Cooly Rocks On returns with muscle cars and pin-ups to bring the COVID-ravaged Gold Coast to life

Vintage car enthusiasts and Elvis impersonators from across the country flock to Queensland’s Gold Coast for the annual Coolangatta rockabilly festival.

Thousands of people turned out for the first day of Cooly Rocks On, as the region recovers from strict COVID border closures and recent torrential rains.

A record number of people – more than 130,000 – are expected to visit the city between Wednesday and Sunday.

We are far from the ghost town that Coolangatta had become for nearly two years.

Local councilor Gail O’Neill said the festival was a much-needed boost to the community.

“Honestly, to see people come to town to have fun and relive the nostalgia days, the vibe is fantastic,” she said.

“We struggled a lot while COVID was a border town.

More than 900 cars are expected to line the streets, from pink Cadillacs to vintage Goggomobils.

Mark Duckworth, festival director.(ABC Gold Coast: Kimberly Bernard)

Festival director Mark Duckworth said the festival had “got off to a good start”.

“It’s great. We managed to achieve this last year but everyone was nervous, whereas this year everyone relaxed and became more creative about our event again,” said- he declared.

Traders scramble

Coolangatta local Steve Evangelista is one of 70 vendors at this year’s event.

He has run his belt and wallet stand at the festival for seven years and said this year is set to be his biggest yet.

A man leaning on a bench lined with leather belts
Coolangatta local and business owner Steve Evangelista says he is happy to see large crowds returning to town.(ABC Gold Coast: Kimberly Bernard)

“We’re looking at record crowds this year with the Kiwi guys and the guys from Melbourne and Sydney coming in. Everybody’s coming,” he said.

“It’s a tourist town and without tourists it’s not the same. So everyone welcomes the big crowds again.”

Three red vintage cars lined up next to each other
Dozens of classic cars joined the first race from Coolangatta to Kirra.(ABC Gold Coast: Kimberly Bernard)

Jake, a resident of Palm Beach, set up his stand of screen-printed shirts on the esplanade.

He also said he was confident there would be an exceptional crowd.

“Having the border open, no lockdown, is great,” he said.

“Having tourists, people having fun listening to live music, is really, really good.”

“Vintage Atmosphere”

International and interstate performers and visitors join in the festivities, including the infamous pin-up girl contest.

For the first time in the nine-year history of the competition, international models will parade on the catwalk.

A woman dressed in leopard print with blonde and black hair standing in front of a pink Cadillac
Pinup Artist Ambassador Bettie Butcher says pinups are about “vintage vibes, not vintage values.”(ABC Gold Coast: Kimberly Bernard)

Pin-up ambassador Bettie Butcher said models from the US, New Zealand and Melbourne will steal the show.

“Bringing anyone to beautiful sunny Queensland is just a bonus,” she said.

A bustling pedestrian strip with market stalls and blue skies
People filled the streets of Coolangatta on the first day of Cooly Rocks On.(ABC Gold Coast: Kimberly Bernard)

Ms Butcher said the festival was hugely popular because it wasn’t just the cars, “it’s really the vibe”.

“I think people love the nostalgia of a bygone era,” she said.

“That’s the beauty of reminiscing about the aesthetic of a time when everything was just a little simpler.”

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