This weekend I was granted permission to metal detect at the site of – up until last month – the oldest remaining house in the oldest residential street on the Gold Coast. What I found changed me in a way that I never expected.
In the 1930’s it was extremely popular for people in Brisbane to holiday on the South Coast, which is now Australia’s tourist capital Gold Coast. Meron Street was the epicentre, within a few hundred metres of businesses on Nerang Street, boating and the Pier Theatre on the Broadwater, and the district’s famous beaches. The well-healed took great delight in publicly announcing in the newspapers their vacations at the flats in Meron Street, and these included Miamba, Scotston, The Anchorage, and Glenross.
The street also boasted the prominent society homes named “Shirley” and “Ingestre”.
The man of the house at Ingestre, Charles Philpott, was the associate of the Chief Justice of Queensland. His wife was Constance Wood. Her father was a member of the Queensland Legislative Council, and both Constance’s grandfather and great-grandfather had been Lord Mayors of London.
The lady of the house who lived at Shirley for 30 years, Janet Henderson nee Hume, was highly respected for her charity, church work, and tremendous musical ability. Janet’s father had composed the music for the Scottish ballad “Afton Water”, the words written by Robert Burns. Her sister married the explorer Francis Gregory who was also a member of the Queensland Legislative Council. Her daughter married the superintendent of the Pacific Cable Station that was around the corner, which in terms of technology at the time, was the equivalent of today’s top secret Australian earth station Pine Gap. And Janet’s only son married the great-granddaughter of Henry Gunning of the University of Cambridge, whose portrait today hangs in England’s National Portrait Gallery.
This was the historic Meron Street into which my detecting buddy George and I ventured. My metal detector is a relic and coin specialist Minelab Safari and George’s an SDC 2300 which is perfect for detecting gold. We prepared for the adventure where the socialite home Ingestre once stood, the site of which has been my family home for the past 57 years. Two doors down was the now vacant block of the last of the old 1880’s houses in the street. It was demolished last month to make way for a new 51 unit, $26 million development. The site manager Nathan met us there to give one last nod to the past.
Among our finds was a 1940 George VI Australian halfpenny, a small brass buckle, and the corner of an ornate silver frame. I felt the latter may have been a whisper from Shirley, but I couldn’t be sure.
Nathan said that he was flying to Sydney that afternoon to watch his cousin Jason play for Lebanon in a Rugby League World Cup warm-up match against Niue. That’s a small South Pacific island to the east of Tonga, its name meaning “behold the coconut”. The cousin is a former Parramatta Under 20’s captain who’s now a coffee shop proprietor. Aged 22, he might use this World Cup to restart his league career.
Nathan’s generous respect for history means that I’m now a Lebanon rugby league supporter. That night I even watched a live stream of the match against Behold the Coconut, which Lebanon won 32-16 thanks in part to a try by Jason.
The location that we searched will soon be redeveloped. The halfpenny, brass buckle, and silver frame, are the final vestiges of the lives of pioneers who are long gone. Soon there will be nothing. We were the last people in history to stand on that site and peer into the past. Having been given that unique opportunity, I’m now cheering for Lebanon.