Latest News

Do you know your waterfront address?

Do you know your waterfront address?

Cruising leisurely along the Nerang River, my husband points to one canal on our right asking if I remember the house we inspected a few months ago. Of course I say that I do not remember. He tells me that the house is in Sorrento, and it had this and that on the jetty, and so on. In my mind, I have no idea of what he is talking about, let alone remember what the jetty looked like. If he showed me a map of the street where the house was, I would have had a fairly good idea of where the house was. But would it be better if there were signages of canal names?

Canal naming and signage on the Gold Coast

During the era without the GPS, locating places were done through printed maps or charts. These days, GPS and smartphones make it very easy to search any place in the world with just a few clicks. On a smartphone, type an address and there you have it! But if you were new boating on the Gold Coast, a tourist unfamiliar with suburb names and addresses, and clueless about the waterway system here, and you go out boating on Coomera or Nerang Rivers, what would you search for on your smartphone?

Places like Venice and Amsterdam have old-world canal and waterway systems that have determined the culture and lifestyle of the people. It is even part of a tourist’s experience to get lost in mazes that do not seem to have a particular order or pattern that you can follow. The local way of life has adapted to the myriad of canals, inlets and rivers. Perhaps it can also be said that it is the same here on the Gold Coast—or maybe not?


In 1999, a company called Gold Coast Aqua Signs, owned by Rod McLaughlin, proposed to the Gold Coast City Council the installation of waterway signs of canal names along the waterways of the Gold Coast. In his proposal, the primary problem that he sought to address through the signage system involved safety and crime prevention. In a letter submitted to the CEO of the City Council, Paul Stevens, Rod stated: “Serious gaps in the city’s current `mud-map’ system were highlighted last year when Gold Coast Water Police and ambulance crews could not pinpoint a two-boat collision, making the rescue cumbersome and potentially life-threatening. Aqua Signs fills this gap to streamline response times and procedures.”

It is obvious that in 1999, GPS was not a technology that was readily available for the general public. The problem that Rod McLaughlin wanted to address was the difficulty to pinpoint the exact location of a stranded boat or of an accident, such as a collision. Today, it is no longer a problem, as most boats are equipped with a GPS system at the very least. And of course, police and rescue boats are not without such technology being used for everyday patrols and for emergency response activities.

And so, not surprisingly, the proposal that was seriously being considered at the time now remains un-addressed, and the underlying principles behind the need to implement canal naming and install waterways signs, especially those involving safety and emergency response issues, no longer exist.


It is worthwhile to note that there are existing signs installed naming some of the Gold Coast waterways. There is an interesting story behind the the “Dunlops Canal” signages, located at certain areas along the waterways from West Burleigh right through the Little Tallebudgera Creek. The Dunlops Canal (originally Dunlops Drain) was created in the 1800s by farmers who wanted to drain marshes in West Burleigh, the outlet of which was where the Jupiter’s Casino is now. It is protected by an Act of Parliament and has historical significance for the Gold Coast canal estate developments.

There are other signages that indicate the names of waterways and bridges, such as the Little Tallebudgera Creek that joins Nerang River in Surfers Paradise, Coomera River sign in the Hope Island area, and Nerang River signs on bridges. However, some of these are not visible from the water.

Digging of canals on the Merrimac Estate circa 1924 Digging-of-canals-on-the-Merrimac-Estate-circa-1924

What could be the significance of naming canals?

More than the practical use of names for places, historically, place names have had some deeper value or implications to a place. Even street names have to be studied and be subjected to consultations. It has been written that, “‘The act of naming is itself a performative practice that calls forth the ‘place’ to which it refers’ and thus participates in the social construction of the landscape and its meaning to people.” (Rose-Redwood, et al. 2010)

While we are so used to street name signs, we take for granted their significance to a place—whether or not the name stands for anything historical, practical, Aboriginal or simply named after flora or fauna, or another existing place. Street names have been so practical for our daily lives that we overlook its importance in identifying places and determining exact locations, without using the geographic coordinates, such as longitudes and latitudes. Road maps (including GPS) have been very useful in navigating streets and highways of places unfamiliar to us. Can you imagine a world of suburbs and millions of streets without a system of street names and signs?

