HomeArticlesLifestyle NewHow Hedges Avenue got its name (Clue: It’s got nothing to do with vegetation)
Hedges Avenue, Mermaid Beach

Elevated view to the north from the enchanted castle, Magic Mountain, Miami, Queensland, 1980 (Fred Saxon, photographer)

How Hedges Avenue got its name (Clue: It’s got nothing to do with vegetation)

Tim Baker | September 2019

It’s known as a beachfront, Millionaire’s Row, a showcase of modern, Australian, coastal architecture and luxury living in one of the most desirable addresses on the Gold Coast.

But how did Hedges Avenue in Mermaid Beach get its name? And what of the intriguing Christian names of its side streets – Arthur, Alfred, Hilda and William? Who were they and what did they do to earn the honour of streets named after them?

My search for answers took me to two Gold Coast retirement villages and touching interviews with the grandsons of a man who once owned large tracts of this now prime real estate back when they were empty lots bought and sold for a relative pittance, as flippantly as a game of Monopoly.

I arrive at Cedarbrook aged care centre, in Mudgeeraba, set amongst fields of grazing cattle and horses, on a fine Winter’s afternoon. I have an appointment with one of its residents and I’m directed to an upstairs room. I’d tried to visit a few weeks earlier but the facility had been in lockdown due to an outbreak of flu.

I find Neal Hedges alone in his room. He is approaching his 80th birthday but is clearly doing it tough, hooked up to oxygen and speaking in short halting grabs, but he seems glad of the company and eager to tell his grandfather William Hedges’ story.

“We don’t know why they named it after him. At one stage he did own a lot of the land there,” he says. “My brother and I went to the Southport archives and went through the micro-fiche of rates and it was in the ’30s he actually owned about four acres. He dabbled a lot in real estate … I think there’s half a km between William and Arthur and that’s the range I believe of the land he owned.”

Neal’s family had grown up in Brisbane but regularly holidayed on what was then known as the South Coast, at Rainbow Bay and later Burleigh Heads. His grandfather had also owned a house at Burleigh called Leighton, named after a village in England, where Neal’s own parents had honeymooned.

Neal was light on for further details and suggested I contact his brother Brian, who had researched the family history extensively and was planning to write a book on the subject.
Brian lived in Brisbane but visited his brother every fortnight and so we agreed to rendezvous during one of his visits to the coast at a date to be set. He gave me Brian’s phone number but I couldn’t know then that a meeting between the three of us would never take place.

As it happened, I was struck down with the flu myself soon after and was out of action for a good few weeks. By the time I rang Brian and told him of my meeting with his brother Neal and his suggestion that we all catch up for a chat, Brian broke the sad news that his brother had passed away a couple of weeks earlier. I was shocked and saddened but grateful at least that we’d met and that Neal had the chance to share his grandfather’s story.

Brian was coming to the coast to visit a friend in a nursing home in Labrador and suggested we meet there. He was a former history teacher had put his skills to good use thoroughly researching the life of his grandfather. We agreed to meet a week later and, in the mean-time, he emailed me a lengthy document he’d written providing a detailed account of William Hedges’ life.

William was born in Buckinghamshire in 1872 and arrived in Brisbane in 1877 after a three-month voyage on the City of Agra with his parents Thomas and Mary when he was just four. He was the youngest of five children, though two of his siblings died as infants before the family emigrated. The Hedges settled in the Brisbane suburb of Sherwood where Thomas’s younger brother, another William, had settled some years prior. It was his letters home describing a land of boundless opportunity Down Under that encouraged Thomas to emigrate.

Young William attended West Oxley State School (later re-named Sherwood State School) and later worked as a clerk and order collector with the Civil Service Stores, General Merchants, in the city. In 1897 William married Ellen Tainton and they had two children, Hannah and Arthur.

