1. Personal account of Sydney’s Wonderland
I grew up with Australia’s Wonderland, changed to Sydney’s Wonderland. It was always there.
My Father was a Government Bus Driver with State Transit which provided yearly holiday visits to Wonderland for the drivers and their families. My family and other families spent the whole day at Wonderland and had great fun going on all the rides, eating out and seeing the live entertainment. Wonderland was the place to be.
The only other theme parks we seldom went to were those on the Gold Coast in Queensland – Movie World, Dream World, Sea World and Wet ‘n Wild, water slides at Gosford, the Easter Show at Sydney Olympic Park and formerly and Moore Park in Sydney and occasional amusement parks accompanying some circuses.
2. Characteristics of Wonderland
Sydney’s Wonderland was the largest theme park in the southern hemisphere when it did operate between 1985 and 2004. It was the premier theme park in New South Wales and Australia at the time, located at Eastern Creek near Blacktown in Sydney.
Sydney’s Wonderland had three sections to it with the main theme park, a water park and a wildlife park. This provided great diversity for the general public.
Compared to Disneyland in America, which had initially 160 hectares, Sydney’s Wonderland had 219 hectares of land, which was fairly big for an amusement park.
Wonderland was based on the theme park of Canada’s Wonderland, north of Toronto. Walt Disney, before establishing Disneyland, modeled his theme park on other amusement parks around America and the world.
Funding for Wonderland came from the New South Wales State Superannuation Board, James Hardie Industries, Leighton Holdings and Taft Broadcasting. My Uncle, my Father’s sister’s husband was a Marketing Executive for Leighton Holdings at the time and we received free tickets from time-to-time Wikipedia, ‘Wonderland Sydney’ .
3. Reasons behind Wonderland’s closure
A number of reasons were given by relevant parties at Wonderland for its closure. Wikipedia noted some reasons for the parks closure in April 2004. These reasons however seem superficial and irrelevant and either aim to exaggerate a normal situation, to obtain more media coverage and publicity for Wonderland or to hide financial losses or other issues. For example, some of these reasons for closure of Wonderland mimic Disneyland’s reasons for closure, such as the September 11 attacks in New York.
Other reasons for closure were the “2002 Bali bombings, the collapse of HIH Insurance, the SARS virus, the bird flu virus, losses on the Asian financial crisis, the collapse of Ansett Australia, the Iraq War and the 2003 bushfires.” Wikipedia stated how the Sydney Morning Herald blamed Wonderland’s closure on poor management, as they, as stated, mentioned all other reasons except the central issue Wikipedia, ‘Wonderland Sydney’ .
4. Need for multiple theme approach
Mount Druitt Property Developer, Ammar Khan worked with Wonderland for nine years and is aiming to resurrect the theme park in western Sydney, close to the old site at Eastern Creek – “I worked there for nine years up until it closed and even tried to approach big business to keep the park alive”… “The timing on when this $150 million project starts depends on when I get confirmation from stakeholders that they want to invest,” Thomas, S. August 16, 2013..
The Western Sydney theme park approach “will be built to entertain customers in a ‘multiple theme approach,’ ” Sydney’s Wonderland, ‘The Proposal’ . There will be tourism and commercial activities, including Wonderland Boulevard. Stage one will take three years to complete with “hotel operations, cinemas, an ice rink, bowling alley, things for the kids and cafes and restaurants, as well as multi-themed attractions and amusements” Stage two will have a “golf course and live music venue,” Thomas, S. August 16, 2013/ Ausparks, November 19, 2013 .
The strength of the new proposal for Wonderland is that it is a multiple theme approach. Other theme parks in Sydney, such as Fox Studios, Sega World and El Cabalablanco, all closed down either early or later on. The cause for this was that they were a ‘single-themed’ approach by not having other areas to offer. Smaller parks like Jamberoo and Luna Park have remained open by diversifying what they are offering to the public Ausparks, November 19, 2013 .
Sydney’s Wonderland supports this by stating “single-themed tourism offerings can historically be poor performers to stakeholders”… “theme parks attempting to establish and operate on their own are notoriously prone to hardships or eventual failure. This leads to closures and job losses which impact on the social fabric of family life and the economy,” Sydney’s Wonderland, ‘The Proposal’ .
The new Wet ‘n Wild in Sydney’s West is a fantastic idea but concentrates on one element, or this single-themed approach of fun, entertainment and amusement, which is water and beach. Australia’s Wonderland however focuses on many more aspects other than water Wet ‘n Wild . Wet ‘n Wild could very well end up like Australia’s Wonderland and lose its appeal at some stage. The warmer days and Summer months would be particularly attractive for Wet ‘n Wild Wet ‘n Wild . Until the new Wonderland arrives this puts all the focus on the theme parks in Queensland.
Wonderland can pick themes that are relevant and central to Australia, for example, surf and beach, bushland and wildlife and sport and leisure, while keeping with some of the old themes to keep that Wonderland feel – “…previously closed tourist attractions from Sydney or NSW may reappear as a themed section” Ausparks, November 19, 2013 . Wonderland can even try something new with things like 9D (not 3D) movie cinemas, a train ride around the area (like Disneyland) and The Grid simulation driving experience or actually driving a V8 or F1-type motor vehicle, especially since the old Wonderland was at Eastern Creek.