I am sure that many residents on canal estates have no clue how to explain where they are on the waterway system of the Gold Coast, without using land-based street names and/or geographic coordinates. These man-made canals have been constructed out of the natural river channels, streams and creeks, and they extend further inside suburbs to form palm-shaped waterways, allowing more homes to have water access. Identifying and naming these canals were obviously not on the list of the developers—and rightly so for practical reasons: costly and bureaucratic.

Boaties who live in these canal estates and who have very good sense of direction will not need any map or chart to navigate from their homes to the Broadwater, for example, or any other place of interest accessible by water. But there are still quite a lot of people who will always need assistance whether by GPS or a printed map or chart to navigate through the residential canals. Although it will help to memorise landmarks (such as particular properties at the waterway entrance of a suburb), newcomers and visitors who prefer to go around by boat may not have the luxury of identifying locations by simply “looking around”.

What they say

The City of Gold Coast has comprehensive rules on naming streets and roads in the city, but thus far, nothing on naming canals. After Rod McLaughlin’s Aqua Signs business proposal, there has not been any open discussion on naming canals in the city, much less on installing waterway signages. While some people think that it is just another expense for the city residents, others think that it may actually help the boaties and enhance the boating experience of visitors to the city.

David Robinson, sales manager at Stefan Boating World, does not agree with installing signages. “Realistically, most boats are fitted with a GPS which tells you exactly where you are.” And most boaties would probably agree that signages are not necessary in this sense.

Tony James Ross, managing director at Ensign Shipbrokers, thinks otherwise. “Many boaters would find it advantageous as they often do not read navigational maps well.”

Ormonde Britton, dealer principal and sales manager at Maritimo Sales Australasia, states his personal pros-and-cons. “Probably not a bad idea for visiting tourists renting tinnies and BBQ boats, but most boaties would have correct charts, usually paper and/or electronic which would void the need for this. I think the money would be better spent contributed toward a dredging fund which benefits all boaties—visiting and local.”

Nicole Munro, executive support officer at Gold Coast Waterways Authority, confirms that there has been a discussion on naming canals in the city. “We [GCWA] have discussed the need to name the canals with our partner, the City of the Gold Coast, and we are jointly working on some related initiatives. However, while it would be good to have an agreed reference system, signage is expensive and can contribute to visual clutter, particularly if it is not maintained (a key part of why it is expensive). So, we will probably look for alternatives, such as maps on smart devices (phones and tablets) as an alternative way to get the benefits, but minimise the expense.”

Using street names on either side of a canal is being considered for informal naming, as an internal reference for the Council. But Nicole explains, “While this has an obvious attraction, it is also cumbersome (hyphenated names). Bridges would require working with the asset owner – Council or Transport and Main Roads typically. Both organisations have processes for naming and these processes sometimes involve consultation. So, a challenge is whether it is possible or desirable to keep it sharp and simple or undertake a more consultative process, which will necessarily be longer and more expensive.”

Perhaps, the Gold Coast can start naming bridges that can be used as reference points for those navigating Nerang River and the main canal of Runaway Bay (crossing under Morala Avenue and Bayview Street bridges), for instance. Installing signages on these bridges, which are few and far between can be less expensive for the city and residents and a less bureaucratic scheme that may already be sufficient to achieve ease in identifying exact locations when on the water. And in the near future, it may be worth considering actually naming canals for posterity, possibly through a community-initiative process at no cost to Council, where the affected residents will conduct their own consultation procedure for naming, as suggested more than a decade ago by Rod McLaughlin.


With 700 kilometres of residential waterways, identifying canals by their designated names surely has its advantages. For residents, this may mean a new sense of value for waterfront living and a greater sense of attachment to the water. This may also mean more boating opportunities for locals and visitors that will increase interest in the canal suburbs, and eventually may help the local boating industry improve business and services. While installing signages may be convenient for people like me, it is admittedly unreasonably expensive and bureaucratic. But naming our canals, even simply for a uniform reference system, does have its merit.

Tell us what you think: Should we name our city canals? How do you think should the names be determined?


By Roselle Tenefrancia

Related Governance Articles

Similar Posts From Governance Category