Welcome, come inside Brisbane Open House last month, was in full swing for it’s eighth year …
“It was a different time back then,” Mr. Burstow sighs, seemingly nostalgic as he addresses the gathered audience. His face then splits into a grin, “But I wouldn’t want it back.”
The man is miniature, barely visible over the few heads I’m standing behind at the opening of Graham Burstow’s Flesh: Gold Coast in the 60s, 70s and 80s. He is wearing a bright orange Hawaiian shirt, and his browned face grins for almost the entirety of his speech. It’s quite clear that this is the perfect man to document the Gold Coast beach experience in the years spanning from 1960 to the late 1980s.
The pictures themselves are astounding also. As Mr. Burstow rightly notes in his address, most of the ‘photography’ occurring on the pristine beaches of the Gold Coast these days are either ‘selfies’ or touristy holiday-snaps. He reminisces about his family holidays spent there, after travelling all the way from country Toowoomba, when he first set about capturing the unique events and occurrences that made the Gold Coast exactly what it was.
The pictures detail everything from beauty contests to children playing freely naked on the beach. One personal favourite featured overweight, pasty-white men being hosed down by beautiful bikini-clad women with ‘mutton bird oil’ to make themselves appear browner, and thereby more attractive, before being allowed on the beach. Another favourite included a Surf Club Tug o’ War which was conducted every weekend to raise money for the club. Seemingly innocent, one had to look closely before realising one of the women tugging on the rope was wearing 6-inch wedges.
While, at surface level, it would appear that nothing much has changed on the Gold Coast, there is a certain sweetness to the pictures one would struggle to find in the modern-day glitter strip: a small child clutching the neck of the lifesaver to have pulled her out of the choppy water, two newlyweds with their arms around each other’s waists wandering into an ice-cream shop.
It’s obvious why the exhibition has been named ‘Flesh’, as there is nothing else to be seen in the photographs. But it’s nothing of a sordid sort, it’s simply a reflection of the past, and a reflection of the sunkissed cities we all have spent our childhood summers in.
AUTHOR: Mel Keyte
IMAGES: Mel Keyte