There can even be naming rights to certain rides to increase funding and exposure, for example, the Seven Network sponsored the Space Probe 7 at the previous Wonderland.
One problem with the current proposal is that the rides will be next to even more food and drinks than before. This could make some users, especially children, sick after coming off the rides.
On a positive note, the Wonderland Boulevard is free to the public, and will be open during the day and at night, which will allow more public disclosure to the commercial, as well as tourism activities.
Walt Disney allowed external operators at Disneyland to keep the park viable and successful. Disneyland for example had a “shopping, dining and entertainment complex named Downtown Disney” and a number of hotels with the “Disneyland Hotel, the Disney Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel” Wikipedia, ‘Disneyland’ .
5. Locals connection with Wonderland
People in Sydney and Australia established a strong affiliation with Sydney’s Wonderland when it operated. Wonderland was always there and provided a great day of family fun. In fact, this is why Mount Druitt Property Developer, Ammar Khan wanted to rebuild Wonderland to “rekindle the memories he had while working at the Western Sydney theme park”… “It’s time to bring back the fun in our lives and provide a vibrant place where people can enjoy themselves again.” Thomas, S. August 16, 2013.
It ceases to amaze why Wonderland was ever closed down with the amount of support there was from the general public. This was therefore, definitely a poor decision to close down Wonderland. Perhaps the NSW Government could have helped funded the theme park to remain open or even ask the public to donate some money from time-to-time.
Smaller, privately owned amusement set-ups tour the local Sydney and Australian area from time-to-time, for example, with circuses, and they are great for the time they are there. But at some stage, on a short-term basis, they will get up and leave and keep travelling, leaving a gap for locals. Again, this highlights the importance and usefulness of Sydney’s Wonderland when it was there.
6. Influence of other theme parks
Even Walt Disney needed some inspiration for Disneyland. So too did Wonderland need inspiration, with Canada’s Wonderland providing a solid model for Sydney’s Wonderland. The Bush Beast, “the largest wooden roller coaster in Australia” was the same as wooden roller coasters at Canada’s Wonderland and Kings Dominion Wikipedia, ‘Wonderland Sydney’ .
The ever popular ‘Demon’ roller coaster ride at Wonderland, which took over from The Bush Beast, was initially operated at Expo ’88 under the name of Titan. When Wonderland closed, the Demon was later sold to Alabama Adventure where it has been in operation since 2005 Wikipedia, ‘Wonderland Sydney’ .
Decision makers in North America have thought of bringing DisneyLand to the southern hemisphere, which would have definitely rivaled Sydney’s Wonderland.
With the addition of Hanna Barbera land, which was similar to characters and rides at Disneyland in America, Disneyland may have had an influence on Sydney’s Wonderland. Looking at Walt Disney, he visited a number of parks before making his final decision on Disneyland, for example, “Michigan’s Eden Springs Park and Greenfield Village, Playland and Children’s Fairyland in America, and also overseas sites like Tivoli Gardens in Denmark and Efteling in the Netherlands” Wikipedia, ‘Disneyland’
7. Land size of Wonderland
The new Wonderland is said to be “200 acres” in total, similar to the 219 hectares of the old Eastern Creek site Ausparks, November 19, 2013 .
Remember Wonderland was even bigger than the initial Disneyland with 219 to 160 hectares respectively. Perhaps this large piece of land was too much for operators to look after, possibly leading to poor management.
It would be difficult to find a similar piece of land in Sydney as the one in Eastern Creek. A big problem with the Eastern Creek location was that it could only be accessed by buses and was not directly on the train line. Apart from Eastern Creek, other possible locations are north Marsden Park, Riverstone or Hoxton Park. Riverstone looks like a good option because it could be closer to the trains.
Additionally, the Royal Easter Show is an example of how changes of location can affect Sydney’s Wonderland. The Royal Easter Show used to be at the big grounds of Moore Park, right in the heart of the city, but the new venue at Sydney Olympic Park tends to be a bit more smaller and claustrophobic. This could be the case with the new proposal with the commercial side of activities overwhelming the amusement activities.
Australia has one of the most unused land in the world. Some other countries have much less land mass and yet have close to our population size, for example Rwanda and Kenya in Africa. Now decision makers would obviously want to keep Wonderland in Sydney, as it first started there, so surely there must be land big enough.
Now the problem with the current proposal for western Sydney is that the Wonderland theme park will be only 50 to 70 acres in size compared to the previous 219 hectares. This possibly sounds like an excuse for another property development and does not do justice to the former Wonderland for the size of land and activities in offered. The question remains will people be satisfied with only 50 to 70 acres and might want more rides and activities.
- · Ausparks.com.au (November 19, 2013) ‘Mega three-park resort planned for Sydney’, Sydney’s Wonderland
- · Personal Experiences:
– I live in Western Sydney and have visited Australia’s Wonderland on a number of occasions during my childhood.
- · Sydney’s Wonderland, ‘The Proposal’·
- · Thomas, Stacy. (August 16, 2013) ‘Sydney’s Wonderland theme park set to make its home in the west’, Mt. Druitt-St. Marys Standard
- · Wet ‘n Wild web-site – www.wetnwildsydney.com.au, ‘About Us’/ ‘About Sydney’
- · Wikipedia, ‘Disneyland’
- · Wikipedia, ‘Wonderland Sydney’