William left his job left in 1906, apparently to open his own store. In a reference signed on July 27 1906, his manager wrote: “He is a first-class all-round office hand and an excellent order collector, is sober, honest, industrious and very attentive to his duties. He is leaving the Store to start business on his own account and carries with him the good wishes of all concerned.” He was presented with a portable desk as a farewell gift.

Soon after, William opened his own store on the corner of Oxley Road and Sherwood Road, directly opposite his old state school. Interestingly, there is also a Hedges St a short distance from here near Sherwood train station. He had clearly made his mark on the area. At various times he served as Treasurer of the Sherwood State School committee, Patron of the Sherwood Methodist Church Tennis Club, Trustee of the Sherwood Methodist Church, Grand-Master of the Masonic Lodge in Sherwood and was a strict non-smoker and teetotaller.

The document provided all the detail I needed but it was still fascinating to meet with Brian and his wife Jean to get further background and context. We met in the café of the Blue Care nursing home in Labrador and Brian had gathered several old family photos and documents of his own research to assist me.

William’s father Thomas died later in 1906 and his occupation was given as storekeeper. Brian speculated that perhaps William had gone into partnership with his father or purchased the business from him. Either way, Thomas Hedges’ died soon after and his death was reported in The Brisbane Courier as taking place on November 20 1906 at the Benevolent Asylum in Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island. The purpose of the asylum “was to provide for poor people who because of age, accident, infirmity or otherwise were unable to care for themselves”, according to Brian. It’s a poignant irony that the father of the man who lent his name to one of the most expensive streets on the Gold Coast appears to have died penniless.

But William seemed to make a go of the business and continued as a storekeeper until 1916, when he decided on a change of career. According to Brian, during the first world war many storekeepers fell on hard times because of laws which fixed prices to ensure essential household goods remained affordable, but left too slim margins for many businesses to survive. “For some reason he became a land agent and later called himself a land and commission agent,” Brian told me. He bought and sold properties and owned several houses which he rented to others.

William’s wife Ellen died in 1918 at Sherwood Private Hospital. A little over a year later he remarried to Hilda Jackson, who had a son, Alfred, by a previous marriage, and together they had a son, also William. Throughout the 1920s, the couple bought and sold numerous blocks of land in the area around what is now Hedges Avenue and in the surrounding region. Values jumped spectacularly in 1923. Two eight-acre parcels of land William bought for 50 pounds each in March 1922 were valued at 200 pounds apiece by 1923.

By the end of 1923 William Hedges held six parcels of land totalling 32 acres, three roods and five perches (the equivalent of almost 13 hectares) in 38 sub-divisions and valued at 810 pounds. In the old measurements, there were four roods to an acre and 40 perches to a rood. “In all that time all that land was vacant land because you only hear about the land value. There was only one old house,” Brian told me.

William Hedges died on July 14 1943 at which time he still held four parcels of land in what is termed “Parish of Gilston, Division 4,” totalling nearly four acres or about 1.5 hectares. At the time of his death, however, there were outstanding rates in arrears and the executor, a J.G. Henry of Wateworks Rd, Ashmore, sold the land to settle these debts.

It remains unclear exactly how Hedges Ave came to be named after William, or the cross streets named after various family members. Curiously, there were streets named after his second wife Hilda, his son Arthur, his step-son Alfred, and his son by his second marriage William, but his first wife Ellen and first-born daughter Hannah received no such honour, a source of some distress for Hannah later in life, according to Brian.

For Brian, this was all just a slice of family folklore as a child holidaying on the Gold Coast. “When we were primary school kids we always used to holiday at Coolangatta and then Burleigh, catch the train to Southport and then a bus or taxi. Dad used to talk about Hedges Avenue,” said Brian.

In recent years, Brian had been approached by the local ABC radio station and a developer building a luxury apartment block on Hedges Avenue to tell his family history, as interest in the prime residential area grew. “We have often thought about the land and the houses along Hedges Avenue,” said Brian. “The land was sold long before the big prices were paid but grandfather’s name remains there.”

***Thank you to the Local Studies Library for their assistance with research and archived photographs.

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