If you were driving west of Sydney towards the Blue Mountains anytime in the 80s and 90s, there’s a very good chance you’d gaze out the car window at the marvel that was Australia’s Wonderland (later renamed Wonderland Sydney) – a theme park of our very own.
Located in Eastern Creek, it was the place where families enjoyed a day out, school excursions took place under the guise of ‘science research’, and where we all lost our stomachs on ‘Space Probe 7’ and the wooden (yes, wooden!) roller coaster, the ‘Bush Beast’.
Children’s author and good friend Andrew Levins has spent some time in lockdown researching the history of Wonderland, 35 years after it first opened, and shared some of his stories on Hope Breakfast. But this morning it was our listeners, you wonderful citizens of Hopeland, who brought up the bulk of the many wonderful memories of the park, and shared the common grief we felt when the park closed for good.
I found so much joy reading through your texts today, that I thought it’s only right to share them here – so we can all be transported back for a moment to the magic of Australia’s Wonderland.
You shared your memories of brilliant days out…
“I attended the opening day! I loved it so much I wore the complimentary hat given to me to bed that night!” ~ Fiona
“Our family has great memories of Australia’s Wonderland. It was always a great day. However one incident in particular that we still laugh about is when my daughter was adamant that she was going to ride the Space Probe. I remember lining up for almost 2 hours with her to board, only to have her start hyperventilating just as we were about to get in! She never did get that ride, as the park eventually closed. So many great memories for our family.” ~ The Catanzariti family.
“I went to a Girl Guide Friendship Day at Australia’s Wonderland. The place was full of Girl Guides. It absolutely poured with rain, but I loved it even more! White ponchos running about, everywhere. It added to the experience. It was a day like no other. We even got a special cloth badge [commemorating the occasion] to add to our camp blanket.” ~ Anonymous 376
“We would go on the water rides, like the [Snowy River Rampage] ride, get wet, then go on the Bush Beast to dry off.” ~ Anonymous 156
“My dad went on the big red roller coaster with me. It was our first time but his only time. Was sad to see it close.” ~ Linda.
“We had ‘Wonderpasses’ [season passes] nearly every year from the time I was 7 until it closed. Needless to say it was our favourite place. I remember seeing The Wiggles there and Human Nature, and probably many others in the 90s. My brother and sister used to love all the scary rides so while they lined up for an hour to have one turn on the Space Probe or The Demon roller coaster, we sat on The Zodiac ferris wheel and had several turns, while waiting for them to have their one turn.” ~ Anonymous, 220
“We had Wonderpasses as a family and my dad would take us every weekend while my mum ran makeup parties. Such great memories of the Flintstone show, winning my first giant duck on the clown sideshow and the Snowy River Rampage to finish the day soaking wet!” ~ Jen
“I LOVED Australia’s Wonderland and went plenty of times as a kid!! I enjoying the Zodiac (dual-armed ferris wheel with caged in cabins you could spin using a steering-wheel-like contraption in the centre), the Snowy River Rampage, the Beastie and Bush Beast roller coasters and the climbing structure that saw you climbing up enclosed netting which took you to slides several storeys up. Also enjoyed the Demon: the roller coaster which went forward half the time, then backwards for the remainder. Scary, but awesome!! Totally miss it!!” ~ Legge
…and some scary tales too…
“Loved it!!! Waiting in line for the Bush Beast and watching the wooden structure move and shake as if it was about to snap like a twig, then over to Ned Kelly’s Getaway and seeing people getting air as they dropped down the inverted waterslide!!! Unfortunately I was never tall enough to go on it. Oh, the memories.” ~ Brad
“My husband and I were in the last carriage of the Bush Beast when it came uncoupled from the other carriages!! We honestly thought we were going to die! We were only connected by the chain. When we got off and told the kid who was running it, he just closed off that carriage and was completely unfazed by our near-death experience!” ~ DJ
“Loved Wonderland! Great memories!. [It was the venue for my] first ever concert – John Farnham. My friend’s Dad dared me $10 to go on the Pirate Ship [Bounty’s Revenge] as a 12 year old (on my own!) So scared, but I got my $10! Going on the Bush Beast, sitting next to the boy I liked, and I hit my nose on the bar as we went over the first drop! Finished the ride with blood all over my face!” ~ Anonymous, 704
…as well as memories of Youth Alive events (featuring overnight stays at the park!)…
“Best memory is a Youth Alive three-day event at Wonderland in the 1990s. Rides all day and night time youth rallies. Thousands of teenagers camping just outside the park. Also families with their teenagers. We camped with my boys and their cousins’ families. Poured rain on the Saturday night and [the water] washed through the tents. We went home to dry off and sleep warm, but were back to the campsite by breakfast the next morning. Epic memories.” ~ Wendy
“My dad loved Wonderland so we went all the time, but I remember going to Youth Alive’s Wonderfest, which was an Easter weekend, camping out at the park and going to concerts (including DC Talk) and riding all the rides. I still have the baseball cap somewhere. Fun times.” ~ Sharlene
…and some school excursions where you got to enjoy a day out in the name of “education”.
“We went for a physics excursion in year 9! So fun.” ~ Anonymous 474
“Had a ‘Physics is Fun’ day with my year 11 class from Erina. It was the only time I went and we were a very lucky class, as our worksheets for the day were only one page, compared to what some of the other schools had.” ~ Miriam
Texts came in with some secrets from those who worked there…
“My first job was being a balloon girl at Australia’s Wonderland. It was the best job ever… made such great friends… On Saturday nights, ‘$5 after 5pm’, we would sell glow sticks instead of balloons. Such a fun great place to work, and such great memories.” ~ Rene
“I loved the Bush Beast. The rattling and shaking of the ride, I always wondered if it was going to fall apart or it was the part of the ride design. My brother worked as a mascot and hence I was there every weekend, all the way to disco nights!!” ~ Russell
“I work in entertainment. We had a ‘Yogi Mobile’ that transported cast from one end of the park to Hanna Barbera Land at the other end. We drove on a dirt track on the outskirts of the park and the boys loved to “get air” and slide in the mud. Not safe, but hilarious! I’ve got 101 stories! ~ Anonymous, 893
“I used to work at Wonderland and remember sneaking my friends in through the staff entrance…” ~ Cat
…and many of us hold on to hope that we might see Wonderland built again…
“We went to a junkyard near Bligh Park not long ago, and found some old Wonderland relics there. The Wonderland sign with Marvel characters was there, and so were a couple of the old-fashioned cars from down near the Bush Beast [Ampol Antique Autos]. That was one of my favourites. I taught myself to drive on that ride. I always was the driver and I would challenge myself to go all the way around without bumping on the rails at all. ~ Anonymous, 220
“My cousin has one of the red Japanese bridges from Snowy River Rampage.” ~ Steve
“I wish it could come back so I could take my daughter there.” ~ Anoymous, 767
“I came to Australia the year it closed and never got to go to Wonderland 🙁 “ ~ Anonymous, 145
Yes, it was a sad day when Wonderland closed in 2004 for eventual demolition. The site is now an industrial estate, where one of the streets is named Wonderland Drive, and remnants of the park are still lurking in nearby bushland. But our memories live on!
Listen to more of our conversation about Wonderland with Andrew Levins – and one caller whose waters broke in the park! – in the audio player above. And if you’re feeling brave, enjoy this old ‘on-board’ footage from the Bush Beast rollercoaster…