Lost Sydney:
Bullens African Lion Safari

Location: Marsh Road, Warragamba, NSW
Stafford Bullen (1925 2001) the son of circus founder Alfred Percival Bullen, was the person behind the establishment of Sydney's African Lion Safari. In the early 1960s, Bullen became increasingly conscious of the threat television posed, and he determined that if the business was to survive, it must diversify. In 1965, Bullen helped the Edgley organisation to bring the Great Moscow Circus to Australia, and later shows such as Disney on Parade, The Greatest Show on Earth, the Monte Carlo Circus and the Moscow Circus on Ice.

In 1968, he opened the African Lion Safari near Warragamba Dam. For the opening, a promotional single of The Tokens' 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight' was recorded by a band using the name 'The Love machine' (the band turned out to be Tymepiece). The safari, which had a drive through area full of wild animals such as lions, lionesses and tigers, was popular in its early years and attracted up to 200,000 visitors each year. There was also a dolphinarium in the African Lion Safari. Bullen also opened an African Lions Safari at Beenleigh near Brisbane. A Bullen s African Lion Safari Park was also established at Wanneroo with the local television station TVW7 participating as a partner in the venture. A sign at the gate declared, Poms on pushbikes  Free entry .

With its drive-through exotic animal area and miniature safari railway, the African Lion Safari attracted up to 200,000 visitors a year. It was not uncommon for lions to approach cars driving 'on safari' through the park to bite off bits of motor vehicles, and often park attendants had to go and retrieve parts from cars, such as bumper bars and wing mirrors. 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.

Bullen's Circus gave its final performance on 25 May 1969 at Parramatta. Bullen closed the travelling circus, and gave this venture a permanent home at Bullen s Animal World at Walacia. A feature of the venture were the seven elephants that had performed during the travelling circus days. 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 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. Within three years, Stafford Bullen was chairman and managing director of six animal parks in Australia and another in Auckland. By 1977 Bullen, who was breeding animals for export, estimated he had about 360 lions. At Casa Bullen, the palatial home they built next to the Bullen s Animal World at Wallacia, lion and tiger cubs, as well as the occasional elephant, could often be found in the back garden.

Stafford Bullen became bigger than circuses: apart from the animal parks, he bred lions and tigers for circuses and zoos. Other business interests included property development, the travel and entertainment industries, British casinos and attempts to buy into Channel 9 in Brisbane and Channel 10 in Sydney. He said he found the discipline of circus training invaluable in business . In 1985, he based himself on the Isle of Man for a few years, travelling Europe with his son Craig to stock a zoo in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. By then, the animal park business was becoming less attractive to Bullen. As Sydney sprawled, the surrounding suburbs began to encroach on the facility. Bullen complained about stringent regulations on keeping exotic animals and the difficulties of the increasingly suburban setting became apparent. Animal liberationists made Bullen a target. He staunchly defended his record and the importance of his breeding program, although he was, by his own admission, convicted of cruelty to a monkey whose chain had become embedded in the flesh of the neck.

Bullen's Animal World closed in 1985 and the African Lion Safari closed in 1991. The family continued to maintain a private menagerie at the Bullen's rambling hacienda at Wallacia, hiring out animals for use in commercials as well as continuing to breed lions and tigers. On August 7, 1995 several lionesses escaped from the park, terrorised the nearby townships of Warragamba and Silverdale and killed a dog. The lioness responsible for killing the dog was shot. As a result of the escape the park was required to upgrade facilities. A bear also escaped and was shot by residents. A number of water buffalo also escaped the park after it closed and are believed to be still living wild in the surrounding bushland. They have been known to make a nuisance of themselves by standing on the main road at night. The remaining animals are today cared for by Life On The Line Rescue, at the Bullen's Animal World site in Park Road, Wallacia, working with the Bullen family. Life On The Line s focus is to provide rescue, rehabilitation, re-homing and retirement of domestic pets, farm animals, native wildlife and retired circus and zoo animals. Life On The Line is presently not open to the public, and it is the ultimate goal of is to acquire its own land where it would operate a public-access animal sanctuary and hospital.

In recent years, Bullen's Mobile African Lion Safari toured Queensland. In 2001, just months before he died, Bullen was on the road again with some elephants for Lennon Brothers Circus. Bullen's funeral was a genuine celebration, with circus colleagues recalling a flamboyant character who lived life to the full. The block of land near Warragamba Dam where the African Lion Safari once was is today overgrown, its few remaining buildings in ruins and covered in layers of graffiti. The double row of fences still exists, although now it is in many places penetrable. Across from where the animals of the African Lion Safari used to roam free is a weird collection of objects, dotted among the trees. Concrete teepees, rusting playground equipment, the remains of a miniature passenger train, a wishing well with two concrete wizards standing beside it, concrete flowers and animals. Further back inside the property are many old cars. The fences have hand painted No Trespassing signs hung from them, but has not stopped people entering the area.

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