Not-So-Wonderland: Sydney’s long lost theme parks

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 29th March 2011.

Growing up in the eighties, there seemed to be a plethora of “amusement parks” in and around Sydney, which in my head at the time, were the most exciting places ever. Nowadays, only Luna Park survives, albeit without a Big Dipper. Way back then, Sydneysiders were certainly spoilt with choice, although it could be argued, not quality.

If watching actors being placed in stockades and flogged was your idea of fun, Old Sydney Town (1975-2003) was the place for you. Without any rides, the park was a living outdoor museum where visitors explored the “authentic” building recreations which were populated with actors portraying the townsfolk of Sydney circa 1803. Despite an impressive recreation of Sydney Harbour, it was difficult to get over the bad acting, Coke machines, payphones and the fact that Old Sydney Town was actually just outside Gosford. The park is now available for hire as a location for film and television.

Some of the best days of my life so far were spent as a roller coaster operator at Australia’s Wonderland (1985-2004). The biggest park in the Southern Hemisphere at the time, Wonderland was home to the Bush Beast and Demon roller coasters, Space Probe 7, The Beach water park and Hanna-Barbera Land. My favourite memories of working there are helping to search for a crocodile that escaped from the wildlife park next door (we found it in the lake next to the Pirate Ship) and keeping my roller coaster open late so Robbie Williams and Take That could have a ride after their concert in the park earlier that evening. I should have grabbed an autograph. Sadly, Wonderland is now the Samsung warehouse beside the M4 and every night I watch my LCD TV, I think fondly of my days pressing buttons, checking seatbelts and cleaning up spew.

The Bullen family ran circuses in the seventies and eighties. They also operated three theme parks in what was then the outskirts of the outskirts of Sydney. Paradise Gardens (late sixties-mid eighties?) featured a boat ride which allowed visitors to see the many concrete dinosaurs dotted around a lake. There was also a black tubular water slide that dumped riders into a muddy dam. Sadly, Paradise Gardens is now Riverside Oaks golf course at Cattai. I’m unsure if the dinosaurs are counted as a water hazard.

Bullen’s Animal World (1969-1985) was located in Wallacia and its main attractions were a circus and a drive through animal petting zoo. That’s right, you drove around with your windows down feeding the wildlife. Of course, the hungry animals weren’t scared of people or cars and the screams of joy from children was often replaced with screams of terror as donkeys stuck their heads through windows snapping at anything resembling a carrot and slobbering everywhere.

African Lion Safari (1968-1991) also adopted the same drive through approach, however, this time with the windows very much up. Why go to Kenya when you can see the most bored giant cats in the Southern Hemisphere? As a child I remember going there with my parents and one of the lions bit off the bumper bar of our Valiant. When we sent a Ranger to retrieve it, he brought back a dozen, all stolen that day. The park also provided the local community with a disposal service for their unwanted livestock. Apparently classified ads for the free removal of sick or injured cows and horses ran frequently in the local papers.

The lyrics to the theme tune went, “It’s the African Lion Safari, it’s scary but nobody cares, cha cha cha.” I much prefer my lyrics, “It’s the African Lion Safari, it’s closed, that’s why nobody goes, cha cha cha.”

I’m really enjoying my little stroll, or drive through with the windows up, of abandoned theme park lane so for the first time ever, I’m going to continue with more defunct attractions next time, including another two that I worked for that have also closed. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t my fault.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. oneal adventure land and one nother just beside magic kidom down the road. we have wet and wild soon and we have jameroo and magic mountain 6 hours drive past baitmansbay.

  2. oneal adventure land and one nother just beside magic kidom down the road. we have wet and wild soon and we have jameroo and magic mountain 6 hours drive past baitmansbay. now nsw theme park port macquire sea world how about nsw theme park lost out side sydney.

  3. http://www.wonderlandhistory.net


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