Retiring didn’t mean sitting still for Sir Bruce

Malvern Star owner Bruce Small guides his champion cyclist Hubert 'Oppy' Opperman through the crowd at the finish line of the great Fremantle To Sydney record ride, 1937. Oppy's wife Mavys is left, and Bruce's wife Lillian is right. Picture Samuel J Hood |

There wouldn’t be many retirees willingly taking on two new jobs with a combined 80 work hours a week,

and then donating every dollar of those wages to charity for 12 years … then again, there has been no

one else quite like Sir Bruce Small.

That’s exactly what Sir Bruce Small did when he sought election as Gold Coast Mayor and Queensland

Parliamentarian after moving from Melbourne to Surfers Paradise to ‘retire’. Instead, he developed the

luxury canal estates of Isle Of Capri and Benowa Waters – now worth billions – and took on the role as city

leader to help ensure quality planning for a rapidly expanding city he passionately promoted until his

death in 1980.

‘Obviously Sir Bruce never read the definition of ‘retirement’,” laughed Rachel Syers, an award-winning

journalist and author of the new book ‘Sir Bruce Small: From Malvern Star To Mr Gold Coast’. The official

biography reveals the incredible accomplishments of Sir Bruce in his senior years, including making the

Guiness Book of World Records at age 76 as ‘the oldest man ever to enter a parliament’ when elected as

the first MP for the new seat of Surfers Paradise, and being elected Gold Coast mayor for the third time,

aged 80.

Former Queenlsand Premier Rob Borbidge, who knew Sir Bruce and wrote the Foreword, believes Sir

Bruce’s story is more relevant than ever as a reminder ‘of what is possible’. “Sir Bruce Small’s life reminds

us that our best years are often in front of us, that retirement should not be wasted, that nation building

can still unfold and that dreams happen with hard work and dedication,” Mr Borbidge wrote.

Those who knew him called him ‘a living legend in his own life’ and declared he was ‘not made in the

same mould as normal man’. “That praise was for good reason,” Rachel said, after years spent

researching thousands of articles across more than 110 newspapers, books and journals, and

interviewing 100 people including world champions, political leaders, family and employees he mentored.

“Some people don’t realise he is the same Bruce Small who turned Malvern Star into a household name

from one store to 1000 around the country, and toured the world as manager to famous cycling champion

Oppy who was also his best friend, before he ended up touring with bikini models to boost tourism,”

Rachel said. “They visited more than 45 cities and towns throughout Australia and New Zealand,

appeared on television with the greats like Don Lane, Bert Newton and Mike Walsh – generating so much

publicity that he is credited with transforming Surfers Paradise into a tourist mecca.”

Sir Bruce also wanted to ‘out-Venice’ Venice by linking Ipswich to Murwillumbah via a ‘water highway’ of

rivers, creeks and canals for boats, but his bold plan was deemed too far ahead of its time.

The book’s 260 photos include colourful mementoes of yesteryear, from Malvern Star memorabilia to his

1960s and 1970s community badge collection ranging from the Emerald P&A Society and Mackay City

Band to the Queensland Turf Club (now Brisbane Racing Club) and Gold Coast German Shepherd Dog


Cycling enthusiasts can enjoy a treasure trove of tales about the more than 60 champion cyclists and

their record rides in more than 100 races throughout Australia, the UK and Europe, from Bruce managing

the first Australia team in the Tour de France to regional events such as the Bruce Small Road Race held

in Rockhampton by the Gresham Amatuer Wheelers, and female cyclist Valda Unthank, who set amazing

record rides in the 1930s such as from Clayfield to Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast.

“I can guarantee that nobody will be able to read this life story and not be surprised by things they never

knew about the famous Sir Bruce Small,” Rachel said.

‘Sir Bruce Small: From Malvern Star To Mr Gold Coast’ by Rachel Syers, is now available through and bookstores.

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