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30th anniversary of opening of Australia’s Wonderland

30th anniversary of opening of Australia’s Wonderland
December 12, 2015

The 30th anniversary of the opening of Australia's Wonderland, Sydney's first and largest theme park, has passed with little acknowledgement in the last week.

Opened on 7th December 1985, Australia's Wonderland (later renamed Wonderland Sydney) offered three separate themed areas within the park: Goldrush, Medieval Faire (later renamed Old Botany Bay), and Hanna-Barbera Land (later renamed 'Little Wonders Land') which featured rides and attractions based on characters from Hanna-Barbera shows such as Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones.

Constructed by Taft Broadcasting, the company which owned Hanna-Barbera, the park was modelled heavily around Canada's Wonderland located north of Toronto - another Taft property.

Located at Sydney's Eastern Creek, the park opened amid much media attention and publicity with financial backing from the NSW State Superannuation Board, James Hardies Industries, Leighton Holdings and Taft Broadcasting.

The developers sought to provide an alternative to the then-troubled Luna Park, and to cater for the fast growing population in Western Sydney as well as interstate and international visitors.

For many years, Wonderland's flagship ride was The Bush Beast - the largest wooden rollercoaster in the Southern Hemisphere while The Beastie, a smaller version of The Bush Beast catered to younger riders.

The park would later add rides such as the Demon (1992) and Space Probe 7 (1995; sponsored by the Seven Network, who bought naming rights to the ride. After this contract expired, the ride dropped the '7' from its name).

The park also expanded with the addition of a waterpark, The Beach, in 1988. However, unlike the rest of the park, which remained open year-round, The Beach was a seasonal attraction which closed during the winter months.

In 1990 Wonderland opened the Australian Wildlife Park while The Outback Woolshed was added in 1995, along with an à-la-carte-style restaurant.

In 1992, when Taft Broadcasting's North American theme parks were sold to Viacom (these parks were later sold to Cedar Fair), Taft's minority stake in Australia's Wonderland was sold to other Australian investors.

These Australian investors then sold the park to the Malaysian-based Sunway Group in 1997.

Sunway Group operated the park for seven years adding just one ride - the Skyrider, which was the former cable car at the Sydney Showgrounds, toying with closing the entire park during the week in winter and rebranding the park as Wonderland Sydney.

Starved of investment, Sunway closed the park in April 2004, issuing a statement advising that the September 11 attacks, the 2002 Bali bombings, the collapse of HIH Insurance, the SARS virus, the bird flu virus, "consistent losses" from the Asian financial crisis, the collapse of Ansett Australia, the Iraq War and the 2003 bushfires as having contributing to the  closure.

At the time, the Sydney Morning Herald stated that the Sunway Group "blames Wonderland's demise on everything except poor management".

What was never disclosed was that the Sunway Group were able to secure a rezoning of the land on which Wonderland Sydney stood from its original ‘recreational land’ planning designation to ‘bulk retail’.

In the process, the Sunway Group is understood to have profited by more than $100 million from the closure of Wonderland Sydney and subsequent sale of the site.

Having secured the sale, most of the rides were dismantled and sold off to overseas theme parks, including the Demon, which was purchased by Alabama Splash Adventures in the US and renamed the Zoomerang.

But parts of the Bush Beast and The Beastie still remain in Sydney, thanks to a group of Wonderland fanatics who raised $6000 to purchase its carriages.

In recent years, property developer Ammar Khan has announced plans to resurrect the spirit of the former theme park (with a working title of Sydney’s Wonderland) in a new theme park, retail area and entertainment zone in Western Sydney.

As of September, Khan’s plans have reportedly been boosted by a billion dollar investment.

While media has seemingly ignored this week's anniversary, fans of the former park have recognised this week's event on social media.

Images: Wonderland Sydney's the Bush Beast (top) and Snowy River Rampage (middle) and the end (below).

Click here to view a YouTube video of the opening Australia's Wonderland in 1985.

11th December 2015 - AUSTRALIANS LOVE THEME PARK VISITS

5th October 2015 - LUNA PARK SYDNEY CELEBRATES 80 YEARS

17th September 2015 - PLANNED SYDNEY THEME PARK REPORTS $1 BILLION INVESTMENT BACKING

5th June 2015 - ASIAN MARKET DRIVES EXPANDING GLOBAL THEME PARK ATTENDANCES

15th March 2012 - BID TO REVIVE OLD SYDNEY TOWN ATTRACTION

21st August 2011 - WILL AUSTRALIA EVER BUILD ANOTHER THEME PARK?

13th September 2010 - VILLAGE ROADSHOW TO BUILD WET’N'WILD SYDNEY

 


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