The Enchanting Existential Dread Of Aussie Theme Parks is an exciting serialised e-book project, published in online chapters at Pagemaster General, you can download it here once it’s completed and compiled.
Australian history is littered with the bones of its losers, however no matter how hard our Canberran overlords try to shift our national ethos over to Donald Trump’s mean-spirited campaign platform, we’ll always celebrate those losers for what they almost accomplished. If you asked me what it means to be Australian, by examining our Gallipoli ancestor-worship each ANZAC Day, Waltzing Matlida or our pop culture icons like Max Rockatansky and The Babadook… surviving a country that’s eager to murder you is our noblest medal of honour. We’ve developed from a convict colony where citizenship was punishment for stealing, to a continent where we’ve become the cruel jailers of desperate refugees who fled war-torn hell. Bob Ellis claimed Australia doesn’t deserve a future due to the way we treated Aborigines, which is quite a sour note to leave this world on, given I and thousands of other Millennials still have to live here burdened by terrible choices made by his generation preceding ours. Australia’s volatile housing market plus negative gearing means a lot of young people can’t afford to buy a home, yet few pundits have examined the impact real estate has on Aussie theme parks. Most suburban theme parks erected before I was born are now either rusty carcasses for urban explorers on YouTube to climb around their elephant graveyards, or scavenged by real estate agents hungry for new properties they can redevelop and sell to Chinese investors. The Pissweak Kids segments featured on ABC’s The Late Show lampooned these lacklustre attractions by exaggerating their hokey lameness to absurdist extremes, wildlife sanctuaries became a cat locked in a carrier cage, Old West stagecoaches became dejected children sulking atop trailer utes. Conventional wisdom states our amusement resorts more often than not go out of business faster than John Hammond, an exception which proves the rule exists near Surfer’s Paradise which shelters our nation’s successful theme parks from the failure-vortex that is Sydney’s very long list of defunct tourist traps. I don’t begrudge talented video-essayists on my social media feed who post their charming selfies from their frequent Disneyland trips, it’s difficult to feel homesick when visiting Los Angeles because Sydney’s public transport is just as broken as whatever the City of Angels calls a subway. California’s enormity can be daunting for a first-time tourist confronted by the street-hawkers and basketball-hoopers of Venice Beach, or taking shelter inside a Hot Topic after you’ve gatecrashed the BET Awards by accident. Little things Americans take for granted like The Getty Centre art museum having its own monorail can feel like you’re Judy Hopps riding into Zootopia, you could almost hear Shakira’s Oscar-nominated song playing as you boarded a space-age vessel your civic planners down under would’ve discouraged. I am not keen on Sydney cronyism which makes me lose sleep worrying about what national treasures are written off by greed next, acquired by foreign buyers without consultation like Martin Place’s Post Office, or gentrified until it’s unrecognisable like King’s Cross. Don’t get me wrong, the lack of regular mass-shootings grants me safety as a Sydney resident, but our pixie-dust deficit my city has endured since Wonderland’s closure in 2004 damaged our economic confidence. It’s no coincidence that youth unemployment is so high, many summer jobs provided by theme parks no longer exist, and several beloved attractions which were once super-popular never received proper eulogies befitting their legendary status. They live now, only in my memories, to quote The Road Warrior‘s Feral Kid custodian. There’s an undercurrent of sadness inherent with Australian theme parks that’s unique to our little corner of the world, I’m not trying to minimise disasters like King Kong Encounter burning down at Universal Studios, but Americans whinging about The Twilight Zone: Tower Of Terror getting its Guardians Of The Galaxy: Mission Breakout makeover need perspective. We survived a cataclysmic extinction level event, which I like to call the New South Wales Millennium Purge, where most of our domestic theme parks built south of Queensland’s border went bankrupt around the turn of the century. By 2005, Luna Park Sydney would remain the last one standing, its only competition being the annual Royal Easter Show’s temporary carnival rides and agricultural attractions such as its farm animal petting zoo. Village Roadshow announcing it’s selling the land Warner Bros. Movie World is situated upon for a debt-reduction lease-back scheme doesn’t fill me with a great deal of joy, I’ve seen this exact grift tear up Darling Harbour’s once beautiful boardwalk plaza back when Sega World Sydney bit the dust, suggesting Queensland could succumb to the same fate. Ardent Leisure’s financial losses following the White Water Rapids tragedy at Dreamworld have caused speculation over the park’s future since the fatal accident in October, 2016, part of why this hit Queenslanders so hard is because until now theme park disasters of this magnitude were things of the distant past preserved on microfilm in libraries. We’ve entered a dark chapter in our nation’s history we’d hoped would never repeat itself, where our children are afraid of rollercoasters again, and the spectre of Luna Park’s 1979 Ghost Train Fire continues to haunt us despite our best efforts to exorcise it from our collective consciousness. The idea of a Gold Coast theme park attraction killing four Australians was unthinkable, interstate rivalries over State of Origin rugby matches (which we kept winning) and demonstrable superiority of our theme parks (which outlasted their New South Wales counterparts) fed our hubris and thus many Queenslanders (myself included) were rattled by our worst case scenario unfolding on the news before our very eyes. White Water Rapids was soon decommissioned like a condemned criminal, industrial manslaughter legislation (which can’t be used to prosecute Dreamworld in this case) was introduced so a corporate offender can’t get away with this next time, and we were reminded how fragile the Aussie theme park ecosystem can be. It’s not all doom and gloom down under, Adventure World is Perth’s self-proclaimed “only theme park”, continuing our grand tradition of permanent rollercoasters we were so good at creating during our peak-neon-nineties gilded age when Olympic fever compelled rich benefactors to risk millions of dollars for our entertainment. I didn’t take these strange architectural monotremes which filled me with deep enchanting existential dread when they got liquidated as proper serious art-forms, until Youtubers like David Ganssle (doggans), Tony Goldmark (Some Jerk With A Camera), Chris Nebergall (Please Remain Seated) Charlie and Haley Callahan (Spazz In General and The Philosofan), and Kevin Perjurer (Defunctland) opened my eyes to doing that for Australia’s neglected little defunct amusement resorts which none of them have DeLorean time machines or Patreon money to cover on their respective channels. It’s fascinating to see Americans swapping campfire stories about how the unadulterated Alien Encounter scarred them for life, yet Australians appear to have forgotten our freakiest contributions to the fairground arts, as childhood fades into the warm fuzziness of nostalgia divorced from context for the few photographs left behind. Australia’s tyranny of distance held us back as a country pre-internet, but this unique circumstance of geography bred a lot of experimentation with what theme parks could and should be: sometimes it resulted in our mirror universe Disneyland with Warner Bros. Movie World’s overlooked Looney Tunes themed rides, and other times history came alive at Old Sydney Town despite our preference that certain aspects of said history stay in its grave. Let’s look back together at some of the greatest attractions we’ve ever bulldozed, and salute the parks who didn’t make it, as well as the misfits who surpassed expectations.