The Great Gold Coast Cyclone – February 20, 1954

SIXTY YEARS ago tonight, the Gold Coast was being lashed by an intense tropical cyclone. (Picture: Significant erosion behind the San Souci Hotel in Main Beach, taken by Southport local George Litfin.)


Bureau of Meteorology’s 1954 cyclone tracking map

Falling into the period when cyclones were not named unlike they are today, the system crossed the coast over Coolangatta at around 10pm on Thursday, February 20 in 1954. Air pressure dropped to an incredible 973 hPa.


It is said to have crossed as what is thought to have been a Category One or Category Two system, killing between 26 to 30 people.

The storm was so intense, its widespread damaging impacts were felt from the Sunshine Coast to Sydney in NSW, earning it the title of “The Great Gold Coast Cyclone.

Up to 900mm of rain fell over the Gold Coast hinterland in the 24hours leading up to the system making landfall.

Prolonged wind gusts of well over 100km/h hammered the region and beaches were pounded by destructive seas, causing devastating flooding and erosion.

The Gold Coast area suffered widespread structural damage. At the time, the storm was referred to as the ‘worst in living memory’.

The ocean came into the shopping district of Coolangatta with two metre waves picking up cars as they crashed onto the highway in Kirra.

1954 - Damage to houses on Main Beach at Narrownec

Main Beach, Narrowneck – February 21, 1954. PICTURE: George Litfin

It was also reported that up to 50 families were evacuated from the Broadwater, followed by a mass dramatic rescue of residents from Macintosh Island which was then being used as farm land.

The storm failed to lose its intensity as it continued on its rare and unusual track into New South Wales.

In Byron Bay, a jetty comprising of 22 boats was swept out to sea. Houses were said to have been blown apart and enormous trees twisted out of the ground.

The cyclone went on to pass inland west of Lismore, eventually weakening as it headed for Sydney.

For more coverage and rare aftermath photographs of ‘The Great Gold Coast Cyclone’, please visit the ABC website.