Get your rocks on

Here’s a little known fact – I like cars. I especially like classic and vintage cars. But let me be more specific – I like looking at cars, I like seeing how lovingly restored they have been and how well looked after they are. So when I was offered the opportunity to spend a weekend in the company of more than 1,200 classic cars, custom cars and hot rods at the Cooly Rocks On I was almost beside myself!

I’ll be honest, I have very little knowledge about what’s under the bonnet (or in the boot in some cases) although I do know that horsepower has nothing to do with a four-legged beast and that roughly 1.34 of it is equivalent to 1 kilowatt and they’re both units measuring the power of a vehicle. Like, wow! The thing I enjoy most about these cars (and perhaps that’s what makes them ‘classic’) is that long after car companies have stopped producing them, they still retain that ‘special something’.

Cooly Rocks On is a fantastic festival, celebrating everything about the 1950s and 1960s. It is held every year at the start of June and attracts more than 50,000 people from all over. Although the cars make a significant attraction, they are only a portion of the events and activities that visitors to the borders of Coolangatta and Tweed Heads can take part in during the 11 days of festivities. Rock ‘n roll, rockabilly and swing music and dancing, competitions – including a treasure hunt – delight kids of all ages, ’50s- and ’60s-themed markets, and street parades are all on offer and made me feel like I’d taken a step back in time.

I spent the Grand Finale weekend, where the streets are closed down, hanging out with many enthusiasts of a bygone era. More than eight outdoor stages provided music from the likes of the Beach Boyz, Firebirds, Purple Drippers and Well Swung Daddies for festival goers, and handsomely dressed men and beautifully dressed women took to the streets for some rock ‘n roll and swing dancing. What a sight! Away from the jiving, the streets were lined with Bedfords, Buicks, Chevrolets, Dodges, El Caminos, and old model Fords decked out in colours you don’t see roving the streets today.

So many of these cars have been a labour of love for their owners. I got chatting to the owner of a 1959 Ford Customline who told me he found his car in the Lightning Ridge area with no wheels, no motor, no upholstery, but full of rust. There was a gleam in his eye as he detailed how even then he could see the beauty underneath and brought the vehicle back to Sydney (where he lived) so that he could restore it to glory. It was a three-year process, with parts coming from not only around Australia but from the United States to complete the job. He showed me photos of the old girl sitting in the bush under the burning sun, a clapped out ‘heap of metal’ and my jaw dropped as I compared them to the shining silver-coloured car with her maroon trimmed seats and a custom-made dash that sat before me. The restoration was incredible.

Just as incredible was the collection of rock ‘n roll and swing dance shoes, ’50s retro and vintage clothing, and ’50s memorabilia at the Bop Jonny’s tent. Owner, Jon Hannon is a rock ‘n roll and swing dancer and teacher from Melbourne, and together with Zoe Jones they created Bop Jonny’s Rock ‘n Swing Gear – Australia’s most extensive type of custom and imported dance wear and the sole distributors for Bleyer dance and Re-Mixvintage  shoes in the country. Jon very kindly let me photograph some of the many shoes he had on display (that were also for sale).

The Cooly Rocks On crowd is an eclectic bunch, with poodle skirts and bobby socks mixing it up with the heavily tattooed and leather-clad more often (stereotypically) associated with bikies and outlaws. Some women went to extraordinary lengths to showcase the fashion of the ’50s and ’60s, donning colourful patterned skirts and dresses commonly worn in that era and I can only imagine how many curlers were needed or how much back combing was required to achieve hairstyles as glamorous as Grace Kelly’s or Rita Hayworth’s in the movies. It all brought a touch of glamour and austerity to the festival.

Just as the crowd was eclectic, so too were some of the displays and although they may have looked out of place among the rows of  antique tyre and vintage accessories sellers, the tent of Bob Jane T-Mart certainly new how to draw attention of the passersby. The 36-inch tyre featured prominently at the front of its display and prompted the question “What’s that go on?” many times over the weekend (it comfortably fits a Hummer, I was told). Kids climbed all over it, when they weren’t climbing all over the Michelin man, and adults tried lifting it before settling on a photo of themselves standing beside it. There was plenty of excitement when the raffles commenced late in the afternoon with car cleaning and maintenance products, t-shirts and hats, other merchandise and vouchers were given away. Bob Jane T-Mart Queensland State Manager Ben McGuire, who is also a classic car enthusiast, was right at home with the Cooly crowd and happened to mention this was the first year he had attended the event without his restored 1964 Buick.

Despite some pretty dismal weather over the weekend, nothing could dampen the lively spirits that filled Cooly Rocks On. With so much to see and do, I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.

We stayed at:
Drift Apartments, Casuarina Beach

Approximately 15 minutes’ drive from the action at Coolangatta-Tweed Heads, the two and three bedroom self-contained apartments are the perfect luxury getaway for a group of friends or family on a weekend escape. Set in a tropical atmosphere, the apartments have access to two spectacular resort-style lagoon pools,spas, and a barbecue area. Casuarina Beach is a stone’s throw away. Bookings can be made through Colliers International

All photographs are copyright to


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