Queensland Place Histories - Burleigh Heads, Gold Coast

The area now known as Burleigh Heads was first described by Robert Dixon, during a survey of the coastal areas between the Clarence and Brisbane Rivers.  The name chosen by Dixon for the prominent headland was Burley Head, with the alternate spelling coming into more common usage over time.  Underestimating its future popularity, these early surveyors labelled the locality and other coastal lands as "useless dune country" and the idea of open sea bathing was not to become widely accepted until after 1900.

One of the first activities said to have been undertaken on the beach at Burleigh was horse racing, with the wide firm sand an obvious advantage.


Burleigh developed from humble beginnings as a coaching stop during the journey south from Southport and a hotel to cater to travellers had opened at Burleigh by 1882. This journey could be considered to be the area's first "tourist route" and was developed by Murwillumbah hotelier, Otto Vetter, particularly from around 1888 when he commenced a twice weekly coach service between Southport and Tweed Heads.

Horses grazing in the paddock in front of the Burleigh Hotel, Burleigh Heads, 1900. State Library of Queensland. Negative number 147441

Burleigh's growth was hampered to some extent, when the railway line bypassed it, going through West Burleigh, some three kilometres away, and separating the town from the main flow of travellers.  However, the area was still an attractive destination to both travellers and residents alike and development soon picked up.  The first two large housing estates in the area were developed in 1915.  Also reflective of the growth and importance of the area was the opening of a school in 1917 and the Surf Life Saving Club in 1923.

Burleigh Heads, Queensland, 1922. State Library of Queensland. Negative number 83534

In 1927, a road bridge was constructed over Tallebudgera Creek, improving access by replacing the earlier vehicular ferry.  The natural beauty of the Burleigh Headland was also protected when an area encompassing the headland itself and some of the surrounding land was gazetted as a national park, comprising some 27 hectares.  This park is the only major coastal reserve between Main Beach and the New South Wales border.  Other changes and developments over the years have included David Fleay's Wildlife Sanctuary (1952), Penney's Variety Store (1955), a drive-in theatre (1957) and the first motel (1958).


The suburb was originally much larger than the area we now know as Burleigh Heads, previously taking in Miami and Palm Beach.  The area has always been popular with holiday makers, with a prominent camping area near the beachfront.


You can find further resources on Burleigh Heads via our One Search catalogue

Brian Randall - Queensland Places Coordinator, State Library of Queensland


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