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Our very own slice of paradise, but why does Sunny Coast become a graveyard when the lights go out?

A new report into the economy of the Sunshine Coast has revealed that the region’s glorious natural assets are being held back by an after-hours ghost town, writes John McCarthy

Jan 09, 2024, updated Jan 09, 2024
The Maroochydore City Centre project (photo supplied)

The Maroochydore City Centre project (photo supplied)

How is that a region that depends on tourism could be regarded as lacking the vibe, or more precisely, just boring? Like Brisbane before it woke up to the fact that there was money to be made after 6pm, the Sunshine Coast has been given a wake-up call about its night-time economy.

The report, from the University of the Sunshine Coast paints a very clear picture of missed opportunity that could really be any regional area in Australia.

The Sunshine Coast has made remarkable efforts in the past decade to lift its game and boost its economy, but the report has revealed the region is, well … lacking a vibe.

That’s not a descriptor of its natural attractions, but the man-made ones. The bottom line is that it has a weak night-time economy, little entertainment and its residents live a “sparrow lifestyle’’ (ie early to bed, early to rise), the report said.

It’s not just its reputation as “Boomer Central’’ either. The report found that even the younger residents are not night owls.
It wasn’t always the case. In the 1980s and 1990s, the Sunny Coast was “an integral destination for high profile and touring bands’’.

Since then, the business economy of the coast has boomed along with an influx of new residents,
but the night-time economy appears to have gone backwards.

The boring tag is a cruel but accurate reflection. As residents of the Sunny Coast will tell you, service in the region is a joke. Restaurant staff are packing chairs on tables at 8pm, bottle shops are generally closed at 7.30. Try to find a decent band and the best you will find is small, struggling
venues.

Also, the Big Pineapple Festival (which was sponsored by Triple J) and Jungle Love recently gave up while the Night Quarter venue shut down after struggling through Covid restrictions. The Sunshine Coast Comedy Festival also failed to meet projected attendance levels.

However, the Caloundra music festival attracts thousands and outside the coast the Gympie Muster and Woodford Festival are huge, so it could be argued there is an audience for entertainment, but the report found that even younger coast residents lacked interest in night time entertainment.

The report, from the University of the Sunshine Coast, has revealed that the region suffers because it is really “a spread out string of villages’’ and that there is a lack of a vibe.

It’s a significant report and the findings should be of interest to other regions and not just because of the entertainment value. The night time economy is also a big employer.

There were also factors like consumer behaviour changes following the pandemic, cost of living, poor transport and poor perceptions of venues.

“Despite continued population growth in the Sunshine Coast region, the live entertainment industry is perceived to be fragile and even in decline,’’ the report said.

The report has called for a performance venue of 2000 seats, and a series of boutique festivals. Almost all the interview respondents in the report indicated they felt the Sunshine Coast was lacking in terms of venues and opportunities to enjoy live and night-time entertainments.

“Whilst futurist Bernard Salt argues that the one-dimensional culture of the Sunshine Coast as a seaside retirement town is changing (KPMG, 2017), a trend fast-tracked by the re-location to the Sunshine Coast of many urban Australians immediately post the Covid lockdowns, perceptions remain that the coast tends to shut down after 8.00pm,” the report says.

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“The “lack of vibe” perception appears to be pervasive and seems to have been exacerbated by the loss of viable venues to host touring bands, particularly in comparison to the 1980s and 1990s when the Sunshine Coast was an integral destination for high profile and touring bands.’’

One interview subject for the report summed it up saying that despite being 90 minutes from Brisbane the Sunshine Coast was “just desolate in my opinion. That’s how it looks to me. I don’t think it just seems worth it at all to bands.”

“I mean the difference I see in those areas [Geelong, Newcastle] to the Sunshine Coast is just a bit more of an interest in music from younger people. There weren’t enough people [on the Sunshine Coast] our age that were, like, really passionate about it. It was really dire.”

There is hope for the coast coming in the form of Comiskey Group’s Strawberry Fields concert venue at Coochin Creek.

Also, backpackers were returning to the coast and “helping to bring a vibe’’.

Another interviewee said: “We’re seeing the emergence of breweries as being a new form of
providing entertainment around the coast, so the afternoon venues people are chilling out.

“The early retirees out there are living it up, spending money and socialising and mixing it.

“Probably the group that’s in the middle is the one with lots more kids and families and this is where the breweries now putting in playgrounds to say we want you as well, so in the combination of doing solo and duo [performances] there’s at least one or two [gigs] every week”

Another interviewee said: “There’s always people up for the weekend and what we’re finding is that they’re enjoying the original music.“ Because they’ve heard the same songs over and over where they go, so being able to actually entertain them with something which is fresh and bright and it’s a bit like when you go on holidays, you take a souvenir home and or you experience something unique and different when you go away”.

Another said: “People come to stuff [in Nambour] because there’s not much going on west of the Bruce Highway. There is a strong arts and creative community here on this [western] side of the Bruce Highway – it’s starting to be more of a draw card for people who are looking for really interesting and weird and wonderful music experiences”.

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