The Wonderland Years: The Demon

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 11th February 2014.

The Demon roller coaster came to Australia’s Wonderland from the World Expo 88 theme park. Originally known as The Titan, it was relocated to Sydney and given a new slick of black paint in 1992, one year before I came on board as a ride loader.

Every morning, prior to the park opening at 10am with a terrible tinny recording of the national anthem, the ride would be tested by running a few cycles. Many times, I would be the sole occupant of the coaster for these test runs. Typically steel roller coasters run slower when cold, so the effects of a freezing Sydney morning combined with the weight of, well, just me, resulted in a scary stop start ride barely making it through the loops and the boomerang.

As soon as I turned eighteen, I was trained to be a ride operator. That meant I was able to press the buttons at the control panel. Even more importantly, I was given a microphone. Every time the coaster began its journey backwards up the first tower, I’d start my safety spiel. I can still recite that speech to this day.

“Good morning riders, welcome to The Demon. To ride, you must be over the height of 48 inches or 120 centimetres. You must be wearing shoes and a shirt. If you have had any recent surgery, illness or broken bones we strongly suggest you do not ride. If you are pregnant, congratulations and I hope you name it after me, but we also suggest you do not ride. Please make sure that you secure all loose items including cameras, mobile phones, wallets, coins and your brain.”

After the spiel was done, I could pretty much say anything I wanted to amuse or irritate the crowd in the queue. I’d sing songs, tell bad jokes and do impressions, the whole time rotating around on a swivel chair so I could keep an eye on the coaster as it twisted around the track. My favourite prank was to continually ask the crowd to wish the ride loader, standing on their lonesome on the other side of the station, a happy birthday, regardless of whether it actually was their birthday.
The safety harness for The Demon was controlled by a foot pedal. To release the riders, you needed to push down the seven pedals, one at a time, from front to back. After the new riders were seated, you’d make your way from back to front, kicking the pedals up and checking that the harnesses were locked. It was hell on your shoes, and  eventually ride loaders would develop this bizarre but efficient dance as they made their way down the station. Kick the pedal, hop, step, step, hop, and repeat seven more times. Close the safety gate, then stick your thumb in the air. All clear and the ride is on its way.

Eventually, I graduated to ride trainer. The final test for potential Demon loaders and operators was being able to climb the twelve storeys of the ride tower. If you were scared of heights, you wouldn’t be able to participate in emergency evacuations of the roller coaster. Every couple of weeks, I’d walk my new trainees up the tower. The view from the top was spectacular, looking outwards that is. The view straight down was terrifying. The floor of the deck at the top was simply metal grill. On a particularly windy day, the towers would also sway. No wonder I hate heights now.

The Demon was relocated to the Alabama Adventure theme park upon AWL’s demise in 2004. I was living overseas when my beloved park closed so I never got to say goodbye. According to the interwebs, Alabama Adventure closed its doors in 2011 and the ride, now known as the Zoomerang (and painted bright canary yellow) is up for sale.

Published in: on February 18, 2014 at 23:00  Leave a Comment  
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