The Wonderland Years: The Zodiac

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

The Zodiac was not originally part of my area of the rides department at Australia’s Wonderland. Sometime during my employment we inherited this twin arm gondola attraction, originally manufactured in 1974 under the name Star Wheel, from Hanna Barbera Land. Wonderland itself inherited The Zodiac. It was transplanted from its original home at Kings Island Amusement Park in Ohio in 1989. At the time, both Wonderland and Kings Island had the same parent company, Premier Parks. How such a huge ride is transported from one side of the planet to the other is beyond my comprehension. I presume it wasn’t in the overhead compartment.

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Whilst not the most exciting of attractions, it certainly produced its fair share of sick guests, mostly because riders had the ability to spin their gondola by turning a wheel located in the centre. Guests would emerge from their 5 minute captivity in the oversized birdcages and stumble towards the nearest garbage bin or garden bed. Most didn’t make it. As always, a little kitty litter would do the trick, followed by a phone call for some poor sucker from the park services department to attend with a dustpan and brush.

The legend amongst ride staff was that there was once a competition to see how long operators and loaders could hang onto the base legs of the gondolas as they ascended before they had to let go and fall to the ground below, landing safely I assume. Now as a proponent of workplace health and safety, I in no way condone this activity, however, I did try it, just the once. I got maybe 2 metres off the ground before I had to drop away, way too concerned for my ability to walk (and possibly talk) in the future. I hate heights and the idea of falling almost as much as I hate the idea of falling from a height onto concrete. And certainly not for $7 an hour.

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Operating The Zodiac was a boring affair. Stuck up in a raised booth, you had little contact with anyone. Wait for the loader to lock the twelve gondola doors and press two buttons when you received the thumbs up. My boredom was only broken by the occasional visit from my girlfriend at the time (she worked as a character escort) and one of my best mates, Anthony, in the disguise of Fred Flintstone or Captain Caveman. Normally silent when interacting with customers, it was always amusing for me to hear Fred complain about the heat, swear about the smell in the costume, give me a rude gesture and be on his way. Yabba-dabba-don’t-do-that-in-front-of-paying-guests.

From the booth, you had a bird’s eye view of the backstage area of the Hanna Barbera Stage. My favourite moment was catching Play School’s John Hamlin having a cheeky fag whilst only metres away sat hundreds of toddlers awaiting Big Ted and company.

The Zodiac closed with the park in 2004 and is now presumably rusting away in a scrap yard somewhere.

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Published in: on April 6, 2014 at 22:56  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I operated the Giant Wheel at Hersheypark. When you say The Zodiac was boring to operate, I know exactly how you feel.


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