country Paradise Parklands. As ‘Paradise Country’, this former horse stud farm was a popular hinterland attraction. City of Gold Coast purchased the 13.25ha site in 2011 for community benefit. Organisations like Healing Hooves, OzHarvest and Nerang Men’s Shed call it home. Visitors love wandering through the community garden.

Look for the oldest surviving building of Nerang, the old two-cell Nerang lock-up built in 1880. Relocated from Price St, it’s the second building in Nerang, built not long after the first – the pub. Coincidence? The publican was a lady with keen business nous and strong fortitude…and a close friendship with the local constabulary.

The kids are sure to appreciate the parkland’s centrepiece – the recent $2.8m water feature playground upgrade. Surrounded by a reconstructed creek bed, a windmill fortress stands pride of place. 231 Beaudesert-Nerang Rd, Nerang countryparadiseparklands.com.au/

Header image Maid of Sker at Nerang Warf, 1900. (c) City of Gold Coast.

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