Lost Sydney: Australia's Wonderland

Location: Walgrove Road, Eastern Creek
Given the heavyweights of the business world that backed Australia's Wonderland, it would be fair to say that it was no coincidence many of Sydney s smaller amusement parks closed down in the years following its opening in 1985. The park, which later became known as Wonderland Sydney, was at the time the largest amusement park in the Southern Hemisphere and it operated profitably and without any major deaths, fires, or maulings for many years.

Wonderland Sydney, opened amid much media attention and publicity on 7th December 1985 with financial backing from the New South Wales State Superannuation Board, James Hardies Industries, Leighton Holdings and Taft Broadcasting at Eastern Creek, on the junction of Wallgrove Road and the M4 Motorway in Sydney's Greater West. The developers sought to provide an alternative to the troubled Luna Park, which had opened and closed multiple times in its recent history. The area would also see the opening of Eastern Creek Raceway in 1990 as the Sydneymetropolitan area expanded to the west.

Wonderland opened with three separate themed areas within a park: Goldrush, Medieval Faire (later renamed Old Botany Bay), and Hanna-Barbera Land (later renamed 'Little Wonders Land' in 2001-2002) which featured rides and attractions based on characters from Hanna-Barbera shows such asYogi Bear, Scooby-Doo and The Flintstones. The park was modeled heavily around Canada's Wonderland located north of Toronto, not surprising since both parks were constructed by Taft Broadcasting, a company which also owned Hanna-Barbera.

For many years, Wonderland's flagship ride was The Bush Beast which was the largest wooden roller coaster in Australia. Australia's Wonderland also claimed that it was the largest wooden rollercoaster in the Southern Hemisphere. Wonderland expanded, featuring an all new water park known as The Beach, which first opened in 1988. Unlike the rest of the park, which remained open year-round, The Beach was a seasonal attraction which closed during the winter months (April September). In 1990 Wonderland opened the Australian Wildlife Park . Another attraction named The Outback Woolshed was added in 1995, along with an a-la-carte style restaurant.

The park's fortunes seemed to take a turn for the worse after it was sold in 1997 to the Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based Sunway City Berhad. Now known as Wonderland Sydney, the management did little to keep the local population coming back for more. New rides always give theme parks a new lease of life, but only one ride, Skyrider which was the former cable car at the Sydney Showgrounds, was added between the 1997 takeover and the park's closure in 2004. Several rides were closed in 2002 due to the reduction in operational area of the park. Visitors were told that the rides were being relocated to the remaining section, so that they would be closer (as the rides were spaced apart). Some of the rides were moved, but others were scrapped. Wonderland's gates closed for the last time on 26th April 2004, the day after the Anzac Day public holiday, and a complete demolition of the park was undertaken in September 2005. Most of the rides were sold to other amusement parks, while "The Bush Beast", "The Beastie" and "The Snowy River Rampage" were demolished.

Sunway Group stated the September 11 attacks, the 2002 Bali bombings, the collapse of HIH Insurance, the SARS virus, the bird flu virus, "consistent losses" on the Asian financial crisis, the collapse of Ansett Australia, the Iraq War and the 2003 bushfires all contributed to the park's closure. Many observers believed the Sydney Morning Herald hit the nail on the head when its story about the closure stated that Sunway Group "blames Wonderland's demise on everything except poor management". After the 58-hectacre property was sold for $52.5 million and transformed into an industrial estate, there was speculation that the company had always simply intended to cash in on the site s land value and had deliberately allowed the park to become run down and no longer "commercially viable".

Despite its sudden demise, Wonderland Sydney remains one of Australia s most fondly remembered parks and property developer Ammar Khan has announced plans to open a brand new amusement park called Sydney s Wonderland . Khan, who has described his mission to revive the amusement park as a dominating obsession , says he has been seeking financial backing for the relaunch since 2009. Khan estimates that Sydney s Wonderland will open three years after he has found sufficient funding and a suitable location for the $150 million project.

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